Subject to Inspection: Brooklyn Spaces and Issues
First, the Big Picture
We are facing an unprecedented period of uncertainty and doubt in Brooklyn. A global pandemic, a rise in crime, a loss of economic activity, the laying bare of racial injustice. On the whole a disturbing crisis of leadership at all levels of government.
The next six months are perhaps the most critical time period in the modern history of Brooklyn, as the political primaries that will largely shape our future will be decided in June. And a focus on the major opportunities, and often overlooked neighborhood narratives that should inform the political process, will be the focus of the editorial staff in this column in the coming months.
As the Borough navigates the unintended consequences of past success including the affordability of housing and the broadening of benefits to reach those that have been left behind, as well as the mind boggling challenges ahead of us in rebuilding our neighborhoods post-pandemic and the very real impending budget crisis that will likely take years to weather, there will be no single solution. Instead we should draw on the endemic spirits of entrepreneurship, creativity, and social justice that are intrinsic to the DNA of Brooklyn, and develop the most progressive solutions in NYC and beyond for the challenges that lay ahead.
For years now Brooklyn has been leading the way in shaping the culture and intellect of New York City. It’s important to recognize this responsibility and duty in this moment in time.
The official motto of Brooklyn, displayed on the Borough seal and flag is Eendraght Maeckt Maght, from the old Dutch meaning Unity Makes Strength. Perhaps more than anywhere in America, Brooklyn is uniquely positioned to demonstrate the strength found in diversity. On any given day hundreds of languages can be heard on the streets of the Borough of Kings. Our City – which would be the 3rd largest in the country if decoupled from the other 5 Boroughs – is one of humanity’s greatest experiments. Demonstrating that peoples from all over the world can become kith and kin in Brooklyn. And live together in dialogue and debate, largely without resorting to the ugly instincts of our baser natures.
In the spirit of that tolerant dialogue, and rooted in the myriad of competitive advantages that Brooklyn enjoys, we welcome this conversation on our pages in the months to come.
Broadway Junction Deserves Examination and Action Now
East New York has been one of NYC’s hardest-hit neighborhoods by the COVID-19 pandemic, as income and race separate the deadliest areas from those that have been largely spared.
As a result, any plan for the equitable recovery of NYC should focus on communities like East New York that have disproportionately borne the brunt of the pandemic that have exacerbated the historic consequences of disinvestment in the neighborhood.
One place to start is Broadway Junction. Nowhere else in the City can one find used car lots and gravel storage next to a transportation hub boasting five subway lines and a branch of the Long Island Railroad.
Only Central Business Districts like Midtown and Lower Manhattan and outer borough hubs like Downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens boast rival transit infrastructure. And yet no action to date has been taken on the many planning efforts over the years to galvanize investment and opportunity in the area. These range from the City’s vision for the future to a myriad of community-based planning documents completed over the last few years. It seems for once most Brooklynites can agree on something — Broadway Junction is ripe for improvement.
While the 2016 East New York Neighborhood Plan rezoning of areas surrounding Broadway Junction has produced infrastructure improvements and affordable housing, albeit not at the promised rate, plans for job creation and educational opportunities have largely failed to take shape.
For a number of years now the City and State have failed to take action in implementing these broad-based efforts. Plans to relocate up to 250,000 square feetof Human Resources Administration offices to East New York to anchor a new office district in the area have yet to materialize — though there have been recent signs of life.
But City agency sluggishness has not been the only barrier to progress. Community opposition has prevented commercial development on sites like 2440 Fulton Street from coming to fruition. It’s been nearly a year since, after an able job as Councilmember, Rafael Espinal abruptly resigned from his position serving East New York’s 37th District to take the reins of the Freelancer’s Union — a move many criticized as self-serving and an abdication of public duty. His departure left a leadership void with no one to push for the implementation of Broadway Junction’s promise.
Long-time neighborhood advocate Darma Diaz, who won the special election for the 37th district a few months ago, has had barely enough time to put together an advocacy and action agenda for Broadway Junction – and the headwinds of public health and budget pressures have not helped. Looking ahead to the primaries, Diaz and other candidates like socialist-leaning Sandy Nurse, who has been endorsed by a number of Brooklyn officials and the New Kings Democrats, and other candidates like Rick Echevarria and Misba Abdin, have an obligation to lay out their vision and plan of action for the future of Broadway Junction.
Ideas range from updating the area’s out-of-date land use policy to allow for commercial, educational, and additional affordable housing development; to relocating City and State agencies from areas like Downtown Brooklyn to seed new office projects and attract jobs to the community; to securing Governor Cuomo’s commitment to site a branch of CUNY in the area to begin to address its dearth of higher education(every other transit hub of comparable scale in the City has one); to replacing MTA surface parking lots with much-needed open space.
Last month, the Coalition for Community Advancement and other neighborhood advocates called upon the de Blasio Administration to get moving on fulfilling promises related to jobs and investment in the community, with some acknowledging that the path to attracting “new jobs is to develop local assets, like Broadway Junction, through a community-based process.”
We agree that any just recovery plan should focus on neighborhoods most battered by COVID-19 first, and one that has all the characteristics to become an integral economic center like Broadway Junction is too important to neglect through business as usual. Candidates at all levels of local government should and must pay attention to Broadway Junction and articulate a realistic path to utilize this too long ignored corner of Brooklyn and spur job creation and economic opportunity for the future.