Diana Switaj

BY ALINE REYNOLDS |  Diana Switaj is a second-year student in Columbia University’s Masters in Urban Planning program and is the new Urban Fellow at Community Board 1. Switaj discusses her work for C.B.1, her career goals and offers her opinion on Occupy Wall Street and Blue Spoon’s roast beef and cheddar sandwich.

What interested you in working at C.B. 1?

I live not too far away in Brooklyn and know a lot of people that go to Pace University, so I’ve spent a lot of time in Lower Manhattan. It was always a neighborhood that interested me, because it is still a neighborhood that belongs to the employees rather than the residents. Even though there’s a significant a residential population, they’re not being represented: if you’re there past 7 p.m. on a weekday, for example, nothing is open. I kind of wanted to be on the side of planning that could help alleviate that, and I think the experience of finding out what very localized governments are like is incredibly important and valuable.

What C.B. 1 projects are you working on at the moment?

There are three different projects I’m working on: the community amenities and facilities inventory, a small-business study and Manhattan Seniors. The inventory is something that’s been ongoing for the past four years with the previous fellows. It has to do with this idea that the community facilities in the area don’t reflect the needs of the residents. In combination with that, I’m also doing a small business study that has more to do with the recent media attention of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the return of global industries to Lower Manhattan and the shift from financial to creative and media industries. The Manhattan Seniors project is kind of fluid — as it develops, I’ll be helping [the housing committee] get it off the ground and provide technical planning assistance to support the initiative.

Have you done community board work previously?

Yes. Last year, I worked with another community board on a ‘studio’ project. Every first-year planning student at Columbia does what they call a ‘studio’: the idea is to get hands-on planning experience and work with an actual client. Our group’s client was Community Board 11 in East Harlem. We were studying the Park Avenue corridor there, which is derelict and mostly consists of parking lots and vacant areas. The community board wanted to look at how we could change that and bring more vibrancy, retail and pedestrian traffic to the area. We made a policy recommendation that had a lot of zoning changes, transportation proposals and advice on how to implement green spaces.

What are your career aspirations? Could you see yourself working full-time at a community board?  

I’m not really sure yet. In the future, I’d like to work at one of the various city agencies, like the Department of City Planning or Department of Transportation, rather than in local politics. The community board is just advisory. When you’re working for the city, you kind of have more sway.

What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street?

I really, really support the cause and I really, really support what they’re trying to do, but I think they’re going about it in a way that might be counterproductive. They’re causing a lot of problems along the way and losing the support of the local community. People have reached out and said, ‘you’re being too loud and disruptive,’ but it seems like that’s not really been taken that seriously by the protestors. It’s just not one of their primary concerns; their priorities are getting the attention of everybody on an international scale. They know they can’t make everyone happy and are ultimately driven by their purpose.

So, I take it that your current favorite Downtown hangout isn’t Zuccotti Park?

It was, but no one can really access it at the moment! When I’m not in the office, I guess I’d say City Hall park, which is right across the street. I’ll grab lunch at Blue Spoon on Chambers Street and go and eat there. It’s a really beautiful park.

What do you get at Blue Spoon Coffee Co.?

I have their roast beef and cheddar sandwich. Every time I go, I get the same thing. They have good coffee there, too.