Harlem Residents Hold Sit-In to Protest Farmers Market Takeover of Plaza
HARLEM — While participants in a temporary farmers market at a traffic triangle on 150th Street and Macombs Place handed out samples of free food and fresh apple cider Thursday afternoon, residents from the Dunbar Tenants Association sat on the sidewalk in protest.
They say plans to close a portion of Macombs Place at 150th Street to create a pedestrian plaza with a five-days-per-week farmers market will prevent seniors and the disabled from using the curb for pickup, and that the plan is being imposed on them.
"These buildings have no access for the handicapped," said Roslyn Callender, 69, a retired city worker, as she sat underneath a protest sign at Dunbar Apartments.
"There are very few residents of this community participating," said Bobby Jones, president of the Dunbar Tenants Association, as he pointed at the tents and table and chairs in the street.
"The residents of this community have not had a voice. We had a meeting but our concerns have been ignored."
Jamar Hunter, 37, a member of the 150th Street Block Association, said the neighborhood feels like the plan is being pushed on them.
"We've had trouble getting green lights for our events," Hunter said. "That's why we as a community want to be informed about what's going on. We need someone to explain why this plan is beneficial to the community."
Proponents of the plan such as the Harlem Community Development Corporation, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, the Bradhurst Merchants Association and HERBan Farmers Market, said they've explained in great detail why the plan will benefit the neighborhood.
The triangle creates a dangerous inlet from Frederick Douglass Boulevard onto Macombs Place, said Department of Transportation officials. There have been 30 crashes at the intersection in the last five years. The new proposal will make crossing the street safer, they said.
An emergency lane will also be added for vehicles together with enlarging the sidewalk. Thomas Lunke, director of planning and development for the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said there will be planning sessions before any work is done if the proposal is approved.
The DOT is currently considering the proposal to turn the triangle into a pedestrian plaza. A decision could come at the end of the year, officials said.
Tupacamaru Tiwoni, founder of HERBan Farmers Market, launched the proposal. She lives in the Dunbar Apartments and said many of her neighbors signed petitions supporting the plan. The neighborhood is in desperate need of more places to get fresh fruits and vegetables, she said.
"A lot of people are just not ready for change," said Tiwoni, whose group would run the farmers market featuring upstate farmers. "It's a mentality of not wanting to see each other prosper."
Patreinnah Acosta-Pelle, a consultant for HCCI and a project manager for the Bradhurst Merchants Association, said the plaza would bring much-needed businesses to the neighborhood by drawing traffic to the area and helping to eliminate the rampant vacancies.
"This neighborhood needs to be upgraded for business," said Acosta-Pelle.
The complaints about the plan being imposed on the neighborhood don't make sense, said Lunke, from the Harlem Community Development Corporation. He said the plan is backed by multiple community-based groups with a long history in the neighborhood.
"How closer of a community can you have than our partners?" asked Lunke. "This 'us versus them' talk doesn't make sense."
But for Harold Keeling, a member of the 150th Street Block Association who runs the Showstoppers Basketball Tournament at Bill "Bojangles" Robinson Park, it makes perfect sense.
He said he struggles every year to raise money to put on the tournament, which gives neighborhood kids a positive activity during the summer.
"They don't do anything but make money off of our people and leave," Keeling said.
Clarice Seeley, a retired police officer, said she picks up and drops off her 90-year-old mother in front of the Dunbar Apartments a few times per week.
"The way things are now, it's convenient for my mother," she said. "There are other spaces where they can do this."
Malcolm Punter, executive vice president for HCCI, said there is time for public input on the proposal and that the temporary plaza was an opportunity to let people see what it would look like.
"I want people to be able to make an informed decision," he said.