Recent public hearings were a long overdue opportunity for the public to officially weigh in on the tiresome radio tower dispute between Fordham University and The New York Botanical Garden. But the real solution has little to do with who wins a public relations battle. Both sides brought out throngs of supporters, but there was little if any sign of the boroughÕs rich diversity. Both institutions might want to take a lesson from this Š that they probably arenÕt appealing to enough people in their own backyard.
There are substantial issues involved for the institutions of course. Does the towerÕs aesthetics truly conflict with the mission of the Garden? Some donÕt see why Garden patrons being reminded they are in a city, when they are in a city, is a problem. Others see the Garden as a retreat from city life. FordhamÕs mantra on the day of the hearings was ŅNo Tower. No Tunes.Ó Is that an accurate portrayal of the current situation or a scare tactic? Both sides agree that an alternative location now being discussed is a possibility.
More important to us is the sense that the argument is going on over the heads of local people. Fordham has long worked to professionalize and broaden the reach of WFUV. The Garden has similarly worked hard to expand its audience. The worrisome thing is that they both appear to be reaching out to the local community less.
In the 1970s, Fordham was intensely interested in the community surrounding it. Its priests provided the impetus and the moral suasion that helped to create the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which is widely credited with stanching the tide of arson and abandonment that consumed the south Bronx. They still support the University Neighborhood Housing Program and the university does have a terrific community service program where students work at a number of community organizations, but there seems to be little movement in the other direction. This newspaper receives virtually no press releases from Fordham inviting the public to lectures and performances, unlike Lehman College and Manhattan College, for instance, which regularly welcome the community on campus for various events.
WFUV, which does broadcast some great American music, could try to appeal more to its home borough, which is largely black and Hispanic. CanÕt there be even a little programming geared towards this population Š jazz, hip-hop, salsa, or son? And how about a program showcasing homegrown musical talent and not just stars from elsewhere?
The Garden, too, does not always prioritize its neighbors. It does, of course, have important programs for local schoolchildren one free day a week. But the GardenÕs once vibrant Green-Up program, which supports the boroughÕs community gardens, has been somewhat lackluster in recent years. And the admission fee still rankles, sorry to say. Even just a few more free events a year might introduce a whole new group of prospective patrons to the cornucopia of Garden wonders.
We are confident that the good smart people of both institutions, who really are our friends and neighbors, can work this out in a way that is at least bearable to both sides. We just wish they would spend as much time interacting with local people as they do with their supporters beyond the Bronx.
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