Center for Youth and Community Organizing
The Center for Community Organizing has, as its primary mandate, to build a base of adult leaders who will join young people in working to address our community's internal & external environmental justice challenges. The work of our center is as follows:
- Building Capacity
- Collective Action - Operation Breathe or Die: Identify building/neighborhood hotspots and engage stakeholders in addressing the issues. Role of both youth & adults is to hold the powers that be accountable for policies that keep people in our community from being healthy.
- Anti-Crime/Anti-Militarism Organizing: Identify building/neighborhood hotspots and engage the Police and the PAL around crafting responses that are specific to our community, recognizing its unique needs and challenges.
- Community Building Projects: Youth and Adult members meet to find ways to work together to build community within buildings/areas in which we’ve already established a presence. Activities could include Block Parties, Tenant Organizing and similar types of community building activities.
- Housing Workshops – Resource workshops for tenants, homeowners and/or landlords to provide (directly or with partner organizations) information and support toward actions that will result in improvements to the property and to the quality of life of those who live there. Wherever, whenever possible, incorporate green consciousness and resources.
- Tenant Organizing Services – In response to emergencies, visit of more than 3 residents from the same building to YMPJ or Single Stop, referrals from HPD's Anti-Abandonment Office, Councilwoman Palma's Office, etc...
Replant the Cement Plant (Concrete Plant)
In early 1999, YMPJ received notice that the City intended to auction the Concrete Plant property. YMPJ advocated that the property be converted into a public park. Totaling over 12 acres, this property is a unique asset well suited to address the severe shortage of parkland and recreational space in the Bronx River neighborhood. The RIVER Team organized a rally for fall of 1999. Over 150 residents turned out to rally in support of YMPJ's proposal. The City responded by stating that it would not remove the property from the auction without a clear plan for its reuse. YMPJ quickly set to work preparing such a plan. It called in allies from El Puente to help with the technical preparation of the plan. The Concrete Plant Alternate Use Plan was submitted in November, 1999. In early 2000, the City accepted the plan, which called for the transfer of title to the Parks Department and the eventual development of the property into a new park. Executive Director Alexie Torres-Fleming recalls a poignant moment, "I remember when I saw the Parks maple leaf go up on the tower of the concrete plant. It was a rusted out structure, but I thought 'it's so beautiful.' I also thought, hey, we can do this work!"
Many squatters had made the Concrete Plant their home over the years since its abandonment. YMPJ worked hard to make sure that they were treated with dignity. Each squatter was guaranteed a place in a temporary shelter in the short term and long term residence in a NYC Housing Authority building once units became available.
Later that year in 2000, YMPJ learned of a new threat to its fresh victory. In order to support the Bruckner Flyover, a major proposed transportation enhancement to create greater truck access to the Hunts Point industrial areas, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) asserted its rights to a portion of the Concrete Plant property called Edgewater Road. EDC planned to use Edgewater Road as a temporary truck route during the Flyover project.
In order to combat this proposal, YMPJ joined other community organizations in forming the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance (SBRWA). Other members included The Point, The Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED), and Tri-State Transportation Campaign. With PICCED providing technical support, SBRWA proposed an alternative truck route to the one proposed by EDC. In 2001, YMPJ, led by the RIVER Team, organized another rally on the Concrete Plant to demonstrate and mobilize support for the SBRWA alternative proposal. After a great deal of struggle, the City agreed to accept the alternative proposals.
A second victory occurred when $11M was returned by New York State DOT to Congressman Serrano for re-allocation. The Congressman allocated these funds to Concrete Plant Park. At the time no capital funds had been appropriated for the development of the park. Capitalizing on its momentum, YMPJ set out to establish a community design for the park. Working with PICCED, YMPJ held two community visioning meetings in which residents of Bronx River were able to voice their views and priorities about the development of the park. Additional visioning meetings were planned by the Point, but had to be cancelled due to the pressure of other commitments. After some initial hesitation, the Parks Department adopted the community design for the Concrete Plant Park.
As a result of YMPJ's actions, the community has already begun to enjoy this new space. YMPJ has hosted several community events at the site. In addition, in 2003 and 2004, Sustainable South Bronx (SSB), a community organization located in Hunts Point, held summer concerts at the park.
Raze the Sheridan (Expressway)
YMPJ, together with the other members of SBRWA, issued a call for the decommissioning of the Sheridan Expressway in late 1999. Massive capital investments had been proposed by both New York State and the City of New York for the Bruckner Expressway and what these governments viewed as critical support arteries. In addition to the Flyover project mentioned above, the state proposed to reface the Sheridan Expressway and also proposed a Sheridan-Bruckner Interchange to allow greater truck access between industrial areas and major highways in and out of the city.
Under the banner of decommissioning, YMPJ joined with the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA), to challenge the Sheridan-Bruckner Interchange. After a year-long advocacy campaign involving letter writing and media events, the State withdrew the Interchange proposal.
Following the Interchange campaign, YMPJ focused greater attention on the Sheridan Expressway itself. Continuing its call for decommissioning, YMPJ commenced a utilization study of the Sheridan to determine if the proposed level of capital investment was warranted. In the spring of 2001, while the refacing of the Sheridan was underway, YMPJ issued its report which demonstrated that the Sheridan was in fact sharply underutilized. "The New York Post" covered the report issue and ran a now famous article with the picture below. The report and article brought valuable attention to the Sheridan.
Following this event, YMPJ commenced the preparation of an alternative truck route that would eliminate the need for the Sheridan Expressway altogether and provide superior truck access to the Hunts Point markets and industrial areas. In 2003 NYSDOT held a public hearing on the scope of work for the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Flyover project. YMPJ and the RIVER Team mobilized 300 members and residents to attend the hearing. All the mobilized were unanimous in advocating that the scope of work include a study of the community's alternative truck route plan as one of the available options. Following the hearing, NYSDOT agreed to include the community plan in the scope of work for the EIS.
Reclaim Starlight Park
YMPJ and the RIVER Team commenced its advocacy of the renovation of Starlight Park with clean-up activities and plantings in 1999. Several Saturday clean-up events were held that brought together community members around the park. The clean-up activities and river canoeing events brought valuable attention to Starlight Park. In 2000, Governor Pataki, following a canoe ride down the river during the spring flotilla, pledged $11M for the renovation of the park. Also, NYSDOT committed to the full renovation of Starlight Park as a mitigation effort connected to the refacing of the Sheridan Expressway (noted above). Under the impetus of these new commitments YMPJ began, with PICCED, a community visioning and planning process for the design of the park. The community design was adopted by the Parks Department and NYSDOT. The design calls for the removal of most of the current paved areas (50% of current site) and the creation of new soccer and baseball fields. The design also sets aside land for the development of a new boathouse and community center on the shore of the river. Congressman Serrano has appropriated $500,000 for the boathouse.
The renovation began in 2001. During the initial excavations of the park, workers detected strong odors arising from the soil. Work was suspended until the odor could be investigated. YMPJ soon learned that the workers had discovered a former Manufacturing Gas Plant (MGP). There are over fifty such MGP sites across New York City. Con Edison is the responsible party for the MGP site, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is the regulatory agency charged with oversight. Following some initial meetings, some with YMPJ, some without, DEC and Con Ed held a public meeting in February 2003. YMPJ mobilized 200 to 300 members and residents to the meeting. In view of the large turnout, officials of Con Ed committed for the first time to remove all of the waste materials from the site, as opposed to simply covering them over. YMPJ continued to advocate for a more rigorous clean-up over the following 18 months. YMPJ brought together a team of professionals to assist them in their advocacy. Carter Ledyard and Milburn, a large Wall Street law firm, signed on as pro bono attorneys. Allegiance Resources Corporation signed on at a reduced rate as the environmental consultants. This team reviewed and commented on the Focused Remedial Investigation (FRI) work plan, the FRI report, the Proposed Remedial Approach (PRA), the proposed Remedial Action Work Plan (RAWP) and other remedial planning documents. DEC held a public meeting in March, 2004 to allow comments on the proposed work plan. YMPJ managed a massive media blitz of the event. Television stations, including NY 1, Channel 12, NBC and CBS local networks carried live coverage of a press conference held at YMPJ headquarters prior to the public meeting. Much of New York's print media also covered the events. YMPJ's relentless advocacy has borne fruit. The preliminary remedial design reviewed in fall, 2004 reflects attention to all of YMPJ's concerns.
Build a Greenway
Real effort on greenway advocacy began in a very inauspicious manner. One of the RIVER Team organizers, Henry Lajara, noticed on his Con Ed bill a public service advertisement of something called the Bronx River Working Group. YMPJ quickly became involved in the BRWG and advocated that it adopt an environmental justice orientation regarding the river, meaning that it should advocate for equity between the northern and southern sections of the river. YMPJ continued its involvement within BRWG and its influence grew. YMPJ helped to lead the transformation of the BRWG into the Bronx River Alliance (BRA), of which YMPJ is a co-founder. The BRA is a public private partnership between the Parks Department community organizations and other government agencies. Alexie Torres-Fleming has served as the Chairperson of the Board since its founding in 1992. The BRA has helped to organize over $33M for construction of the Bronx River Greenway.