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Community Tourism Comes to New York City

In partnership with Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel (BEST)

There’s more to New York City than Broadway and the Empire State Building, but many visitors to the city stop their explorations there. And it’s a shame: venture a little further than mid-town and New York City offers culturally and historically fascinating neighborhoods with plenty to see and do. And now, travelers can visit these neighborhoods responsibly.

Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel (BEST), an initiative of The Conference Board, with the support of the New York Community Trust and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is spearheading a citywide project to promote community tourism in New York neighborhoods beyond the popular tourist attractions of mid-town Manhattan.

Known as Promoting Community Tourism in New York City, the goal of this project is to assist community-based, nonprofit institutions to develop tourism enterprises that strengthen their communities both economically and socially, while preserving their cultural and natural assets for the benefit of future generations.Community tourism aims to encourage tourism in ways that 1) maximize dollars coming into the community; 2) build civic pride in the area and respect for the neighborhood among others; and 3) respect the environmental integrity of the neighborhood.

Such efforts are beginning to sprout up throughout the world as more and more people travel and enjoy new experiences. In Paris, for instance, Hotel Meurice has begun to offer walking tours of its own historic backyard. The Waikiki Association in Honolulu is trying to develop ways to bring back cultural tourism to its community, knowing that without it the hotels of Waikiki are no different than any other hotels on large beaches.The Promoting Community Tourism in New York City project seeks to help mostly lower-income, ethnic communities capitalize on the assets of their "off-the-beaten-path" neighborhoods by encouraging walking tours and other activities. Many of these neighborhoods are rich in culture and history; the churches of Brooklyn, the music of the Bronx, the brownstones of Harlem, the ethnic diversity of Queens, and the history of Staten Island, are the most obvious examples. But there are also areas where the arts are lively, history is preserved, and the cultures that make NYC one of the great cities of the world are visible and thriving.Though many NYC companies offer walking tours of historic Manhattan neighborhoods, they aren’t truly community-based. However, with help from this initiative, several communities and non-profit organizations have already developed unique community-based, sustainable tours within their own neighborhoods.

  • The Point Community Development Center provides tours of the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx including its own dynamic performing and visual arts center, where visitors can enjoy authentic Latino music.
  • The Mt. Morris Park Community Improvement Association in Harlem is inaugurating walking tours this summer to heighten awareness of the neighborhood's rich history and heritage.
  • The Lower East Side Tenement Museum provides walking tours highlighting both past and present immigration experiences.
  • Cultural Collaborative Jamaica currently provides occasional walking tours of their culturally and historically rich African-American neighborhood in Queens.
  • On Staten Island, historic Richmond Town offers tours of a living museum of a historic New York settlement.
  • The Fort Greene Association in Brooklyn will be offering walking tours of its historic district.

Gretchen Dykstra, the founding president of the Times Square Business Improvement District (BID) and the project's lead consultant, comments, "These neighborhoods offer unique attractions worthy of tourists' attention, or a visit by native New Yorkers. They complement New York's world-famous sites by offering insights into the diverse lives and history of the ordinary people whose contributions have built this enthralling city."Michael Seltzer, the Director of BEST, adds, "Community tourism can enhance the quality of life in some of the city's most interesting neighborhoods, aid them in preserving their culture and heritage, and further their own economic development. The project will also yield valuable insights for other urban communities worldwide that seek to use tourism to generate new revenues and civic pride."

Such attractions can provide needed employment, stimulate community economic development efforts, and instill pride among local residents. Imagine a local resident, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, bringing 20 outsiders into a lively record store to talk with a local celebrity who sang with famous Puerto Rican bands and then to buy CDs that the proprietor recommends?

The economic benefit goes to the host institution that organized and sold the tour for its ongoing work in the community, the local guide who’s paid from the proceeds of the tour, and the music store, that receives 20 more customers. And on that particular day imagine if one of the visitors then recommends the music storeowner for recognition by a well-known preservation organization that brings citywide attention to him and his store.

The tour will have enhanced the civic pride among the community, bolstered the self-esteem of the tour guide, celebrated the local cultural heritage, and increased awareness among the visitors for the cultural richness of community and its inherent value…as the dollars earned stay in the neighborhood.

The Promoting Community Tourism in New York City project is a three-year initiative beginning this year. Studies will determine how to design such enterprises to be most beneficial to the traveler, and the community, so that they can be sustained over time, and the model will then be available to other urban communities around the country and outside the United States who are revitalizing neighborhoods through tourism.But in the meantime, both New York City residents and travelers to NYC have the rare opportunity to explore lesser-known parts of the city and help communities thrive at the same time.ABOUT BESTBEST, an initiative of The Conference Board in association with the World Travel and Tourism Council, is a leading source of knowledge on innovative sustainable practices that advance the interests of the travel industry, individual travelers and the destination communities. For more information, please visit sustainabletravel.orgFOR MORE INFORMATION

  • Lower East Side Tenement Museum
    90 Orchard Street-Corner of Broom
    New York NY 10002
    212-431-0233
    tenement.org

    The Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s mission is "to promote tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gateway to America. Neighborhood Heritage Tour
    Length: One hour
    Time: Saturday and Sunday: 1:00 and 2:30 PM.
    Adults: $ 9.00
    Students & Seniors: $ 7.00

    "Stroll the Lower East Side and learn how different immigrant groups shape, and continue to shape, the community. See the public spaces and the historic buildings that have been used by successive groups of immigrants who have settled on the Lower East Side."

  • The Point Community Development Corporation
    940 Garrison Avenue
    Bronx NY 10474
    718-542-4139
    thepoint.org

    The Point is a nonprofit community development corporation dedicated to youth, economic, and cultural development. They periodically host walking tours of Hunts Point itself. Again, the concentration is music. Tourists can enjoy visiting such sites as Casa Amadeo, the oldest Puerto Rican record shop in New York, and can see locales where hip-hop music began. Rodriguez says that the goal of his bus and walking tours, essentially, is "recognizing community heroes." They also offer bus tours, arranged by appointment, that concentrate on the rich and diverse musical history of New York City, which depart from Hunts Point and travel through Spanish Harlem. To schedule a tour, call the Point and ask for Angel Rodriguez.

    Tours
    Walking tours are $15 a person, van/bus tours ("Mambo to Hip-hop tour") are $35/person. The latter includes a meal of Latin American or Soul Food from South Bronx’s own Pat’s Kitchen, as well as a performance. The Point has a van, minimum of 12 people. Parties supplying their own vehicle are eligible for discounted rates. Tours are on Saturdays. Typically tours depart at 3PM but the times are negotiable upon request.

  • Historic Richmond Town
    441 Clarke Avenue
    Staten Island NY 10306
    718-351-1611
    historicrichmondtown.org

    Established in 1958, Historic Richmond Town is a historic village and museum complex devoted to life on Staten Island. It is a 100-acre site; the restored area occupies 25 acres. A visit to Historic Richmond Town is "an opportunity to experience the ties formed through family, work, community, and civic life." You can walk through the former county seat of Richmond, visit historically furnished interiors, and explore museum exhibits. Staff and volunteers provide guided tours and demonstrate the daily activities of early Staten Islanders on a seasonal, scheduled basis. Tours
    The "Living History" tour includes costumed tour guides throughout the visited houses and a few other special events during this time period.

    From June 27 thru Aug 31 is "Living History" the guided tours run Wednesday through Sunday, 1PM — 5PM.
    Adults: $ 4.00
    Students & Seniors: $ 2.50
    General tours are offered year-round.
    Group tours are always welcome, but require a reservation. The reservations phone number is 718-351-1611, ext. 280.

  • Fort Greene Association
    Box 401198
    Brooklyn NY 11240
    212-445-4745
    fortgreenetoday@aol.com

    Established in 1970, the Fort Greene Association undertakes several initiatives geared toward promoting the historical and community richness of the Brooklyn Neighborhood.

    Tours are available biannually during even-numbered years.

    When offered, the FGA’s walking tours explore the historic district of Fort Greene, including the visiting of several historic houses and major monuments such as a Masonic temple and a church. The tour package also includes a musical performance.

  • Cultural Collaborative Jamaica
    161-04 Jamaica Avenue
    Jamaica NY 11432
    718-526-3217

    Cultural Collaborative Jamaica is an innovative alliance of 14 arts, educational, and economic development organizations in Southeast Queens which cooperate to strengthen and increase cultural programs through shared resources and joint activities.
    CCJ has helped produce holiday celebrations along Jamaica Avenue, park performances, concerts, concerts, exhibits, calendars of events, and the Jamaica Arts & Music Summer Festival (JAMS). It is a partner in the conversion of a former church into a multi-purpose, community performing arts center. It’s linking of culture to the economic advancement of Jamaica, is, in the words of Borough President Claire Shulman, "contributing to the revitalization of the community."

    Tours
    Walking tours are generally offered from the June — September period of the year. Always on Saturdays, generally 10:30 or Noon There are 3 tours: one is a historical look at the King Manor Museum, a truly gigantic house that was once the residence of Rufus King, a lesser-known but important figure in early American history. Another is a neighborhood tour of Jamaica, offering a less-in-depth tour of the King Manor, along with other historic sites which give downtown Jamaica a distinct cultural flavor. A geological tour discussing the glacial terrain is also offered. Tours are free but require donation. Call CCJ for calendar.

  • Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association
    1 West 125th Street #215
    New York NY 10027
    212-369-4241
    Fax: 212-369=5234

    Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association is helping the Harlem community to become more attractive. MMPCIA is making improvements for residents, frequent visitors, and tourists. They are building an inn that will accommodate about 18-20 guests. It will feature a jazz club and a gift shop.

    Local merchants around the neighborhood will provide these services. The hotel is being built where a correction/prison for women used to be. MMPCIA also has a homeowner's tour every year on the second Sunday of June. This allows people to view and tour other people's homes that had recently been built or renovated. Due to its dynamic director, Ms. Valerie Bradley, Mt. Morris Park is sure to become one of Harlem’s most sought-after attractions.

    Ms. Bradley has been the executive director of MMPCIA for the last year and a half, and a homeowner in the community for 12 years. One of the first neighborhoods in Harlem to be developed following the introduction of elevated rail service in the 1880s, the Mount Morris Park Historic District features some of the area's grandest brownstones. Many important local institutions surround the park including the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library, North General Hospital, PS 79 and other schools and daycare centers.

    Among the many local houses of worship are the Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, one of the only black synagogues in the United States. Mt. Olive Baptist Church; Mount Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church; Bethel Gospel Assembly, housed in the old Cooper Junior High School; and St. Martin's Episcopal Church, home to the second largest set of carillons in New York City. The Handmaids of Mary Convent, one of the few black convents in America, operates across West 124th Street on the north side of the park, beside the library.

    Tours
    Walking tours are $ 20. They depart Saturdays beginning June 30 thru September (excluding July 1 and September 1) at 10AM. The tour is approximately 3 hrs and is a walking tour of the historic Mt. Morris neighborhood.

 

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