Frances Goldin Fought for Fifty Years


If you meet Frances Goldin on the street she’ll probably hand you a “Tax The Rich” pin. She’s 92 years old, only wears purple and has been a street activist since before the hippies of the 1960s made it cool.

In the 1950’s Robert Moses, New York City’s most famous city planner, wanted to bulldoze the Lower East Side where Frances lived.

“If we don’t clean out these slums the central areas are going to rot,” Moses said at the time. “And it’s all nonsense to say that the problem can be solved by rehabilitating and fixing up, slicking up old law tenements by repair jobs. It can’t be done. You’re simply pouring good money after bad.”

Robert Moses envisioned a new community with high-end co-ops for people working on Wall street. When the city evaluated his new plan, it found that more than 90 percent of people living there would be displaced and unable to afford the new apartments Moses wanted to build.

Moses was notoriously pro-development to the detriment of low-income communities.

“If you try to please everybody you’re not going to accomplish anything,” Moses said at a speech in 1953. “There must be people who are discommoded, inconvenienced or call it what you will...on the old theory that you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs”

“That’s what you think,” said Frances Goldin when she heard about the plan.

The residents of the LES got together and drew up a new plan for the neighborhood. They wanted to form a Community Land Trust in order to protect the land from development and have a say about what happened to the future of their neighborhood.

It wasn’t easy. In 2008, after 50 years, the Cooper Square CLT was created. It protected 21 buildings and 328 apartments, guaranteed to stay affordable for 99 years.

“We struggled, we picketed, we got arrested. Every step of the way, we forced them to do what they didn't want to do,” said Goldin. “Now they brag about Cooper Square!”

That’s what activists in Mott Haven want to do for one building they hope to turn into a community center. They just hope it won’t take 50 years to accomplish.

Listen to Sarah Barrett’s story of how residents and activists are turning to the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Trust to reinvest in the neighborhood.  They hope to turn a vacant city-owned building into a community center with space for an after-school program, a health clinic, a commercial kitchen for local businesses, a birthing center, and even room for a local youth orchestra.

Sarah BarrettComment