Over two years have passed since the Yonkers City Council voted to sell the former School 19 building at 70 Jackson St. to Long Island City developer, Alma Realty Corp. Against the wishes of many community residents, the developer proposed to replace the dilapidated school with 91 market-rate apartments and 95 parking spaces. In an effort to stop the sale and convince the city to consider an alternative community proposal that had been submitted along side Almas, local residents packed the council chambers on the night of the final tally, but fell one vote short in their attempt.
Although this was seen as a major set-back to many of those involved, the struggle to fight against Alma Realty’s plans for the school inspired a group of community planners and organizers spearheaded by Southwest Yonkers native, LaMont Badru, to form the Community Governance and Development Council (CGDGNY).
Approximately one year prior to the vote, with an abundance of community support and encouragement, we launched a campaign called #FreeSchool19, which mobilized youth and community members in an effort to acquire the abandoned school building. The plan was to win site control, initiate a capital campaign to raise the needed funds for renovation, and transform the building from a long time eyesore into a mixed-use community facility and urban planning themed public high school. Throughout the process, we rallied community members, investors, foundations, and an experienced project managment team including fund raisers and architects to develop a viable proposal with broad based support. While our vision for School 19 was halted by the approval to develop the market rate apartments, CGDCNY’s vision for the surrounding community of Highland Hill remains stronger than ever.
The Highland Hill Project
This Spring, we announced the launch of The Highland Hill Project, an initiative developed to empower the Highland Hill community and create opportunity for its residents. Through research, focus groups, workshops and town hall meetings, we will formulate a comprehensive neighborhood plan that effectively reflects the needs of the community, and identifies successful models for addressing those needs. Essentially, we’re embracing a crowdsource approach to identifying potential solutions to local problems.
We also hope to use the process of data collection as a tool to engage residents and give them the opportunity to have direct involvement in the practical work of implementing the solutions that we collectively identify. After the plan is complete, the goal is to turn focus groups into working groups, and a neighborhood plan into community action. To accomplish this, we brought together a team of young leaders from both Westchester and New York City to bring the Highland Hill Project to life. Seeking to create change and introduce innovate approaches to uplifting our communities, we hope to not only make our mark in Highland Hill, but to create a model for community development that can influence the rest of Southwest Yonkers, as well as other underdeveloped communities.