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Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

I’ve been going to the office one day a week for some time now. But I usually left early to avoid evening rush hour on the subway, such as it is. Last week, the day was filled with back-to-back Zoom meetings and I didn’t leave until well after 5. It felt strange, but good—a real day at the office.

I think many of us who have been able to work from home this past year will have to adjust to resuming our former schedules. We’ve been isolated and careful for so long it may take a bit to get used to having commuters and co-workers around.

For all the talk about Zoom fatigue, I don’t want to give up virtual public hearings—especially those in the evening.

I was thinking about this because a Brooklyn judge recently upheld a temporary restraining order blocking the rezoning of 960 Franklin Avenue. Community groups argued that virtual hearings exclude people without access to high-speed internet. The same judge is presiding over the proposed Gowanus upzoning and has encouraged both sides to find ways to make the meetings more accessible.

Public involvement in the growth and development of our City and our neighborhoods is very important.

How many people know that the Governor has plans to level several blocks around Penn Station for towers larger than Hudson Yards? How many people who love Governors Island understand there could be buildings 20-25 stories high on the Island’s South Side?

How do you even find out about these issues with a fractured media. And would you spend your evening at a community board meeting to delve into them?

I participated in several, in-person, evening sessions during 2019 when the City first looked at possible rezoning of SoHo/NoHo. Hundreds of vocal and informed people did attend. How many others couldn’t?

This past year I’ve been on evening Zoom sessions discussing the plans to upzone SoHo/NoHo and outlining current living and working conditions there. I participated in several virtual community events on the fate of 70 Mulberry Street, a beloved building in Chinatown. I’ve watched community board sessions on various issues. With some of these lasting till after 9 p.m., watching from home made it a lot easier.

People are generally very happy with the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s virtual meetings and feel the audience has grown. It’s been easier to wait your turn to speak during lengthy virtual Council hearings while watching at home. You can also watch tapes of public sessions you missed.

But the judge is right. More people need the opportunity to be heard. That will likely entail a hybrid of virtual and in-person meetings. And it will require a public that takes the time to show up or tune in.

Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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