Call it a comfort zone.
A Red Hook city-planning guru is teaching regular citizens how to decode New York’s byzantine land-use laws and baffling zoning jargon, opening the doors to his home office for two hours a week so residents can ask questions about their properties or learn how to shape the future of their rapidly changing neighborhood in a friendly environment.
“People have the chance to tell stories about what they hope for the future of the neighborhood and at the same time they can apply some really good expertise,” said Alexandros Washburn, who previously worked as the city’s chief urban designer and is now the director of the Center for Coastal Resilience at Stevens Institute of Technology. “It’s something that’s just more relaxed and people are able to get ideas out on the table in a setting that feels like home.”
The Van Brunt Street resident has been running his zoning happy hour from 2–4 pm every Wednesday since last month, using his special software, reference library, and his research assistant to educate the masses about urban planning, as first reported by the Red Hook Star Revue.
Since then, local residents, business owners, and even staff from developer Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities — which is planning a massive office complex at Beard and Richards streets — have dropped by to discuss their ideas and learn what the hell “R6 with a C2-5 overlay” means.
Once, a Norwegian couple popped in after spotting the discussion from the street, and offered tips on how to improve the neighborhood using their hometown as an example — evidence change is really afoot in the area, Washburn said.
“People love Red Hook so much that even Norwegian tourists will come and put in their two cents,” he said.
Yep, Red Hook is gentrifying fast, with pricey condo buildings popping up along the waterfront, the mayor’s streetcar poised to cut a path through its streets, and a celebrity rehab center on the horizon. Recently, an engineering firm’s proposal to reshape the neighborhood in the image of Battery Park City has also generated a lot of buzz.
People can’t stop the relentless march of progress, Washburn says, but they can have a say in how it plays out if they understand what’s going on.
“We know change is coming and we want that change to be on our terms,” he said. “How do we maintain the character of Red Hook as we grow?”
Learn about the wonders of zoning with Alexandros Washburn (373 Van Brunt St. at Coffey Street in Red Hook), 2–4 pm every Wednesday. Free.