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Community Leaders Get in the Zone

HOST INTRO: When you think about New York City zoning regulations you wouldn’t necessarily think about fun.  But one nonprofit group is trying to change that. One block at a time. Well, one MEGABLOCK at a time. Stephanie Horton tell us about a workshop helping to demystify the complex subject of zoning. [15.53]

((AMBI through HORTON 1))

HORTON 1: On an icy Saturday morning in SoHo, seven strangers, all of them active in their communities, sit around a table making buildings out of MEGABLOCKS. Imagine bigger, brighter LEGOS.  [10.5]

BELTRAN: Does anyone want to talk about their building and what it’s used for? [4.3]

HORTON 2: Mark Torrey places an L-shaped stack of blue and red blocks on the edge of the game board near an area marked “deep water” [7.2]

TORREY: I made one of those crane gantries that they have for the ships down in Redhook [4.8]

HORTON 3: Karina Lee of GROW NYC stacks her blocks wide to make an open-space work environment [5.6]

LEE: I am envisioning a commercial building [3.7]

HORTON 4: These people come from different neighborhoods but each one is affected by zoning.  In fact, everyone in New York is affected by it. Zoning regulates what you build, where you build, and even the shape of your building. If you want to make a change in your neighborhood or even complain about a change in your neighborhood you have to understand the basics of zoning. You could turn to the city’s 1300 page Zoning Resolutions manual or to the Center for Urban Pedagogy. The Center is a nonprofit which specializes in taking complex subjects and making them simple. Mark Torrey runs this workshop and explains [35.3]

TORREY: The idea is to take you from a place where you don’t know anything about zoning to a place where you’re pretty knowledgeable by the end. So this things really going to start at the beginning and work its way up and by the end you’re going to know a lot of crap about zoning. [14.0]

HORTON 5: They do learn a lot of crap about zoning and they do it in a fun way. These participants spend hours sticking together MEGABLOCKS making tiny cities. Red for commercial, Blue for manufacturing, and yellow for residential. CLAIRE BELTRAN is teaching the workshop with Torrey. She slams down a giant chunk of blocks in the middle of the beige city grid and calls it an asphalt plant. [23.4]

BELTRAN: If you were a city planner where would you put this plant? [6.3]

CLASS: On the outskirts

BELTRAN: That’s basically what zoning is. Zoning is just putting things with similar uses together. [6.0]

HORTON 6: Halfway through the hour-long workshop these community mavens start getting into the nitty gritty concepts like Floor Area Ratio. While it certainly sounds like the least sexy concept it’s actually deeply meaningful. It determines how much floor space you are allowed to build on a lot which then determines how tall your building can be. The calculations can be tricky. Torrey says the workshop exists for concepts like these [24.6]

TORREY: The need came from our community partners who expressed their desire to have a fun, visual way to talk about these complex things like Floor Area Ratio. [9.8]

HORTON 7: These workshops aren’t just for playing architect.  They are meant to be lessons to take back to community boards so everyone can understand how things can change in their neighborhoods. Jorge Cavanellas (CAVA-NEE-YAS) is from Queens. He used what he learned from these workshops like this to fight a developer in his neighborhood who was trying to build a 13-story luxury condo. [19.2]

CAVANELLAS:It was just going to be this massive tower which we saw as a direct threat to the neighborhood just in terms of accelerating gentrification.  [8.3]

HORTON 8: Cavanellas learned from these kinds of workshops how many steps there are to rezoning. Once he knew that, he and his grassroots group, Queens Neighborhoods United, could intervene every step of the way.[10.9]

CAVANELLAS: We applied enough pressure to the council member and the developer that the developer eventually pulled out their application. [7.5]

HORTON: 9: As the cleaning staff cleared out the space, Cavanellas bought the textbook that comes with the workshop. He said he’s going to use it to teach his community about zoning from the workshop. The only thing he needs now are some building blocks. [13.2]

Outro: Stephanie Horton, Columbia Radio News. [2.9]


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