Diversity and Popular Power: The Scope of the BID on Roosevelt Avenue

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A change of paradigm is coming within the administration of the city of New York, but the remnants of an economic model that has struggled to strengthen speculative capitalism, to the detriment of workers and small business owners, will continue to have strong influence, not only in Manhattan but in the other boroughs as well.

For example, right now the clash of models is taking place in Queens, where great discontent has emerged among the residents who refuse to accept some of the strongest blows with which the Bloomberg model has assailed the most diverse immigrant community in the world. To prove my point and to give just a few examples, it is worth mentioning the selling of public grounds to real-estate moguls for the construction of a 3.6 billion-dollar mega-mall; the expansion of the US OPEN to the grounds of our public park and, more recently, the imposition of the Business Improvement District –BID– all along Roosevelt Avenue.

Although in both visions of the city, that of the exiting model and that of the entering model, it is possible to talk about “development”, both the diagnoses and the strategies to tackle the problem turn out to be diametrically opposed.

It is thus urgent to point out the different interests in conflict, while also offering a solution that may promote the inclusion of the diverse interests of the largest number of human groups involved in the problem.

Let us begin by identifying some of the diagnoses about the problems of Roosevelt Avenue that are most commonly perceived and manifested by our community. There is no doubt that expressions of violence are common on Roosevelt Avenue, but it is fundamental to distinguish them both by their nature and their magnitude.

It is therefore necessary to differentiate the two main types of active violence from a third type, which is latent and not always evident. I am referring here to the violence that is the fruit of ethnic and cultural intolerance towards an immigrant minority’s appropriation of a given territory.

Thus, we can list the types of violence perceived on Roosevelt Avenue as follows:

1. Organized-crime violence
2. Common violence
3. Violence resulting from intolerance of an immigrant minority’s cultural responses of appropriation of a given territory.

In order to deal with the first type of violence, that which is produced through the power of mafias, it is indispensable to establish state and multi-sector plans that are well orchestrated from the different administrative levels and assume tasks such as:
- Investment in medical and psycho-social assistance for drug consumers.
- Enforcement of police and intelligence measures that make it possible to effectively combat both the micrographic and international trafficking of drugs and women, minors, immigrants and, in general, of populations who are vulnerable to becoming victims of the phenomenon of human trafficking.

Regarding the second type of violence, common violence, it is important to highlight that it is fueled mainly by the lack of good-quality employment. And this is where small businesses play a definitive role in maintaining low levels of unemployment and underemployment. In this area, the government should act as a guarantor of equal access to the tools that permit our socio-economic mobility, for both entrepreneurs and workers. It is the government’s task to provide access to the infrastructure needed for the success of small entrepreneurs and guarantee the right to decent wages for workers.

With respect to the third type of violence, that which is aimed at another who is different from me, who culturally appropriates a territory in a different way than me, the violence that hangs over immigrants, we must highlight the fact that neither the flavors nor the aromas of restaurants and vending trucks of Chinese, Indian and Latin American supermarkets, to name just a few, should face disapproval in a civilized and pluralistic society. New York should not, in any way, go through the processes of cultural standardization that seek to obliterate ethnic differences, just because said diversity makes a few people uncomfortable and upsets huge marketing and advertising firms.

If we allow our vision of the city to continue to be infected by publicists’ virulent compulsion to achieve mass markets and impose their revered chainstore trademarks, we will end up turning New York into a great mega-mall where McDonalds, Taco Bell and Dunkin Donuts will manage to displace our vibrant local markets, our Southeast Asian restaurants nestled in Jackson Heights, our flourishing Chinese markets in Elmhurst, and the taco vending trucks on Roosevelt Avenue.

Once we have made these brief diagnoses, in order to respond to each one of them we must ask ourselves what we really want to eradicate from our community. IS IT POVERTY OR IS IT THE POOR THAT WE WANT TO ERADICATE?

If the answer is TO ERADICATE THE POOR, the solution is among the uncontrolled rent increases, the rezoning that will permit the construction of luxurious buildings, the construction of mega-malls with chain-stores, the deregulation of residential rents, the denial of informal workers’ right to work, the privatization of education, the imposition of higher taxes with less political participation, and the criminalization and deportation of immigrants, among other regressive measures.

But if the answer is that we want TO ERADICATE POVERTY along Roosevelt Avenue, we should guarantee small business the possibility to grow and our workers better wages and greater purchasing power in our local businesses.

Why is it that as members of the community, as residents and as small-business owners, we consider that the BID is unacceptable in the terms in which it is currently planned?

Because the board of directors of the BID will be composed mostly of people from a group of citizens who have very specific interests because they are property owners.

If we know that rents on Roosevelt Avenue are already among the highest in NYC, what will ensure that fees charged by the BID and set by a board of directors composed mainly of property owners, will not be increased arbitrarily and against the interest of tenants?

What will ensure that a group of billionaire investors that buy properties in our community do not take control of the decisions of a board of directors on which they are the majority?

What will ensure that the interest of real-estate investors do not decide the kind of aesthetic enhancement that they consider appropriate exclusively in favor of their own economic interests?

Legislation that regulates BIDs establishes that the majority of directors of a BID must be property owners in the district where the respective BID will be implemented. This is legislation that gives a small group of individuals – who have very specific economic interests – the power to decide on urban planning that should be consulted with all the citizens.

We cannot depend on the good will of a group whose interests are not necessarily those of the entire community. For the same reason, if BIDs are intended to function without violating the principles of democracy and citizen participation, they must be modified in order to ensure equal representation.

Another significant void that is evident in the BIDs is the electoral mechanisms from which they arise. The legislation is absolutely anti-democratic in this regard because the certified signature of one half-plus-one of the total number of property owners is required for the NO-BID vote to win, while for the YES-BID vote to win, majority abstention is enough for the legislation to be approved. In other words, an abstention is considered a vote in favor of BIDs.

Therefore, to conclude, if BIDs are not deeply reformed at the City Council level, they will continue to be a powerful instrument in the hands of “developers” and property owners, and a considerable loss in terms of participation and power of the people.

Freddy Castiblanco
Small Business Owner
Terraza 7

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