A Brooklyn church pursuing a Jane Jacobs-inspired development

A plan is underway for a New York City church to work with a developer to construct a sizable development:

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A. R. Bernard, pastor of the largest evangelical church in New York City, has been working on a plan for more than 10 years. Now the proposal to build a $1.2 billion urban village and revitalize the struggling neighborhood around his church is progressing through the city’s approval process and closer to reality. The Christian Cultural Center (CCC) hopes developers could break ground in Brooklyn next year…

On 10.5 acres of church land, the proposed village would include thousands of units of affordable housing, a trade school, a supermarket, a performing arts center, 24/7 childcare for night-shift workers, senior living facilities, and other amenities designed to revitalize the East New York neighborhood…

“I’m a big Jane Jacobs fan, when it comes to understanding the urban landscape. And community means amenities are within a 1,000-foot walking distance,” Bernard said, referring to the urban planner who is famous for saving lower Manhattan from a highway and for her ideas on smaller-scale urban development focused on street life. “She was a genius. Absolute genius.” He sees this plan as a counter to the influence of the infamous urban planner and Jacobs nemesis Robert Moses, who had a history of dividing communities economically, including in this part of Brooklyn…

The church hopes this village can be a model for other cities and it could be scaled up or down, Bernard thinks. But he added that a church must be large enough, like CCC, to pull such a plan off.

As my research on religious congregations and zoning issues in the New York City region found, it is not necessarily easy for congregations to make significant changes to property. Lots of actors can express concerns.

But, some congregations have the resources and community presence to pursue projects like this and it might be difficult for others to propose and pull off the same plan. Affordable housing is needed all over and it sounds like the other parts of the project would also provide helpful facilities and services.

It would also be interesting to see how the congregation might serve as a physical and social anchor of a sizable new development as it matures.

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