At District 3 West Side Summit, Taking Stock and Making Plans | chelseanow.com

At District 3 West Side Summit, Taking Stock and Making Plans

Residents crowded onto the High Line’s 14th Street Passage for a series of speeches, a community comment forum, and a catered lunch. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

BY SAM BLEIBERG | What a difference a day — and for that matter, a year — makes. While District 3 residents spent most of their Saturday dodging raindrops, it was blustery but bright on the afternoon of Sunday, May 20, as the community gathered on the High Line’s 14th Street Passage for the fourth annual West Side Summit.

Hosted by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who at this time last year was addressed simply as “Councilmember,” the event delivered updates on the district’s most pressing issues, via Johnson’s State of the District address, then revealed the winners of District 3’s annual Participatory Budgeting process, based on voting by residents. Representatives from all levels of government —including US Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried — rounded out the lineup of those who took to the podium.

“I’m so grateful to be able to reflect back on the year we’ve had and what we’ve accomplished together, but also to get critical feedback from people on what they think we need to do to make the district even better,” Johnson told Chelsea Now. “It’s nice to celebrate the wins, but also take stock in the other things that need to happen to continue to make the district even better.”

Residents voiced their appreciation for having a forum to learn more about, and contribute to the governance of, the community. “It’s important for people to learn what’s going on in the neighborhood and participate. I had no idea this district was so big,” said Annie Katzman, who lives in Chelsea.

Annie Katzman, a Chelsea resident, attended to learn what is going on in the neighborhood and participate in local decisions. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

Johnson told the story of District 3’s past year with numbers both celebratory (150 trees planted; 413 tenants served at housing clinics; 2,244 bags of fresh produce delivered to seniors) and tragic (5,000 women in domestic violence shelters nightly citywide, and two cyclists killed). He highlighted the fight for affordable housing, the preservation of historic landmarks, and efforts to install more public spaces. He praised community members for their activism and asked for sustained effort at the local and national level. “We need the West Side’s activist spirit more than ever,” Johnson noted. “It is incumbent on all of us as engaged community members. Don’t be passive.”

Gottfried mentioned the West Side’s legacy of activism as well. “The effort in the community to save the High Line began when Corey was just learning to walk, beginning to dance,” he said. “The fact we have it here today is a testament to how much of a community all of the West Side is. We get things done. We fight to preserve the community.”

Multiple speakers, including Johnson, drew the connection between political activism at the national and local scale. Brewer encouraged civic engagement on both fronts. This is a time of not just national challenges, but plenty that are local,” she said.

Residents made their passion for neighborhood beautification known by the way they cast their votes for Participatory Budgeting. Johnson announced the grand winner, to receive full funding, is the proposal to install tree guards on neighborhood tree pits. Supporters of the project noted tree guards help keep neighborhoods verdant and save money in the long term by preventing tree deaths.

Phyllis Waisman, who helped submit the winning proposal, explained the guards are necessary to make the most of the district’s investment in greenery. “They planted so many new trees. They’ll protect the new trees from dogs, elements,” she said. “It’s the best way to protect the tree pits.”

District 3 resident Eddie Collazo also voiced his concern for tree safety. “I’m excited about the tree guards. The other day I saw a tractor trailer hit a tree, and I sent a picture to the Parks Department,” he said.

Eddie Collazo, enthusiastic about the winning Participatory Budgeting proposal for tree guards, took a celebratory selfie with Speaker Johnson. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

Additional allocation of funds for winning projects will include $250,000 for electronic bus stop signs with arrival times, $200,000 for library technology improvements, and $350,000 of investment in technology for schools. Attendees expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact on their community through voting.

“Participatory Budgeting is a great idea and should be something that happens all around the country,” said local resident Nat Johnson. “It connects the government to the people in real practical ways.”

Many turned out not only to hear the results, but also to connect with neighbors and share their concerns with Johnson’s district office, whose staff put up posters for constituents to share their comments via messages on Post-It notes. Nearby, a long line formed to speak with Johnson.

“It’s wonderful way of communicating between the government to the people,” Nat Johnson said. “It’s vital.”

Others held doubts about the forum and expressed concern for issues they felt were not receiving attention. “I came here to see where the money is coming from,” said Hell’s Kitchen resident Ivan Figueroa. “Everybody is scared of police officers; people think they’re going to harm them. We have a problem with immigration [enforcement]. People run the other way when they see a police officer thinking it might be ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement].” In his speech, Johnson did address the unreasonable enforcement of marijuana possession. When asked if he had left a Post-It note comment, Figueroa replied, “No, I don’t know if that’s going to help our situation.”

Nat Johnson of Chelsea, left, said the Participatory Budgeting process is important for connecting government to people, and hopes it will be adopted across the country. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

There is still potential good news for those who found out their favorite projects did not receive Participatory Budgeting dollars. Johnson told Chelsea Now that in the past, his office has funded projects that did not win at the ballot box. His district office representatives noted an update on any additional funding for nominated projects will appear in the coming month.

“The four projects that received the most votes this year were all district-wide projects,” Johnson said in an email following the Summit, “meaning that every neighborhood stands to benefit. It shows that people really considered the whole community when voting. All the projects on the ballot were great, and we’re going to find ways to fund some of the ballot items that didn’t win. Also, those projects that aren’t funded this year can always be funded in the future.”

Staff from Speaker Johnson’s office, including chief of staff Erik Bottcher and deputy chief of staff Matt Green (first two from left), served lunch and listened to community members’ comments and concerns. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg