A Voice for His Neighbors

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Paul S. Bunten has been a devoted Upper West Side advocate since his Columbia graduate student days, back in the 1980s.

“There is no substitute for complete understanding,” he said, “and a neighborhood can only be profoundly understood when the citizens who have created it over many decades of daily life are personally consulted.”

Bunten, 56, lives in Park West Village, a group of buildings encompassed by West 97th to 100th streets between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue.

“Park West Village is an exceptional neighborhood with a distinct legacy of community activism unlike anything I have ever known,” he said.

A recent source of contention has been a new development, Columbus Village, consisting of five new market-rate apartment buildings on Columbus Avenue and 320,000 square feet of tri-level retail space.

Paul S. Bunten, Westsiders for Public Participation. Photo by Daniel S. Burnstein

Paul S. Bunten, Westsiders for Public Participation. Photo by Daniel S. Burnstein

When construction began in 2007, Bunten was the first to take action. He founded Westsiders for Public Participation, a nonprofit community organization that demands community participation in development plans that affect Park West Village.

He started the group, he said, out of “a fundamental personal belief in the value of public participation in community-based planning.”

“From nothing, he created a new community action organization, raised funds, and successfully engaged constituents, legal and political resources,” said Gloria Kurant, a community advocate and president of Kurant Direct teleservices consulting.

In its first month, Bunten led the group in filing a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Buildings. The neighbors argued that the community should be able to formally review the impact that proposed development would have on the surrounding environment, such as such as traffic and pedestrian safety.

In a second lawsuit, the group alleged that the new building at 808 Columbus Ave. had been approved without a community-based environmental review, and that the new building, along with three other existing buildings, did not leave enough open space in the west block of Park West Village. The matter has since been settled outside of court, with the first lawsuit being discontinued as an outcome of the second suit.

Throughout it all, Bunten has proved himself a devoted champion of the community, netting praise from high-profile officials like Rep. Charles Rangel

“The recently settled lawsuit brought by Westsiders for Public Participation against the developer of Park West Village and the Department of Buildings represented a vital crossroads for the area in terms of community participation and input on development,” Rangel said. “Without people like Paul leading the way in this tough fight, Park West Village would be a lesser place.”

Fellow community advocate Linda Edgerly, managing director of the Winthrop Group consulting firm, said that Bunten stood up for the Park West Village community at a time of urgency.

“He has dedicated his time and intelligence to helping a community of concerned Upper West Side residents address serious problems associated with poorly considered and unreviewed development in a neighborhood that has thrived in large part because of its diversity,” she said.

Practically anyone who has ever worked with Bunten or heard him speak passionately at about community issues praises him for his unrelenting devotion to the community.

“Paul has a lot of old-fashioned integrity,” said Jean Green Dorsey, owner of ManagementMatters.org, who worked alongside Bunten at Westsiders for Public Participation. “He is willing to put his time and money to work for his beliefs—he’s a person to have on your team.”

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