Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Justice Center coordinates massive, multi-agency clean-up in Brownsville

For as long as anyone can remember, the space behind the fence in the Langston Hughes parking lot has been a dump site. For well over a decade, a homeless man had made it his encampment and accumulated literally tons of trash and debris behind it. The site has been an eyesore and health hazard in the community. It smelled of urine and feces, children in the adjacent playground were afraid to go near it, and no one would park in the spots nearby because the man was known to vandalize cars. Even though everyone wanted it gone, there was no a quick fix. The dumping was actually on private property (behind a Belmont Avenue sneaker store), but the property owner didn't have access because NYCHA had put up a fence and he had no rear entry. The lock on the fence had long rusted over and Sanitation could not gain access. As far as NYPD jurisdiction, while the parking lot was policed by PSA 2, the dumping site was technically precinct turf. There was also great concern from all parties about how the homeless man would react if the site were cleaned which had stalled previous efforts.

The solution to this problem required a commitment from all city agencies involved to work very closely together. Luckily in Brownsville's community district 16, we have phenomenal partners committed to going above and beyond to get the job done. This project would not have been possible without NYCHA and Langston Hughes Property Management, Dept. of Sanitation BK 16, NYPD's 73rd precinct and PSA 2, Common Ground's homeless services outreach team, and Ms. Viola Greene-Walker, our Community Board 16 District Manager.

At the end of the day, the project was a success on multiple levels. Not only did it show us that no job is too big if we work together, it removed a huge symbol of blight and disinvestment from the community. Throughout the morning, dozens of Langston Hughes residents stopped by to express their excitement and relief that the site was being cleaned. One even leaned out the top floor of the 21-story development to shout, "Yay! It's finally being cleaned. Thank you!"   

The clean-up was an initiative of the Justice Center's Belmont Revitilization Project and Operation Toolkit. Operation Toolkit takes a problem-solving approach to tackling discrete neighborhood problems, particularly  hotspots and conditions of disorder that impact public safety. To learn more or to suggest an Operation Toolkit project, contact Viviana at 347-404-9940.

Before the cleanup. The dumping measured 22 feet wide, 4 feet deep and between 6-9 feet tall.
NYCHA's welder was the first to arrive at the site.
Soon after, NYCHA property management, NYPD conditions officers from the 73rd precinct, and Common Ground street outreach workers  arrived
along with the Department of Sanitation BK16 cleaning and field officers.
NYPD was effective in engaging the homeless individual to leave the site voluntarily and without incident. 
After NYPD used their bolt cutter, the welder began to dismantle the fence. 
The garbage was so compacted it did not fall with the fence.
DSNY surveyed the site as their sanitation truck arrives.
The first half of the fence comes down.
And the clean-up begins. 
First to go were the corrugated metal and wrought iron fences. 
NYCHA, NYPD, DSNY and Justice Center staff look on.
NYCHA provided two "front-loader" bobcats to assist with the clean-up.
DSNY strategize with their district superintendent.
It got a lot dirtier before it got cleaner.
Ready for the second half of the fence to come down.
NYCHA and DSNY survey the second half. 
Like the first half, it was so compact it did not fall.
NYCHA hard at work breaking up the debris. 
The NYCHA Borough Administrator for Property Management and BK16's Cleaning Officer track progress.
At one point 3 cats ran out of the site.
A few rats, and many, many roaches. 
More than 6 tons of debris were removed.
NYCHA returned after this to sweep the premises and exterminate, DSNY came through with their street sweeper and NYCHA will power wash the wall.

NYCHA will not replace the fence so the dumping problem does not recur. The Justice Center will work with the property owner to finish cleaning the site, scrape and repaint the wall, and monitor it to prevent future dumping. The Justice Center, property owner, and NYCHA will develop a project to permanently reclaim and beautify the space - possibly planter boxes of flowers and a mural. 

Stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Brownsville at Dance Africa 2014: A Taste of Madagascar

This past Saturday Brownsville Community Justice Center JOIN participants had the pleasure of visiting the Bedstuy Restoration Center for the 17th Annual Dance Africa Festival 2014, for the first BOLTS activity for the month of May.

Every year the Bedstuy Restoration Center collaborates with BAM’s Department of Education and Humanities for the DanceAfrica project. The annual event features BAM dance students from ages 5 and up, visitors, performers, or artist from Africa. The event also has an impressive audience of local leaders, council members, and the public/neighboring communities.

Dr. Charles "Chuck" Davis, artistic director and founding elder of DanceAfrica,
leads open prayer before the festival begins.

This year Dance Africa 2014 was graced with the presence of a group of 17 dancers, artists, and
musicians. The group called "Groupe Bakomanga", is known for its colorful dance and live music performances, drawing on traditional rhythms and choreographies from the Imerina, Antandroy, Betsileo, and a host of other Malagasy tribes.

Our Participants were truly amazed and enjoyed the experience. Although some were new to these traditions, others shared their stories of taking part in African dance during their elementary school years. Conversations of past memories were shared amongst the group of participants, as they closely watched performances.

Some JOIN participants who attended,and
Community Programs Associate, Lisa
  Its amazing how the rhythm of drums or the sound of music can capture such a diverse audience. No matter the age, race, gender, or ethnicity, everyone enjoyed themselves and were excited about all that was showcased. Brownsville participants learned a great deal about the culture and its language, as every performance ended with a harmonious clap and shout. Some even laughed and said they would take that very tradition back home, and do the same at shows or performances that friends partake in. That's what it's all about! Our participants shared how they could relate to the culture, and how excited they would be to share some of those traditions learned with friends from their neighborhoods. BOLTS activities are about exposing participants to different walks of life, and giving them the opportunity to say they've experienced something outside of their neighborhood.
Dance Africa was truly another successful BOLTS trip!

Dance Africa 2014 is not over yet!
If you would like to get a taste of Madagascar,
the show will run from May 17th- 26th, it is a free event, and open to the public.
The Brownsville Community Justice Center highly recommends supporting the Bedstuy Restoration Center & BAM's Dance Africa 2014!

Local youth and drum students get ready to perform.  
BAM Student Dancers perform to live drums for crowd and Madagascar guest.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Brownsville Youth Lead "Jane's Walk" to spark appreciation for neighborhood history and beauty

What do Larry and Curly of the 3 Stooges, Mike Tyson, Rosetta Gaston, and M.O.P. have in common? Where is the oldest children's library in the United States? What neighborhood used to be known as the "Jerusalem of America"? Where can you find dozens of beautiful community gardens and colorful murals created by youth from the community? Come find out the answers to these questions and more. Dress comfortable!

This past Saturday, individuals from across New York City gathered at the Powell Street Community Garden for "Brownsville Stronger Together: A Walk Through East Brooklyn's Diamond in the Rough," a community tour of Brownsville led by the Justice Center's own rockstar interns, Alonzo Jones and Emma Johnson. 

The walk was one of 130 free, guided walks across New York City this past weekend as a part of Jane's Walk. Organized by the Municipal Arts SocietyJane's Walk is a movement of free, locally-led walking tours inspired by urbanist and author, Jane Jacobs. The walks get people to explore their cities and connect with their neighbors. 

More than 100 Jane's Walks were organized across New York City this weekend but ours was the only one in Brownsville!

If you weren't able to join this past Saturday, have no fear. You may experience a virtual Brownsville Jane's Walk right here....

Walk Ground Rules:

  1. Sidewalks maybe busy, PLEASE STAY CLOSE AT ALL TIMES.
  2. At all key point in the walk please huddle up so you can gather all your information.
  3. If you feel the pace of the walk is a bit overwhelming for you please let it be known.
  4. Please stay on the sidewalks at all times.
  5. Enjoy yourself and take lots of pictures.

Hello My Name is Alonzo Jones and this is My Co- Leader Emma Johnson. We are interns at the Brownsville Community Justice Center. We would like to thank all of you for showing up to our Brownsville Stronger Together Jane's Walk today. We were drawn to Jane's Walk for an opportunity to shine a better light on Brownsville and inform society on what Brownsville is about.  

The group met at the Isabahlia Powell Street Garden located on Livonia between Junius and Powell and proceeded down Livonia Ave under the shadow of the 3 train. 
The first stop was the Stone Avenue Library/Brownsville Heritage House on Mother Gaston Blvd.

Stone Ave Library: During the early part of the century, Brownsville (known as the Jerusalem of America) was a crowded neighborhood of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. The Stone Avenue Branch was one of the later Carnegie branches, constructed to relieve overcrowding at the nearby Brownsville Branch. The Stone Avenue Branch officially opened on September 24, 1914. Originally named the Brownsville Children’s Library, it was the first public library in the world devoted to serving children. The branch was visited by librarians from around the world interested in learning about how to set up a children's library.

The group proceeded along Dumont Ave through the Brownsville Houses.
Rosetta Gaston (1885-1981), or "Mother" Gaston, was an activist who devoted her life to community work and teaching Black children about their heritage. She founded "Heritage House" for the young and old of the Brownsville community, located on the third floor of the Stone Avenue Branch. 
The second stop was the monumental "Yesterday I was ___" mural created by Groundswell and Brownsville youth on Rockaway and Sutter Ave.

Quardean Lewis-Allen gave the backstory to the community garden located in the lot in front of the mural.

At the BMS health center, Quardean Lewis-Allen gave a quick history of public housing in Brownsville.

     BMS: Our main health site. BMS Main (opened in 1992), is a 27,000 sq. ft. two-story building located at the corner of Rockaway & Blake Avenues in Brownsville, Brooklyn . The two-story, teal green building not only houses the bulk of BMS' clinical services on the first floor, it also serves as the agency’s corporate headquarters.  

Alonzo explained how even though he has been coming to BMS for healthcare all his life he didn't know all the services BMS offered until researching for the tour.
         This BMS site offers: Adult Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease, Pediatrics, OB/GYN, Dentistry, Psychology, Psychiatry, Social Services, Medical Records, Brownsville Community Pharmacy, Dermatology ,Optometry, Podiatry, Nephrology, Nutrition Counseling, Physical Therapy, Surgery Consultations, Wellness programs.

After an icy break, the next stop was the beautiful Betsy Head Park.
Betsy Head Park: This Park is named for Betsy Head (1851-1907), a British immigrant who became a wealthy widow. Mrs. Head left the City of New York a bequest of $190,000 to build recreational facilities. She stipulated in her will that half of her residual estate should be given to sixteen charities, many of which were dedicated to the welfare of children, and the other half should be donated to the City of New York for the “purchase and improvement of grounds for the purposes of health and recreation.” The land for Betsy Head Playground was paid for by the property owners of Brownsville at a cost of $250,000. The facilities of the playground were bought by the funds bequeathed by Mrs. Head.

The group proceeded up Saratoga Avenue to visit another of the Isabahlia community gardens.
The next stop was the historic Zion Triangle at the intersections of East New York, Pitkin and Legion Streets.

Zion Triangle: In 1896 the City of Brooklyn acquired this triangular property, bounded by Legion Street, Pitkin, and East New York Avenue at the junction of Eastern Parkway. The new park, or “gore” (small, triangular parcel) as it was called then, was donated by landowner Peter L. Vandeveer, and known in its early years as Vandeveer Park. The 1896 Brooklyn Parks Annual Report noted a small shelter at the site and noted that the park “will be exceedingly useful as a resting place for bicycle riders who use the Glenmore Avenue route to the good roads of Queens County.” In 1911, the park was renamed Zion Park by the Board of Aldermen. Zion is derived from an Old Testament reference to the City of David.
Alonzo explains what became of the historic Loew's Pitkin Theater, showing some images of what it looked like in it's heyday.
Loews Pitkin Theatre: The once-gorgeous Loew’s Pitkin Theatre, which debuted in 1929 and closed in the late 1960s, has undergone a $43 million renovation by Poko Partners, reopening with an Ascend charter school on the top floors and retail on the ground floor.

The group walked down Pitkin to Rockaway and then turned onto Belmont Ave.
Pitkin Avenue: The main thoroughfare, Pitkin Avenue, named for John R. Pitkin, founder of the village of East New York, has large shops, a movie palace, and restaurants; great crowds of shoppers and strollers, day and evening, offer a colorful contrast to the numerous side streets with their dismal houses.

Erica Mateo, Alonzo, Quaming and Allen give a history of Belmont Avenue, from the pushcarts of the early 20th century to the day of service Brownsville youth did there last month.

Some of the Brownsville Stronger Together Jane's Walkers pose for a picture.

Thank you for coming on our Brownsville Jane's Walk. We hope you learned something.

Were You Paying Attention? 

Test Your Knowledge of Brownsville With these 5 Trivia Questions:

1.     I am the first public library in the world devoted to serving children. I was visited by librarians from around the world interested in learning about how to set up a children's library. What library am I? 
2.     The land for _________Playground was paid for by the property owners of Brownsville at a cost of $250,000. The facilities of the playground were bought by the funds bequeathed by Mrs. Head. What park am I? 
3.     The two-story, teal green building not only houses the bulk of it's clinical services on the first floor, it also serves as the agency’s corporate headquarters. What building am I? 
4.     The once-gorgeous _______ ________ Theatre, which debuted in 1929 and closed in the late 1960s, has undergone a $43 million renovation by Poko Partners, reopening with an Ascend charter school on the top floors and retail on the ground floor. What theatre am I? 
5.     Brownsville most widely known sayings is? 

(Answers: 1. Stone Avenue Library 2. Betsy Head 3. BMS 4. Loew's Pitkin 5. "I'm From The Ville, Never Ran Never Will.")

A special thanks to Audrey Williams for capturing all of the Brownsville Jane's Walk moments pictured here. To see more of her photography, visit her facebook pages: Quiet Storm: What I See and Brownsvillenites Where Are You? 

     Also, thank you to Joanna Crispe of the Municipal Arts Society for coming on our Jane's Walk and showing your support!