The public meeting began pleasantly enough at 4:30 PM in the main cafeteria of Aviation High School. Outside, Emily Sharp and her supporters handed out anti-Sunnyside Yards development lit.
When one entered, yummy pupusas were being served in the middle of the room, and on the sides were stations that described different aspects of the project. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), directing the meeting, had complete control.
One station was devoted to how to mitigate the effects of climate change, no doubt important as its effects become more impactful especially in the form of larger storms.
Then at around 6:20 PM, local activists stormed the public meeting and shut it down. One activist got on top of a table and led a human microphone to initiate the shut down.
A coalition comprised of the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, Queens Neighborhoods United, and Centro Corona led a teach-in to discuss the history of the EDC, their previous developments in Hudson Yards, and their involvement in trying to get the Amazon HQ2 project around the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).
In the beginning, one man questioned whether they were Sunnyside natives, to which activist responded that he was one.
Tom Angotti and James DeFilippis, professors in urban planning, led the discussion and fielded questions from the crowd that had gathered. There was a question and answer session about the EDC and Sunnyside Yards led by the professors.
Later, The crowd moved into a hallway to stop a question and answer session being led by the EDC. They were racuous, shouting “let us in,” no doubt trying to take control of the Q&A session being held in the Teacher’s Cafeteria near the Main Cafeteria.
At one point, activists led by Jonathan Bailey, co-chair of Queens DSA, attempted to take control of the building’s microphone system to relay messages, but were checked by a government official.
One activist commented that the EDC’s plans were like a Disney World project and not an actual project that would meet the needs of people living in Sunnyside.
There were rumors that the project was estimated to cost around $22 billion dollars, more than the initial estimate for the Hudson Yards.
The EDC officials were at a loss to what to do. At the beginning of the teach-in, one member tried to ask them to keep it down, but he was instantly drowned out by the other activists. The EDC officials and assoicated firms stood to the side next to their stations to field questions from whomever approached them.
After being questioned, one EDC official led me on a mini-tour of the stations, not answering my question on what their reaction was to the whole proceeding. She ended up leading me to two of her colleagues to further answer questions about turning the development into high-quality public housing.
One of them told me she was happy that the teach-in happened, as that meant they were hearing from different voices in the community.
I was quite surprised by this, but then again she was probably trying to put a brave face on. After the teach-in ended, the activists regrouped outside to plan their next steps. The night was considered a success.
Community Leaders and Organizations Should Resign From the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee
The letter below calls on community leaders and organizations to resign from the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee. It will be mailed or emailed to April Simpson, President of Queensbridge Houses Tenants Association, Lisa Deller of Community Board 2, Melissa Orlando of Access Queens, and Sylvia White, Co-Chair of Justice for All Coalition.
Dear Steering Committee Members,
We are writing to respectfully request that you or your organization resign immediately from the Sunnyside Yard steering committee. Your presence on the committee, regardless of your position, serves to legitimize an undemocratic process, and ultimately helps to advance the goals of a small class of real estate developers and politicians against the interests of your friends and neighbors in Queens and NYC. As would have been the case with Amazon HQ2, development over Sunnyside Yard would undoubtedly lead to mass displacement, gentrification, and corporate handouts. It would put further strain on an already struggling MTA, threaten the small businesses that provide affordable goods to our communities, and create an exclusive enclave of luxury housing, high-end retail, and office space designed specifically for the rich. The developers and politicians know this to be the case, which is why Sunnyside Yard, and projects like it, require huge amounts of Public Relations work – the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee (and your participation in it) is part and parcel to this effort.
There is a growing trend among community-based groups to reject the crumbs from the table that developers and politicians would like us to be satisfied with when they invite us to sit down. More and more, grassroots organizations are finding these crumbs offensive, and instead are demanding a full meal. It is not enough that only some of us get to eat – that this or that constituency get some perks for signing on to support a development project – this tactic has run its course and even the most opportunistic politicians are starting to abandon it (for example, when Jimmy Van Bramer and Michael Gianaris rejected Amazon’s Community Advisory Committee). By collectively refusing to negotiate with those who want to displace us we ensure that no one gets left out.
We understand that some may want to genuinely participate on the steering committee in order to serve as a voice of opposition. To them, we say: you can do this, from the outside, without legitimizing the process and undermining the efforts of other groups. There are others who might see participation on the steering committee as a career opportunity or a chance to gain notoriety. To those people, we ask: please do not use the working class and immigrant communities of Queens to advance your own goals.
We cannot rely on the good will of developers or politicians to get us what we need to survive. Historically, we’ve been able to make the most progress when we reject compromise and piecemeal solutions, and, instead, demand the seemingly impossible.
We believe that development over Sunnyside Yard will irreversibly devastate Western Queens. We demand that the City Council and the Department of City Planning recognize this basic fact and forever abandon plans to develop over the site. Until then, community groups and leaders should boycott their gimmicks and join with the growing popular movement against gentrification and displacement.
April Simpson, President of Queensbridge Houses Tenants Association, Lisa Deller of Community Board 2, Melissa Orlando of Access Queens, Sylvia White, Co-Chair of Justice for All Coalition: please resign from the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee.
Queens Anti-Gentrification Project