On June 15, 2023, New York City Mayor Eric Adams kicked off the Jewel Streets Neighborhood Plan, an revitalization effort that also focuses on resilience: something we have been advocating for many years at RECONOMICS Institute: The Society of Revitalization and Resilience Professionals.
The Jewel Streets Neighborhood Plan hopes to deliver much-needed quality of life improvements — including infrastructure improvements to alleviate flooding as well as new affordable housing — to the “Jewel Streets” neighborhood, also known as “the Hole,” on part of the Brooklyn/Queens border.
Backed by more than $75 million in initial funding, the Adams administration’s planning process aims to bring resiliency measures to this chronically flood-prone area, improve street infrastructure and pedestrian safety, and create new, affordable housing and economic opportunity for residents of this community that has long suffered from flooding and been deprived of public investment.
Building on more than a year of engagement with elected officials, community members, and local organizations like the East New York Community Land Trust and the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), in partnership with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other city agencies, will present ideas to the community for alleviating flooding, build stable and affordable housing on vacant city-owned land, and create economic opportunities.
“The decades of government ignoring this community and leaving residents to fend for themselves against regular flooding ends now,” said Mayor Adams. “The infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, and economic opportunities we are prepared to deliver for this community would be a game-changer. We are excited to bring this plan to the residents, get their feedback, and chart a path forward together.”
The effort to bring quality-of-life improvements and economic opportunity to the Jewel Streets neighborhood delivers on a key strategy in “PlaNYC: Getting Sustainability Done” to implement multilayered strategies for flood resilience. It also builds on central planks of Mayor Adams’ “Housing Our Neighbors” blueprint focused on fostering resilient neighborhoods and keeping New Yorkers safe in their homes amid climate change.
“No community in our city should suffer from the chronic flooding and lack of basic infrastructure that has persisted in the Jewel Streets neighborhood for years,” said Deputy Mayor for Economic and Workforce Development Maria Torres-Springer. “With the city’s planning effort, we will make critical investments in resilient infrastructure and facilitate the creation of jobs, housing, and community services to ensure that this is an inclusive ‘jewel’ of an area for years to come.”
The Jewel Streets is a 12-block neighborhood that straddles East New York in Brooklyn and Lindenwood in Queens. Because the neighborhood is a low-lying area without comprehensive stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure, residents experience year-round flooding, even on sunny days.
“The community of Jewel Streets urgently deserves the basic infrastructure foundation and reliability that the rest of New York City takes as a given: proper drainage after storms and a connected sewer system,” said Deputy Mayor of Operations Meera Joshi. “The time is now to meet these needs and go beyond by also developing affordable housing and economic opportunities. Working together within government and with the community, we will build a stronger and broader world for the current and future residents of Jewel Streets, rendering the infamous name ‘the Hole’ a distant memory.”
Most streets in the neighborhood today contain open industrial uses or overgrown, vacant lots, including a 17-acre city-owned site. And though wild plants grow tall along street edges, industrial uses and septic tank leaks have contaminated the land and groundwater. Pedestrian safety has also been an ongoing challenge, with few sidewalks or crosswalks available for pedestrians and tractor trailers, recreational vehicles, and other abandoned vehicles frequently stored on the street.
“Residents of the Jewel Streets have endured conditions no New Yorker should have to face, and the city is honored to work with them to build the neighborhood they deserve,” said Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz. “Following through on the housing and homelessness blueprint’s vision to keep New Yorkers safe in their homes in a changing climate, the Jewel Streets plan will be a model to create a climate resilient future for the city.”
Beginning this month, the Adams administration will kick off a holistic community planning proposal where residents will be able to weigh in on a series of tools to address flooding, including a bluebelt and a drainage pond to divert rainwater from sewers; green infrastructure, like rain gardens to provide additional capacity to absorb rainwater; upgraded sewers with expanded capacity to serve as the first line of defense against flooding from rain events; and additional supportive tools such as raised streets.
“When we talk about investing in the Jewel Streets, what we’re really talking about is treating Black and Brown New Yorkers with dignity and respect. Having visited the Jewel Streets myself, I’m outraged at the deplorable conditions people live with right here in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and we have the opportunity to change that now,” said HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr. “In collaboration with the impacted community, we are working on immediate infrastructure solutions and a master plan that is driven by how best we can serve these New Yorkers, reverse decades of environmental injustice, and build more affordable housing and a better quality of life. Rather than being called ‘the Hole,’ the Jewel Streets must be a shining example of resiliency and heathy living. I look forward to the first workshop later this month.”
Community members will also have an opportunity to share perspectives on ways the city can make streetscape upgrades to improve safety and connectivity to nearby neighborhoods, create affordable housing on city-owned land, stimulate the creation of good jobs and community amenities, and develop a long-term land use and zoning plan.
“The Jewel Streets neighborhood sits in a bowl roughly 10 to 15 feet below the surrounding streets, which makes building a functional drainage system challenging, but the short-term upgrades we have made over the last year have provided some real relief to residents,” said DEP Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala. “We will continue to work with our partners and the community as our engineers study the feasibility of other longer-term drainage solutions, including the use of green infrastructure or more traditional sewer upgrades.”
In partnership with the community, the Adams administration will develop targeted resiliency strategies for the respective areas north and south of Linden Boulevard. The city has received $2.5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds that will go towards planning work around resiliency measures and affordable housing creation. For the northern area, the administration is investing $72.8 million in new and upgraded resiliency infrastructure. In the southern area, community engagement will inform efforts to redirect water to Jamaica Bay and reduce current and future flood risk, explore green infrastructure to further reduce flooding, build new affordable housing, and create retail space and good-paying jobs.
The planning process, which will cover both sides of Linden Boulevard, is organized around five core goals:
- Build resilient, green infrastructure and improve community resilience.
- Outline a community-supported vision for city-owned land, including a 17-acre vacant lot.
- Improve street infrastructure, pedestrian safety, and connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods.
- Facilitate the creation of jobs, community services, and amenities.
- Develop a long-term land use plan for the Jewel Streets.
This stage of the process will begin with the first of five public workshops on June 24, 2023, with the Adams administration planning to bring final recommendations to the community by early 2024 and a final neighborhood plan in place later in 2024. Community members will have additional opportunities to learn about the process and share feedback both in person and online. Anyone interested in participating can find more information or submit questions or comments online.
Since April 2022, the Adams administration has been working closely with a community coalition led by New York City Councilmember Charles Barron, the East New York Community Land Trust, and the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation to develop solutions to the long-term challenges facing residents of the Jewel Streets. Since then, DEP has completed projects in 2022 and 2023, installing new storm sewer infrastructure and catch basins both north and south of Linden Boulevard. Photos of the project completed this year are available online.
“Jewel Street residents know far too well the impacts that climate hazards such as flooding can have on housing, safety, and quality of life,” said Mayor’s Office of Climate & Environmental Justice Acting Executive Director Victoria Cerullo. “We look forward to our continued partnership with elected officials and community members on resilient stormwater infrastructure, affordable housing, and economic opportunity to advance environmental justice and deliver on our PlaNYC initiatives.”
In addition, the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) are working jointly to tow illegally parked cars and conduct targeted clean-ups of vacant lots. Since February 2023, the agencies together have removed more than 400 vehicles in 26 coordinated joint agency operations. Overall, the NYPD this year has towed 220 large trucks parked illegally overnight on residential streets across the city.
Many local leaders praised the new revitalization initiative:
“This administration is committed to equity, and DOT is proud to join in this effort to deliver services to the residents of the area,” said New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “We look forward to this planning process and working with our partner agencies to enhance resiliency and accessibility in the Jewel Streets area and to continue delivering projects in historically underserved communities.”
“The NYPD fully embraces our city’s ongoing mission to foster safe and secure environments that enable communities to prosper,” said NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. “Our officers work tirelessly to ensure that New Yorkers are safe and that they feel safe, too. And this seamless, multiagency effort advances the very best of our cohesive public-safety vision.”
“New Yorkers who live in the Jewel Streets neighborhood deserve clean, safe streets, and ‘New York’s Strongest’ have been proudly running targeted clean-ups of this area throughout 2023,” said DSNY Commissioner Jessica Tisch. “Mayor Adams’ investment will make a meaningful difference in the quality of life of this long-ignored community.”
“This interagency effort is starting to correct the mistakes of the past and is charting a path towards a better, brighter future for this community,” said New York City Department of City Planning Director and City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick.
“The Jewel Streets in East New York have faced systemic under-investment for decades,” said U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. “With low-lying geography and a deteriorating sewer system, this community remains vulnerable to persistent unsanitary flooding year-round, especially after extreme weather events. I thank Mayor Adams and his administration for the investments made to correct these historic wrongs and their commitment to building an affordable, resilient future for all New Yorkers.”
“Hallelujah!” said New York State Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato. “Thank you, Mayor Adams, for giving the much-needed attention ‘the Hole’ deserves. There has been a generation-long problem in this neighborhood with flooding, and I am glad to see funding and resources will be allocated towards the community.”
“This is an important investment that will improve the quality of life of so many people,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “This effort underscores the city’s strong commitment to bringing much-needed infrastructure improvements to the Jewel Streets neighborhood, which has for too long been ignored. A bright future where Jewel Streets is free from flooding and home to abundant affordable housing and economic opportunity is within our grasp, thanks to this wide-ranging initiative.”
“As we address the twin threats of climate change and our city’s housing crisis, it’s collaborative efforts like this that help establish resilient and affordable communities for New Yorkers to call home,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “I’m grateful that ‘the Hole’ will finally begin to see their chronic flooding addressed and an expansion of much-needed housing supply.”
“We’ve been working hand-in-hand with city agencies and the community land trust to make improvements in this area, and it’s great to finally see a cohesive plan come together to address the many issues this neighborhood is facing,” said New York City Councilmember Joann Ariola. “We’ve come a long way here, but there’s still plenty more that needs to be done, and this plan will create an outline to bring us to where we want to be. I am looking forward to seeing what the future brings for the Jewel Streets area, and I believe that future will be a bright one.”
“The Jewel Streets area historically has been a flood-prone, low-lying area of the community where any kind of precipitation would produce problems. For a long time, residents have imagined a better tomorrow, and with the launch of this public commitment of city resources after years of organizing, a better tomorrow is one step closer,” said New York City Councilmember Charles Barron. “The long-overdue attention city agencies are giving the Jewel Streets area can be accredited to the consistent commitment of various community stakeholders to amplify the voices of the residents. The commitment and organizing of the East New York Community Land Trust and Brooklyn Community Board 5, in partnership with the office of Councilmember Charles Barron, is an example of a small local partnership having a large holistic impact. We will continue to work with the utmost dedication to see the completion of the project brought to fulfillment.”
“If we know one thing, it’s that organizing works. For years, residents of the Jewel Streets have been calling for solutions to the constant flooding and lack of sewer connection, so the announcement of the creation of a neighborhood plan is one step in the right direction,” said Debra Ack, special projects coordinator, East New York Community Land Trust. “Through this process, we look forward to securing the demands of residents for long-term solutions — for example, new sewer lines, green, resilient infrastructure, and a buyout option for those who want it.”
“For far too long, residents of the Jewel Streets have suffered through chronic flooding, lack of sewer access, and overall neglect of their community,” said Michelle Neugebauer, executive director, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. “Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation welcomes the launch of this neighborhood plan and will continue working with our partners and Councilmembers Barron and Ariola to build a collaborative and inclusive planning process that centers residents’ most urgent needs — sewer and stormwater infrastructure, long-term flood resiliency, a buyout program, and improved quality of life for residents. We look forward to seeing real, tangible results for this community.”
Featured photo shows the Sweet Brook Bluebelt on Staten Island, one kind of tool being considered for the Jewel Streets area. Credit: New York City Department of Environmental Protection.