On the Ground with the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative

Posted on: June 12th, 2015 at 5:14 am by

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L.E.S.P.I. Tabling Event

I think we can all agree that it is horrible seeing all of these amazing pieces of New York history demolished or pushed out by rent hikes. The neighborhood isn’t benefitting by it, and certainly many long-term residents who have been living here for years aren’t happy. It’s been said a lot in the past year, but I’ll say it again – the New York we all once came here for is disappearing at such a rapid rate that I just can’t keep up. In fact, the National Trust for Historic Preservation had listed the Lower East Side in its 2008 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places.

Seems like this still holds true, don’t ya think?

However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. There are many local groups that are trying extremely hard to preserve what they can. I have had the privilege of meeting with one of these groups – the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative (L.E.S.P.I.), an organization with a great mission and that has made some incredible progress in protecting our city’s beautiful assets.

L.E.S.P.I. is a not-for-profit volunteer organization founded in 2007 and is made up a group of extremely dynamic individuals, consisting of residents and preservationists who are passionate about New York. They have been instrumental in creating two New York City historic districts through the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), which has protected many buildings in the Lower East Side from being destroyed. Why does this need to happen? L.E.S.P.I.’s website describes this perfectly:

“It needs to happen because the Lower East Side’s historic streetscapes and buildings serve as markers that tell us of an architectural and cultural history that has been central in the development of the city as well as the country, a history that includes generations of immigrants, artists, writers, political activists, and others who helped define who we were and are as a people. Every day now more of the area’s historic tenement, institutional, and community buildings are being destroyed in waves of development that seem out of control. This destruction destroys an important tie we have to those who came before us.”

What has L.E.S.P.I. been doing to help? Another excerpt from their website explains:

To spread the word about the importance of landmarking the intact historic architecture and streetscapes of the East Village / Lower East Side, LESPI on an ongoing basis meets with the LPC staff and local elected officials, works with other neighborhood and preservation groups, and gives testimony at Community Board 3 and LPC public hearings in support. We’ve also been tabling on Avenue A in front of Tompkins Square Park and Houston Street near the Bowery to discuss the issue with residents, workers and visitors, and ask them to sign our petition for support: so far we’ve gathered in total over 1,500 petition signatures.

In 2014 LESPI completed Phase 1 of our block by block survey and mapping of the East Village and Lower East Side below Houston Street. The purpose was to identify streets – in addition to the LPC’s two new East Village historic districts – that retain a coherent sense of their historic architecture. Typically these are tenement blocks where most of the buildings have remained intact. We’ve used our survey information to pinpoint where to propose the next historic districts, and are now in the process of reviewing our proposals for new district designations with elected officials and the LPC.

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Lens on the LES Exhibit Opening May 2015

I highly encourage you to go to L.E.S.P.I’s website and check out this awesome group of people making a difference. The grassroots organization need your support to continue the extremely valuable progress they’ve achieved in our neighborhood. Not only that, they have some really cool upcoming events (I have attended some in the past, and not only are they interesting, but some of them have free food!).

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