Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the Ribbon Cutting of Via Verde

South Bronx
Monday, June 18, 2012

Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg -- for that introduction, but even more for the leadership you have provided to New York City.

It's good to be back here with you and so many other friends just two years after we broke ground for Via Verde and marked the 100,000 unit milestone of the New Housing Marketplace plan.

Many thanks also to Adam and Jonathan, Mat Wambua, as well as Congressman Serrano and everyone else who made Via Verde a reality.

A generation ago, when President Carter walked down Charlotte Street and compared the devastation that he saw here to the firebombed neighborhoods of Dresden during World War Two, some speculated that cities like New York were finished.

But not everyone believed that. Indeed, the Koch Housing plan recognized the difference local leadership could make -- how the use of abandoned buildings and vacant lots could rebuild communities while increasing property values and tax revenues.

And this location was one of the last city-owned vacant lots in the Bronx to be repurposed for affordable housing.

Mayor Bloomberg's Housing Plan built on the Koch plan's legacy and matched the scale of its ambition -- creating or preserving affordable housing for more people than live in the entire city of Atlanta.

While responding to the new housing challenges of a growing and successful city, the Mayor's plan was also an opportunity to push affordable housing design in a new direction.

Nowhere was that clearer than the New Housing New York Legacy Project that I was proud to be a part of starting as HPD Commissioner -- and to see through to completion as HUD Secretary.

In many ways, our idea was simple: organizing a competition that could attract architect development teams from around the world and challenging them with a jury made up of a broad spectrum of stakeholders -- from housing experts and community leaders, to other prestigious architects, to perhaps the most important members of that jury, residents of the neighborhood itself.

Indeed, in stark contrast to the old paradigm the winning team--Phipps Houses, Dattner Architects, Jonathan Rose Companies and Grimshaw--didn't tell residents what they needed.

Rather, they listened to what residents wanted.

What they heard was that families here wanted a healthy building and community-- not just green roofs and compact fluorescents but the kind of social and economic sustainability that can only result from housing with a mix of incomes and uses.

For me, the perfect synthesis of that idea is Via Verde's green market, starting this summer.

Not only will it provide the kind of access to fresh fruits and vegetables that is too often missing from our poorest neighborhoods. But by selling food grown on the stepped roof of the building, it will give the children who will grow up here a connection to the place food comes from.

That's sustainability -- and that's why of all the affordable housing development trends that Via Verde embraces--the emergence of sustainability and new partners--in some ways the most important is that it reengaged the architectural community in the affordable housing sphere after a half-century of disengagement.

As a lapsed architect myself I can say that Via Verde shows us that as we rebuild communities devastated by the worst crisis since the Great Depression, architects must be part of this renewal -- seeing neighborhoods not as diseases to be cured or problems to be solved, but as communities made up of people, places, assets, and institutions.

With their engagement, we can ensure affordable housing doesn't just blend in to our communities -- but sticks out for the right reasons: with its architectural distinction serving as a source of pride for the neighborhood.

That's the 21st century way of designing and building affordable housing that Via Verde represents -- and it's my job in Washington to ensure communities can benefit from this model, from conception to completion.

That's the kind of partner we in the Obama Administration are committed to being to communities like the South Bronx -- bringing all the partners we need together to create housing and communities built to last.

And it's why I'm so proud to join all of you here at this celebration. Thank you.


Content Archived: April 10, 2017