Community Board 12 represents diverse neighborhoods
Borough Park, Midwood and Kensington, the three neighborhoods that make up the Community Board 12 area, are more diverse than one might think, according to District Manager Barry Spitzer.
While many people know that Borough Park boasts a large population of Orthodox Jews, Board 12, when taken as a whole, is more varied, Spitzer said. “We have a lot of mosques in our district,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle, adding that the board’s area has a sizeable Muslim community.
As the community board’s district manager, Spitzer said his job is to represent all of the residents of the area, regardless of race, nationality or religion.
Spitzer recalled attending a citywide meeting of police and community board officials to discuss street closures for Muslim holiday celebrations. “I was the only Jew there,” he said with a smile.
Board 12’s diversity is striking, according to Spitzer and Chairperson Yidel Perlstein, who noted that in addition to Orthodox Jews and Muslims, the neighborhoods in the board’s territory include Chinese, Pakistanis and residents from Bangladesh. Kensington, particularly the area around Ocean Parkway, is home to many Russians.
Still, Borough Park makes up the biggest chunk of the board’s territory. It’s a neighborhood that has one of the largest populations of Orthodox Jews in the world outside of Israel and is a vibrant, family oriented community filled with historic synagogues, yeshivas and kosher food markets.
The board’s boundary line stretches all the way to Eighth Avenue, which is famous for being the center of Brooklyn’s Chinatown.
A big event that highlights Board 12’s diversity is the annual Chinese New Year celebration, which takes place on Eighth Avenue. The avenue is the dividing line between Board 12 and its neighbor, Board 7 in Sunset Park.
Adding to the picture of diversity: St. Athanasius Catholic Church on Bay Parkway is within the board’s boundaries. So is Bishop Kearney High School, located at 2202 60th St.
The combined population of Board 12’s three neighborhoods is approximately 200,000.
The Eagle sat down with Perlstein and Spitzer for an extensive interview in the board’s office at 5910 13th Ave.
The board holds its public meetings on the fourth Tuesday of every month, except during summer recess. The meetings take place at the AMICO Senior Center, located at 5901 13th Ave., across the street from the board’s office. Committee meetings are held in the board’s office.
There are 50 board members, a full roster. The city’s 59 community boards can have up to 50 members each. The lack of vacancies on Board 12 is not surprising to Spitzer. “We have a lot of requests from people looking to join the board,” he said.
Many of the board members have long records of service, dating back decades. “We have charter members,” Spitzer said, referring to people who have been on the board since community boards were first designated by the City Charter in the late 1970s.
Perlstein has been the board’s chairman for four years and has been a board member for five years. “I have always been a community activist. I joined the board because I wanted to make a difference,” he told the Eagle.
Perlstein said he also believes that community boards are a good mechanism for disseminating information to the public at large. “You can get information on what goes on in a community by going to a community board meeting,” he said.
In addition to his Board 12 duties, Perlstein is active in the Borough Park Jewish Community Center (JCC), an organization that offers a wide variety of social service programs to residents.
Spitzer was hired by the board to serve as the district manager two years ago. He had previously served as deputy chief of staff to Councilmember David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Midwood-parts of Bensonhurst).
The City Council members representing the board’s area are Greenfield, Brad Lander and Mathieu Eugene.
There are many notable sites located within Board 12’s borders, including Maimonides Medical Center at 4802 10th Ave., one of the busiest hospitals in the city. Gravesend Park, a sprawling recreation area, is located within the board’s borders as well. Despite its name, the park is actually located on 18th Avenue in Borough Park. The Ocean Parkway Malls are also on the board’s map.
Spitzer said he enjoys works with his counterparts in other community boards on issues, adding that he interacts mostly with the district managers in boards 7, 10, 11 and 14.
Perlstein, Spitzer and the board’s staff are constantly kept busy looking after the concerns of local residents and business owners and making sure the community gets its fair share of city services.
Traffic congestion is one of the most pressing issues facing Board 12, Spitzer and Perlstein said.
“The traffic is a big problem,” Perlstein said. “We would like more traffic cops, not more traffic enforcement agents.”
The board has repeatedly requested that the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) conduct traffic studies of major thoroughfares like 18th Avenue and come up with traffic-calming solutions.
Board 12 has many busy commercial streets, including 13th Avenue, Avenue J, 16th Avenue and 18th Avenue, and the board works in close consultation with business leaders, Perlstein said.
Perlstein admitted that board members get frustrated at times dealing with the city, particularly on capital budget requests. “We would love for the city to actively listen to us,” he said.
For example, Spitzer and Perlstein said a traffic device is badly needed at the corner of 21st Avenue and 57th Street, but the city has not installed one.
The board has been able to work successfully with DOT on some projects, according to Perlstein, who noted that street repaving projects now take place in July and August when many residents are away for the summer and the work doesn’t have a major impact.
The two major capital budget requests that Board 12 sent to the city this year dealt with police and social services.
The board is co-terminus with the 66th Police Precinct at 5822 16th Ave.
The board is advocating for a new building for the 66th Precinct. The precinct moved into the 16th Avenue building in 1949. The board would like to see a new station house. “The locker rooms are terrible,” Spitzer said.
Some steps have been taken to upgrade the building. Greenfield secured funding for a new entranceway for the station house.
Board 12 is also pushing the city to open a Human Resources Administration (HRA) office in the neighborhood. “There is no HRA office here,” Spitzer said. Residents seeking public assistance, food stamps or other services have to travel to the HRA office at 6740 Fourth Ave. in Bay Ridge.
The community desperately needs an HRA office, Spitzer said. “We have a large immigrant population, as well as people who have lived here a long time and need sevices,” he said.
For more information on Community Board 12, call 718-851-0800 or visit www.brooklyncb12.org.
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