By now, most Upper West Siders are familiar with the City Department of Education’s decision to demolish one of our local schools, P.S. 191 or P.S. 199, to make way for luxury housing towers in already crowded neighborhoods. There are so many fundamental questions about how this proposal came to be, a lack of discussion about whether or not it’s ever acceptable to sell public assets to a private developer, and why this proposal was dropped on the Upper West Side with virtually no notice that it has put an indelible taint over the entire project.
I am generally a fan of building new schools (the developers that purchase the rights will be required to construct brand new schools). Our current schools are overcrowded, and the skills we need to teach our kids today require technical updates to classroom space that can often best be achieved with new, state-of-the-art classrooms in new buildings.
So how did this proposal go so wrong? As we have seen so often from this administration, it was done with a “City Hall knows best” attitude that was dismissive of potential community concerns or public input. Instead of starting with the community – with parents, teachers, elected officials, Community Education Council and Community Board members, and residents – to find out what our community wants and needs, the DOE believed that they could decide for us. Instead of working cooperatively to develop a proposal built around outcomes that truly meet the needs of our residents, we get a proposal that is designed to meet the needs of big developers.
There seemed to be no thought about community impact beyond “I guess we’ll have to replace those schools.” No thought about how two massive high-rises would impact our public infrastructure; our mass transit or our city services. No thought about thousands more people on the sidewalks, in the parks, and in need of things like day care. No thought whatsoever about what is right for this community.
Everybody wants more and better equipped schools. But our community needs more than that, and we deserve better than the treatment we have gotten from the administration during this process. So let’s have a real discussion about what our community truly needs, looking at all of our educational, social, transit and physical infrastructure. Let’s figure out the right outcomes for our neighborhoods, and then – and only then – should we start talking about how we get there.
- Helen Rosenthal, candidate for City Council District 6
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