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Citizen-Led Engagement: Subway Evangelist

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

I recently had an interesting experience on my morning commute to Karp Strategies, where I am a Graduate Associate. On the 4/5, I became the audience of an impromptu community engagement session.

The man began speaking directly to commuters from Lefferts and East Flatbush, asking them to play a game of jeopardy, with question themed around knowledge of various city representatives. “Elections are coming up he said” after listing the names, “and you need to know who these people are because they’re robbing you.” What came next was information I wasn’t expecting. “Rezonings mean the community is being sold to developers. It means those big luxury buildings you can’t afford, and those stores you can’t shop in. And if they tell you it will bring affordable housing, it’s a lie. Those of you waiting for affordable housing can stop, because it doesn’t exist.”

It was 8:30 AM, but this man succeeded in engaging at least one commuter on the train, even though the message wasn’t for me. Did he reach others in the car? Did they believe him? In that forum, I doubt anyone with a different perspective would speak up, especially pre-coffee. In a time where people are witnessing their communities change, and more people are rent burdened and facing displacement pressures, can rezonings help? Many see them as a solution to a rapidly growing population citywide, and as a key mechanism in increasing affordable housing, land-use mix, and open space. If rezonings are a solution, why do some people see them as a threat? Is it that some communities are burdened with absorbing the growth of the city, building affordability for everyone, more than others?

Here at Karp Strategies, we think deeply about how policy change impacts us. How can we help developers advance their initiatives? How do we make sure the community has a voice and kept informed? The questions go on and on. Through our community and stakeholder engagement practice, we strive to engage New Yorkers in fun, creative ways and meet them where they are. While few enjoy morning commute disruptions, I wonder if our subway evangelist is onto something.


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