Where the Streetcars Roam

photo by A. Ferraro

This bus on Columbia St. could one day be a trolley.

Oh, give me a home where the streetcars roam. Where the children vote on participatory budgeting projects all week. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word on new school construction and the skies are not cloudy all day. It might come as a surprise to hear there are exciting government projects underway in our own backyard! I thought you might all need a reason to be optimistic given our current political climate, so over the past few months I’ve been attending lots of meetings! I attended meetings to craft a gym renovation proposal for MS 88. I sat through a mildly tense Parks and Rec style community meeting with DOE School Construction Authority about the renovation of PS 32. I even listened in on a phone meeting for the new BQX streetcar. If you want to feel better about government these meetings are the most fun you can have on a Wednesday night. Processes like Participatory Budgeting and projects that expand our education and transit system are the way cities will distinguish themselves and lead this country forward—in spite of itself. So take a break from Trump angst and appreciate good government.

Kids Vote! – Participatory Budgeting

March 25th – April 2nd is Participatory Budgeting week. “PB” is the process by which the public is able to propose community projects and vote on which projects to fund. You are essentially determining how your city council member spends a portion of your district’s budget. And this year middle school students ages 11 and up in Carlos Menchaca’s District 38 will be voting too! In fact, the process of PB has been integrated into MS 88’s social studies curriculum. Unfortunately, this is the only district citywide that has lowered the age to 11 from 14—including my own District 39. (Hint, Brad Landers. There are lots of political 11 year olds in your district!) Kids voting is especially exciting because so many of the proposals are for schools and parks, such as MS 88’s $500,000 gym renovation, $524,000 for safer street crossings for MS 51 students, and a $200,000 STEM FabLab for MS 442. Encourage your teen to vote not only to win their district’s proposals, but also to instill the seeds of democracy. Voting will be happening everywhere from Borough Hall to Carroll Park (4/2 only) to schools like MS 88. Check your council member’s website or vote online!

The New PS 32! Coming in 2020

Construction of PS 32’s gorgeous new addition will begin this fall and be completed in 2020. The goal is to create one elementary school with increased capacity and no trailers. The addition, designed by Edelman Sultan Knox Wood Architects, will add 200 more seats at PS 32 and serve 436 students total. In order to achieve this MS 442, the middle school that shares space with PS 32, will be permanently relocated to the former Bishop Ford High School building in Windsor Terrace in the fall.

photo by A. FerraroThe addition will be a 3 story building connected to the existing building with a new cafeteria facing the playground. The new playground will replace every square foot of the old playground and reside where the trailers are now.  Additionally, there will be a rooftop play space over the cafeteria which doesn’t rise the entire 3 stories. The playgrounds will include a basketball court, a running zone, a climbing zone, gardens and seating areas. Stormwater capture and dispersal will be achieved through retention tanks designed into the roof and ground play areas.

Changes will come to the existing building as well. The main entrance will be relocated to Union St. The existing cafeteria will become classrooms and elevators will be installed for handicapped access. Toilets will be upgraded and a new boiler.

Construction will occur during school hours and sometimes on weekends. School construction authority was frank that neighbors can expect noise, though they will follow a noise mitigation plan. There will be 3 months of pile driving during school hours, but the new building will be built slab on grade. The architects are recommending the same piles used in neighborhoods that have been designated historic and will monitor problems that arise in any nearby homes. Protocols for parking, dust, deliveries, street closures, garbage, and rodents will be followed.

While the 3 year construction will certainly impose on both PS 32 students, parents and neighbors, the renovation addresses some of District 15’s school capacity issues and creates a stunning new facility—sure to be the envy of the district and a small blow to school “choice”.

A Streetcar I Desire, but others not so much… 

The BQX or Brooklyn Queens Connector is a streetcar that will run from Sunset Park to Astoria. It will have over 30 stops —and over 30 objections. Parking spots will be lost and streets will be ripped up to move gas and electric utilities. Some worry that kids could get hit – as if traditional car/bus traffic doesn’t require the same caution? Others are concerned underserved neighborhoods will become better served, making them more desirable and more costly. But won’t the BQX create jobs for those same waterfront residents and enable them to travel to work easier? These concerns are hard to balance against the prospect of job creation but there are convincing objections. Funding for the $2.5 billion project relies on a gamble that property values will increase beyond their current rate along the route. Experts doubt that this is realistic. Furthermore, the BQX won’t necessarily be a free transfer to MTA transit.

Oh! But getting to Brooklyn Bridge Park would be so much easier! Red Hook and Sunset Park would be connected to downtown Brooklyn. You could go from Bed, Bath, and Beyond in Industry City to Fairway in Red Hook and have a sandwich at DeFonte’s. You could go from the Socrates Sculpture Park to the future Wegmans in the Navy Yards.  Just imagine a direct fare to a Peter Luger steak! The BQX, if done right, could be the undoing of the Robert Moses BQE. It could be a connector between neighborhoods long isolated by an intentional vehicular divide. Urbanism is RESISTANCE! Ah well, if this dream comes true, construction could begin in 2019.

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