In the working-class Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, community organizers who beat back plans for a high-rise luxury apartment building are taking their affordable housing campaign city-wide.
Joe Vazquez was leaving mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs church one Sunday in June when a stranger handed him a flyer for a community forum in his Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood. Vasquez, 34, had never taken part in anything he’d call political. But when he looked at the flyer and saw that the neighborhood where he had been born and raised could soon be rezoned for luxury high-rise apartments, he realized that his home—what he calls one of the last “relatively affordable” places in Manhattan—was in danger.
The person who handed him that flyer was with a neighborhood coalition called Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale (NMN4S). The group formed this year to fight for affordable housing and against gentrification in Inwood, a working-class neighborhood that covers Manhattan’s northern tip. NMN4S was protesting plans for a 17-story apartment tower slated for construction at 4650 Broadway—the address of a two-story parking garage on Vazquez’s block.
Vazquez went to the forum and then quickly began joining in the group’s protests to block construction of the high-rise, dubbed Sherman Plaza, which would have towered over a cluster of surrounding six-story buildings across the street from the 66-acre Fort Tryon Park. By the time Vasquez joined the effort, organizers had already scored one victory: pressuring developers to shrink the apartment tower from 23 stories to 17, with half of its 350 units set aside for affordable housing. But Vazquez and other activists feared that even the scaled-back project would pave the way for more luxury apartments, forever changing the face of the neighborhood. After months of rallies and petitions, the city council’s land-use and zoning committees agreed, unanimously voting in August to nix the Sherman Plaza development.
It was a crucial victory for New York’s affordable housing movement, which has gained momentum amid a city-wide development and gentrification boom that threatens to force out longtime residents. Sherman Plaza is just one part of a much larger effort to rezone and develop working-class neighborhoods in New York City. NMN4S first formed in January after Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a new rezoning plan. The plan, which took effect in March, cleared the way for up to 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned for residential growth or greater height and density. A hallmark of the plan is so-called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), a requirement that developers include between 20 percent and 30 percent of below–market rate units in their new buildings. De Blasio has hailed it as major victory for his administration, and a key step toward slowing gentrification and increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing.
But neighborhood advocates object that the required percentage of affordable units is too low, that even those units may cost too much for low-income families, and that de Blasio’s plan will actually lead to more gentrification and displacement.
A Word From The United Palace
We believe in the magic of moviegoing. Sure, you can watch any movie, anytime at home or on your phone. But that is not going to a movie. It’s different at our 86-year-old theatre. breathtaking architecture. Pre- and post-show entertainment. An audience that often dresses in costume. And now we have a state-of-the-art projector donated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. All we need is cinema-quality sound to complete the theatre’s rebirth, transforming the United Palace into the MOVIE PALACE NYC deserves.
Who we are and what we do
The United Palace is recreating the movie palace of your dreams.
Its Eastern-themed architecture, which was all the rage in 1930 when it opened as one of the New York metro area’s five “Wonder Theatres,” still enraptures, having been preserved since 1969 when the renown prosperity preacher Reverend Ike purchased the building and moved his congregation here. That was the year the movies faded to black at the theatre. Then in 2013 the nonprofit United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA) began a series of fundraisers to purchase used projectors and a new screen to return movies to the Palace. Our screenings of classic, independent, and foreign films attract thousands of guests annually. Many of them dress up in period costume or the style of the picture being shown. To honor the theatre’s vaudeville roots, most screenings begin with a stage show – live music, dancing, or a Q&A. The mix of live entertainment and a movie prompted AMny newspaper to call the Palace, “The best place to see movies the way they used to be” in New York City. Most movies are subtitled in Spanish to attract the largely Latino local community.
Encouraged by this success, and the closure of the Ziegfeld in January 2016, UPCA launched a campaign to upgrade its projection and audio equipment to Hollywood standards. Broadway superstar and friend of United Palace, Lin-Manuel Miranda, helped kick-off the effort by donating $100,000 to purchase a new projector, which was installed in time for him to host a screening of “Mary Poppins” in October, which nearly filled the 3,400-seat theatre.
Now to complete the theatre’s revival, UPCA is kicking off “Reawaken Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace,” a campaign to raise $300,000 to upgrade to cinema-quality audio. When completed, the Palace will offer an unbeatable movie-going experience, perfect for blockbusters and premieres, as well as quirky independent pictures and beloved classics. We will celebrate with an epic screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the last film shown at the United Palace in 1969. The goal is to officially unveil the theatre upgrade in early 2017.
Support Here: Indiegogo Spotlight: Reawaken Wonder @ The United Palace
Well, goodbye, Gov’ner.
Over a thousand fans traveled from as far as Pennsylvania on Sunday evening to bid bon voyage to award-winning actor, playwright and Inwood native, Lin-Manuel Miranda — who hosted Sunday night’s screening of Disney’s original “Mary Poppins” at the United Palace Theatre as he prepares to move to London to film a remake.
Miranda, who launched the historic theater’s “Reawaken Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace” campaign to raise an additional $300,000, has been involved with the theater since 2013, when he hosted the 5-year anniversary concert of his breakout Broadway hit “In the Heights” and several movie events.
But shortly after Miranda’s presentation, fans in the audience were the one to put on a show for him — surprising him by creating a massive card of red and yellow of placards that spelled out a modified line from “Mary Poppins,” saying, “Goodbye Lin Manuel Don’t Stay Away Too Long.”
As a reporter working in Iran, Maziar Bahari was bothered not to hear more people speak about the discrimination faced by the Baha’i, a persecuted religious minority. But he knew that if he wrote about their lives, it would mean the end of his ability to work in the country.
“I was always aware that I could not work on the Baha’i issue because that would be the last time I was working in Iran,” said the Canadian-Iranian Bahari, who was then reporting for Newsweek. “I had this guilt that I was not working on it.”
In 2009, Bahari was arrested and served 118 days in Evin Prison after reporting on Iran’s contested 2009 election. During his incarceration he was beaten by an intelligence officer in the Revolutionary Guards. His story became the subject of Jon Stewart’s 2014 film Rosewater.
When he was released and knew that he could not return to the country, Bahari decided he wanted to do something about the discrimination he saw in Iran.
In 2015, Bahari founded the Not a Crime campaign, using street art to call attention to the oppression of the Baha’i community. This year, Not a Crime commissioned artists to create a series of murals in Harlem, selected for its deep connection to the US civil rights movement, with the hopes of starting a new a conversation about discrimination. The murals have been curated by Street Art Anarchy, a New York-based firm that works with street artists from around the world to commission contemporary art projects.
Words: Led Black (@Led_Black) Photography: Emmanuel Abreu (@EAbreuVisuals) Sometimes you are involve
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