March 23, 2010 By Alyssa Bonilla (a guest writer and member of the Power for the People Campaign)
This last Saturday was an absolutely beautiful day, perfect for being outdoors in the sun. A group of dedicated residents decided instead to attend the first of two “green visioning sessions” to help decide how to spend money for environmental improvements in western Queens. The North Star Fund, a grant-making foundation, and the Western Queens Power the People Campaign (PFP), hosted the event at Sunnyside Community Services.
The $7.9 million dollar fund was created as part of a larger settlement for damages from the massive 2006 power outage experienced in Western Queens that also included direct customers rebates and an economic impact study. The greening funds are to be used for tree planting and other environmental projects in outage affected areas.
The program started with a brief history of the power outage and the settlement process by Patrick Barnhart, a resident of Sunnyside and longtime member of PFP.
Hugh Hogan, Executive Director of the North Star Fund, explained that community preferences as expressed in the visioning sessions would be used to help establish the criteria for grant proposals.
Joan Byron, Director of the Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at the Pratt Center for Community Development, gave a talk on ways other community groups have addressed the challenge of spending similar funds for environmental projects including greenways in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Joo-Hyun Kang, facilitator of the day’s event, skillfully guided the group through breakout sessions and exercises designed to find areas of consensus. The group was asked three basic questions:
- How would you like the neighborhoods to look in three years after the greening projects are completed
- What are the prioritizing criteria for projects?
- What specific types of projects would you like to see?
Morning breakout sessions were held on tree plantings, green infrastructure and education. The afternoon’s exercises included a visual voting process where everyone could graphically see which projects were shared priorities and which were not.
Areas of consensus included: assurance that the funds not be used to duplicate or replace work already planned by other nonprofits or government agencies, intergenerational diversity, tree stewardship programs to ensure tree survival, urban agriculture, a central hub to foster partnership, communication and cooperation between existing environmental groups in Western Queens, and community education programs.
Another session will be held next week in Astoria, Saturday, March 27, 9:30 am – 4pm at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, 35-20 Broadway. Anyone from any neighborhood in the affected area may attend. The three basic consensus building questions will also be posted to the North Star Fund’s website for anyone to answer if they are not able to attend either session. For more information visit: www.northstarfund.org
About the author: Bonilla is a member of the Western Queens Power the People Campaign
For previous coverage, click on: http://sunnysidepost.com/2006-blackout-north-star/