(Imagine Flatbush logo by Imani Aegedoy)
Last night was the first meeting of Imagine Flatbush 2030, a “community visioning project” sponsored by the Municipal Arts Society and Flatbush Development Corporation. The project’s purpose is to engage neighborhood stakeholders (to my delight, I was asked to be on the Advisory Committee… guess that makes me a stakeholder!) in a sustainability discussion and planning process at the local level:
As part of Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, MAS will work with the residents, business owners, and civic leaders of Flatbush, Brooklyn, with the partnership of the Flatbush Development Corporation, to assist in creating neighborhood sustainability goals and tools to measure progress toward consensus-based goals. Flatbush is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city, growing at a rate of eight percent annually, and mirroring the needs and attributes of a growing population within a district that is both architecturally and historically distinct. Yet the lack of affordable housing undermines the ability of the neighborhood to stay diverse, the resident to open space ratio is among the highest in the city, and heavy vehicular traffic compromises the quality of life.
In other words, what do we want our neighborhood to look like in the future, both immediate and distant? How can we accommodate population growth while maintaining the things about our neighborhood’s character that we love? What are the unique assets and challenges we have to work with in this process?
Before breaking into small discussion groups we heard from environmental justice activist and Executive Director of UPROSE (United Puerto Rican Association of Sunset Park) Elizabeth Yeampierre on the need for New York City to urgently address climate change by rethinking ALL of the choices we make in our lives. She is a great speaker who has received many awards and accolades for her leadership in organizing intergenerational groups in disenfranchised communities to unite against social, economic, and environmental injustice. I was really struck by her description of how UPROSE evolved from fighting against things in their community to planning for things, and the sense of empowerment that came with that evolution. Here in Flatbush we are fortunate to not be fighting against highway expansions and power plant sitings and irresponsible brownfield development, and also to have many motivated and talented people to work for the positive changes we want to see. We are rich in social and creative capital, and Imagine Flatbush 2030 is an opportunity to utilize those human resources.
Upon reconvening from the group discussions, we learned that there was mostly consensus on what we love about Flatbush and want to preserve and build on — diversity of population (ethnic, cultural, religious, economic), variety of housing stock, locally-owned businesses, good public transportation, good schools — and what we feel is lacking — affordable housing, public green space, places to gather for social interaction, retail selection (too many pharmacies, not enough grocery stores), opportunities for youth, arts and cultural amenities.
Some issues that were touched upon and that I hope to discuss in more depth include energy efficiency retrofits for apartment buildings and houses (which would help keep housing affordable for current residents and owners); improving and expanding public transportation, especially “crosstown” bus service; better pedestrian and bicycle amenities; and — the big one — promoting a sustainable approach to urban living that prepares us for future environmental challenges. Elizabeth Yeampierre put it out there: “We all love our SUVs, but I might have to think about sitting my bodacious hips down on a bike“. Like she said…
The next meeting of Imagine Flatbush will be on December 12th at Brooklyn College. If you’ve read this far chances are you’re a stakeholder too… and you are invited! I’ll post the details here when they become available.