Masaryk gates are a disgrace

Dodge Landesman says the decision by the Masaryk Towers board of directors to close the Lower East Side housing complex’s gates at night — putting pedestrian walkways through its grounds and gathering spots off limits to the surrounding community — is “a slippery slope,” since it might be emulated by other local housing complexes and future developers in the area.

BY DODGE LANDESMAN | Masaryk Towers is named for Jan Masaryk, a political figure who during World War II and the lead-up to it, fought against Nazi occupation of his native Czechoslovakia, and then resisted inevitable efforts to make it a communist state. An unabashed progressive socialist, Masaryk rejected both Nazi occupation and fascism, while also seeing the flaws of communist rule, including its restriction of civil liberties.

It’s sad to see the Masaryk Towers board fail to live up to its namesake, doing its best to create a closed-off and isolated community, where decisions are made undemocratically. While consultation with residents before such a drastic move had been promised for years, only 24 hours advance notice was given.

As Masaryk becomes gated off to the rest of the larger community, I’d imagine Jan Masaryk would find today’s incident to be a smaller occupation in its own right. This is about a board making decisions for the rest of the community members, to further segregate its residents from their neighbors, while giving the community little time to voice concerns.

The sentiment to close the Lower East Side Mitchell Lama complex’s gates is understandable, at first glance. Masaryk’s board says there have been liability issues with people tripping and falling on the complex’s grounds. Yet they fail to provide a single name, incident or date.

At the heart of the issue, this seems to be modern-day segregation. The need for more privacy and some security is understandable, but the beauty of many of these complexes is that they bring the community together, to enjoy a shared space. Neighboring residents now can no longer access that space freely or conveniently get to where they need to go.

Before the closure, those who worship had easy access to Bialystoker Synagogue and St. Mary’s Church, just south of the gates. Nonprofits providing crucial services, like Grand Street Settlement and United Jewish Council, stand just behind the gates, as well. So do a playground and the Abrons Arts Center.

It might seem, at first, it’s not such an imposition to walk an extra four blocks. But what if one is disabled or elderly?

The gate closure will be a slippery slope. Developers five or 10 years down the road will point to the gated Masaryk. They will look to it and feel that continued economic segregation will simply be the logical next step. This is the first step toward the privatization of our city. I hope Masaryk’s board reconsiders.