FRANCES GOLDIN, PRESENTE!
Source: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
One of the most enduring lessons I learned about planning was from an activist in New York City’s Lower East Side, Frances Goldin. She led the successful struggle to stop the urban renewal bulldozer from destroying the neighborhood she loved, helped put together an alternative community plan, and worked for five decades to implement the plan.
Frances passed away peacefully last weekend at the age of 95.
The biggest lesson Fran taught us all was captured in her passionate declaration that “It took fifty f___ing years.” After winning the first battle to defeat the plan by Robert Moses, the city’s power broker, she organized an intensive planning process with residents, assisted by Walter Thabit, leader of Planners for Equal Opportunity, a predecessor of Planners Network. The plan was the foundation for preservation of the community.
So many of our urban planning professionals are geared to making quick plans and backing quick fixes. But Fran Goldin built institutions with people based on fundamental human rights, advocating for the community in solidarity with her Latinx and Asian neighbors. She was instrumental in establishing the Cooper Square Committee, which remains a fierce advocate for the right to housing, the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association (MHA), a limited-equity coop, and the Cooper Square Community Land Trust, which leases the land to the MHA.
Fran was once a member of the Communist Party USA and the US Labor Party. She proudly ran for local office on the same ticket with W.E.B. Dubois. She helped found the Metropolitan Council on Housing, still a leading tenant rights group. She fought for LGBT rights and showed up in purple garb at the Gay Pride parade and Occupy Wall Street with a sign reading “I adore my lesbian daughters.” She was also a long-time advocate for the release of Mumia Abu Jamal, the revolutionary who is unjustly jailed in Philadelphia.
Fran was a successful literary agent. Among her most notable clients were Adrienne Rich, Barbara Kingsolver, and Frances Fox Piven. I gladly contributed a chapter to the book she co-edited, Imagine Living in a Socialist USA.
A decade ago, Fran asked me to join the board of the Cooper Square Community Land Trust. I gained from her an appreciation that stewardship of the land must also be infused with the deep passion for the pursuit of racial justice and the right to housing that drove her, not in the abstract but concretely by standing in solidarity with people who are struggling daily to survive in the midst of racist gentrification and displacement. In other words, planning isn’t mainly about the plan, it’s about the people and the liberation of both people and land. The land trust isn’t simply a form of ownership, it’s also about how people relate to each other, to land, and most of all to the economic and political powers that exploit land and people for profit. Fran taught us to never give up struggling for our alternatives to speculation and exploitation.
Rest in Power, Fran.
Professor Emeritus, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY