Unprecedented in its speed and scope, this pioneering project transformed the neighborhood.
Melrose Commons, a 35-block urban renewal area located in the South Bronx, was once a vibrant community. Dating back to the late 19th century, by 1993 it lay in shambles – burnt out and desolate, populated by less than 6,000 of the nation’s poorest people.
Although no formal presentation had been made to them, in 1992 the community became aware of the City’s urban renewal plan and knew that it would lead to a certain amount of displacement. At a public meeting in October 1992, a number of community residents – homeowners, tenants and businesses – vented their anger at the plan to take over their neighborhood. They demanded that any new development slated for the area include them.
A local effort at organization culminated in the formation of the We Stay Committee – Comité Nos Quedamos. Nos Quedamos surveyed other residents, held public meetings and ultimately became the unified voice that articulated the community’s concerns, demanding the time and opportunity to formulate an alternative plan.
In response to the community’s action, the Bronx Borough President halted the approval process for the existing urban renewal plan to allow community input. The Departments of City Planning and Housing Preservation and Development agreed to abandon their existing plan and to sit down with the community on a weekly basis to work with them to develop a new plan reflecting the community’s concerns. Nos Quedamos requested that Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP) work with them in shaping their plan, providing technical overviews and negotiating with the City agencies.
Rallying behind Nos Quedamos/We Stay, the community – which traditionally felt alienated by an increasingly bureaucratic and aloof city government – was able to make their voice heard.
Over the course of a self-imposed six month period and with the help of MAP Architects, the community was able to develop an in-depth urban renewal plan, which both the City and State eventually adopted. This plan was signed into law in early 1994.
The Melrose Commons urban renewal plan was approved by the City in 1994 and was the first of it’s type in the City of New York. Nos Quedamos moved to set a new precedent for community planning, forcing the City to engage its residents in the future of their community, rather than simply displacing them entirely in favor of the City’s vision.