REZONING HARLEM grew out of an innovative course at Hunter College, "Media, Community Advocacy and the Urban Environment", that brought together graduate students from the fields of Film & Media and Urban Planning. After the City officials' bureaucratic presentation of a massive rezoning plan for the 125th Street corridor at a public hearing, community members delivered passionate testimony, anticipating the problems the rezoning would exacerbate: lack of affordable housing, displacement of viable local businesses and loss of the world's most famed African-American neighborhood. Our story emerged: a community's struggle for determination in the future of Harlem and in the future of their lives.
The 125th Street rezoning was an intense time line, with community meetings happening every weekend, and public hearings and committee meetings often not announced until the day before. We were uptown in Harlem, we were downtown at City Planning and City Hall, talking to as many people as we could and filming as much as possible. We worked closely with community members and urban planners to unravel the often cryptic urban planning language and navigate through the various steps in the city's legislative process. We focused on historic preservation, small businesses, housing and displacement, height limits, the connection between the real estate industry and politics, and the over-arching theme: the community of Harlem that was left out of the planning process.
This film is extremely relevant today, as the Bloomberg Administration has signed over 100 rezoning plans into law and continues to thrust developer-driven planning models on traditional working-class neighborhoods. Aside from raising public awareness, we intend on using the film as an educational and organizing tool to mobilize neighborhoods to begin re-shaping legislation to better reflect the community’s actual needs. Ultimately, we hope this film will encourage viewers to critically examine the Bloomberg Administration’s predisposition to side with the real estate industry as opposed to promoting true community based planning.
– Natasha Florentino and Tamara Gubernat