Alida Camp, Community Board 8 Manhattan’s Chair, has had many interesting career roles, such as being the main producer of the 1990 movie Body Chemistry. But then she gave birth and the rigors of the film industry prompted another career change. She trained as a mediator and the skills that she cultivated in her various roles have proven instrumental in guiding the community on Manhattan’s East Side.
Not too long after she was elected chair in January 2018, she gave an interview to the chair’s predecessor, David Liston, where she credits robust family discussions around the dinner table as a child for her ability to excel in a variety of roles of lawyer, producer, professor and now as mediator.
“I can’t say that all of those robust discussions at the table influenced those but it certainly influenced my interest in justice, in trying to do the right thing, which I guess filtered into everything that I’ve done. It influenced my interest now in trying to write some of the things that are going on in the city that I’m not crazy about, which is why I have been interested in joining the community board for a start,” said Camp.
There is no shortage of issues facing Camp and the 50-member board. Camp isn’t crazy about, for example, too little park space, too few public-school seats, a lack of sufficient affordable housing, as well as the closings of mom-and-pop businesses.
Also important to Camp and CB 8 is the Black Lives Matter movement for racial equality and social justice; the board is also concerned about the inequities of the virus’ impact. In fact, the board will be working on various aspects of these issues and is planning a series of community conversations.
“We have a lot of issues. We are a very dense community, and we have very little green space. That’s become all too apparent in this crisis when the parks are cheeks by jowls. Development is a very significant issue—we are fighting for a height limit on York, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Avenues so that the buildings are smaller, the area is less dense and the affordable housing units in the tenement buildings on those avenues are preserved,” Camp said.
Very important to Camp is having a city that is financially accessible, especially as the city is facing an affordability crisis. Indeed, according to Zillow, the median price of homes currently listed in the Upper East Side is $1,595,000 while the median rent price is $3,098, which is higher than the New York median of $2,900.
She believes that all New Yorkers should benefit from the richness of the city’s cultural offerings and history, regardless of socio-economic status.
“We need a city that is vibrant, not just $200 seats on Broadway, $300 seats at the opera, or $300 pre-fix menus at restaurants. That’s not all that New York should be, it should be a city where you can stop in and have a regular cup of coffee at the counter,” notes Camp.
Camp is a full-time mediator and arbitrator, specializing in mediating and arbitrating disputes in a wide variety of industries including entertainment, construction, securities, fashion and general commercial, according to her profile on the International Mediation Institute’s website.
She explained that through training and experience as a mediator and arbitrator she has developed good listening skills, and listening to people is essential to being able to carry out the necessary level of government work associated with the board, as well as building consensus among all the stakeholders.
Those skills have come in handy in resolving interpersonal conflicts.
“I think creative thinking is part of mediation where you are looking for avenues of common interests or reasons or ways to create resolution that makes sense for everyone who is involved, all of the stakeholders. So, therefore, it’s not about all or nothing, it’s not about win or lose, it’s about finding a way for people to agree on something,” noted Camp.
When it comes to working with the board, she stresses that her three favorite words are synergy, cooperation and collaboration. For example, the board worked collaboratively to organize a forum, pre-COVID-19, that allowed New York City Housing Authority residents to voice their concerns about the agency’s plan to build new luxury buildings at the Holmes Towers complex in the northern part of the district because the agency says it needs revenue from luxury housing to reduce a multibillion dollar shortfall.
“It was a 5 ½ hour hearing. NYCHA representatives were there. The developer himself was there for the entire time, and people from the community for a few hours came out and spoke about their concerns about the project. I think there was a revelation to the city of the issues confronting the community,” said Camp.
Making the career transition to mediation in the first place is a story unto itself. When asked why she left the movie business, she exclaims with a laugh, “I had a baby!”
She was working sometimes 20-hour days producing films and one day she didn’t come home until 3:00 AM, and then six hours later she went into labor.
Her husband is an entertainment lawyer representing some of Hollywood’s bigger movie studios. He’d get invited to a variety of breakfasts, dinners and screenings, so someone at one of the gatherings suggested to Camp that she should pursue mediation.
“I like to analyze things, I like to think about solutions to things, so mediation is a great avenue for that for trying to work with the parties not to impose or most of the time not to even suggest solutions but to help them come to their own conclusions,” says Camp.
The onset of the coronavirus has obviously limited the interactions of CB 8 board members, but the board has maintained a healthy and robust schedule via online meetings and virtual town halls.
For example, the board worked with elected leaders and hospital representatives from NYC Health + Hospitals to organize a virtual town hall on June 25 so that the community could ask questions about Covid-19 and conditions at Roosevelt Island Medical Center and Coler Hospital.
Camp is now more three years into her tenure as CB 8 Chair, and she loves it.
“I love the mental challenge of it, I love the interaction with everyone and I love the creativity of trying to think of different ways to look at issues and at problems.”
The next full board meeting of CB 8 is this Wednesday at 6:30 pm via Zoom.