Despite the darkness of recent weeks & the challenges we face in the year ahead, we have a lot to be proud of, in what we have accomplished as a community in 2016. We're pleased to offer some of the highlights of our work together over the past year.
AROUND THE DISTRICT
Saving Treasured Neighborhood Institutions: Pavilion Movie Theater & 5th Ave Key Food
Development threatened two highly-valued neighborhood institutions this year: the Pavilion movie theater (on Bartel-Pritchard Square, at the intersection of Park Slope and Windsor Terrace) and the Fifth Avenue Key Food supermarket in the North Slope.
Thanks to good community organizing, a developer who was willing to work with us, and some good luck, instead of being replaced by condos, the Pavilion movie theater will be renovated to become “Nitehawk Prospect Park.” Renovations started this fall, and the Nitehawk theater will re-open in 2017. I have no doubt it will be a community treasure for many years to come.
When the Key Food supermarket was threatened, more than 400 of you turned out to a town hall meeting to raise your voice together. The developer agreed to work with a coalition of community stakeholders. This fall, we announced a great deal: the development plan will include a large, community-oriented, long-term supermarket. We also secured more deeply affordable housing, and an agreement to work together on the site's design.
Building an "Age-Friendly" Community
Working with neighborhood activists, small businesses, and Heights & Hill Senior Services, we launched a new Age Friendly Park Slope initiative, to make our community an ever better one to age-in-place for seniors, and a more inclusive community for everyone. We kicked off the initiative with a week of discounts, a directory of local age friendly businesses, and events for seniors. And we launched a campaign for an elevator at the 7th Avenue F station.
This year also brought some much needed good news for the seniors fighting a heartless developer, deplorable conditions, and an unfair eviction at Prospect Park Residence. The seniors and their families finally saw some justice, and were awarded a settlement to help find new housing, marking the end to a very long legal battle.
Lifting Up Our Combined Voices for the Future We Want in Gowanus
This fall, building on the recommendations from our Bridging Gowanus community planning process, the NYC Department of City Planning launched a "PLACES study" to develop planning and land-use recommendations for the Gowanus are. Priorities include: (1) a sustainable, resilient, and environmentally-healthy community, (2) investing in our parks, schools, transit, and waterfront, (3) strengthening the manufacturing sector and creating good jobs, (4) keeping Gowanus creative and mixed-use, and (5) preserving and creating affordable housing for an inclusive community. Hundreds of people have already gotten involved (updates here). We hope you'll join us in the year ahead.
Activating a New Plaza in Kensington
Led by the Kensington Plaza Stewards, we turned a concrete triangle into an inspiring community gathering place at the new "Avenue C Plaza." The plaza has already become a valuable neighborhood gathering place, hosting everything from a mobile studio for community art projects, to a Bangladeshi peace rally, and a Mexican day-of-the-dead celebration.
New and Improved Dome Playground
The kids of Borough Park and Kensington needed more room to play, so we doubled the size of the play area at Dome Playground and finished the first phase of a $3.75 million renovation in time for the summer. With all-new (and already much-loved) climbing equipment, seating areas, and a multipurpose play area, it is a beautiful transformation (with even more changes to come).
Improving Traffic Safety from Columbia Street to Caton Avenue
In the wake of a tragic hit-and-run on Caton Avenue, we worked closely with NYC DOT to install speed humps, slow zones, pedestrian islands, crosswalks, curb build outs, traffic lights, that combined to transform Caton Avenue (between Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue) with safety in mind. We made sure that students, parents, and teachers have safe trips to P.S. 230, P.S. 130, and the new M.S. 839/P.S. 130 upper school building.
Across the district, in Columbia Waterfront, we worked with neighborhood families who live near the dangerous intersection of Carroll Street and Columbia Street who successfully petitioned NYC DOT to install a new traffic light that will prevent a tragedy and ensure safer crossings.
We continue to work closely with Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets, and other leaders in the tireless effort to reduce deaths from traffic crashes and win safer streets. Our reckless driver accountability program at the Red Hook Community Justice Center completed its first year, with highly-promising results.
Supporting Small Businesses
Our small businesses are a real treasure of our communities and a big part of our daily lives. So we’re working at the City Council, to look for ways that we can promote retail diversity and preserve neighborhood character, and improve policies for our small business owners. This year, we worked closely with our neighborhood Business Improvement Districts to keep our commercial strips clean and thriving, and put some of your favorite small businesses on the map – literally.
Opening a New Office in Kensington:
This fall we opened up a new satellite office in Kensington to better serve Bengali constituents. Drop by and say hello, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3pm to 5pm, at 486 McDonald Avenue. We’re eager to help, and I’m proud that my office can now offer regular assistance in Bangla and English.
Great 5th Year of Participatory Budgeting (PBNYC)
This year we had our biggest PBNYC vote turn out to date, with 3100 people taking part at polling stations from mosques to senior-centers to a very rainy Little League parade. You voted to fund new 8 capital projects, including a “lake mess monster”, year round freeze-resistant drinking fountains, new bus clocks, a teen space at the Carroll Gardens library, and so much more. We also, for the first time ever, expanded PBNYC to a second ballot for smaller projects, including translation equipment for schools, music equipment at senior centers, and overnight book drops at neighborhood library branches.
AT CITY HALL
Protecting Freelancers and Other Gig Economy Workers
This fall, working closely with Freelancers Union, we passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, the first law of its kind in the country, to ensure that freelancers get paid on time and in full for the work they do. Over 70% of freelancers have trouble getting paid, and they are stiffed an average of $6,390. Our new law will help end this nonpayment epidemic. We also worked to examine broader challenges facing workers in the gig economy. In a comprehensive policy report, we suggested steps that NYC could take to protect gig workers from wage theft and discrimination, and looked at new models to offer portable benefits and a framework for worker organizing.
Fighting for a Fair Work Week for Fast Food & Other NYC Workers
Without a stable work schedule, who can build a stable life, pay the rent, arrange child care, or go to school? Much less buy new clothes for the kids, or go on a real vacation. Unfortunately, unpredictable schedules are all-too-common for low-income New Yorkers, especially in the low-wage retail & restaurant sectors. That's why we teamed up with fast-food workers and SEIU 32B-J to introduce a package of bills to give fast-food and other NYC workers a fair work week. This legislation will give fast-food workers two-weeks advance notice of their schedules, an innovative new way to organize together, and a pathway to full-time hours. And all workers will gain the right to request schedule flexibility (e.g. to take care of a sick relative, or attend a parent/teacher conference) with fair consideration and without retribution. As we launched this campaign a few weeks ago, I was proud to be arrested in solidarity with striking fast food workers, as part of the Fight for $15.
Ending the Blight of Plastic Bags
After a hard-fought campaign, and in the closest vote on legislation during my tenure, the City Council passed my bill to reduce our wasteful use of plastic bags with a 5-cent charge at checkout. Right now, every year, New Yorkers dispose of 9.37 billion single-use plastic bags ... and so many of them end up littering our trees, parks, streets, and oceans. We spend $12.5 million per year to send them to landfills, and even more to clean them off playgrounds, beaches, parks, and other public places. Beginning on February 15, 2017, the new fee will go into effect. Data from cities around the world shows that most people will begin bringing re-usable bags, significantly reducing waste & cleaning up our city.
Pushing to Integrate Our Schools
At the beginning of 2016, we received the first report from NYC Department of Education under our School Diversity Accountability Act. As we knew it would, the report showed a deeply segregated school system. But together, with students, parents, and educators across the city, we are pushing change forward. Pilot programs at several schools in our area (Brooklyn New School, Brooklyn Children’s School, PS 130, PS 133, MS 839, and MS 447) show that integrated schools work and that families want them. Advocates are pushing for district-wide change. High school students have established a citywide youth council on school diversity. Just this week, I proposed to the District 15 Community Education Council that we consider a district-wide plan to better include low-income students in all of our D15 middle schools.
A Budget That Invests in Our Future
In June, we passed a budget that invests in so many of our priorities: more school crossing guards, more seats in our public schools, more summer jobs and opportunities for teens, increased investment in adult literacy, more support for seniors, continued 6-day service and double the capital funding for our libraries, and much more. In the district, besides supporting some fantastic nonprofits and capital projects, I was pleased this year to fund the ongoing cleanup & maintenance of the Columbia Waterfront Greenway. For next year, one thing I'll be working on is a plan to get air-conditioning in all our schools, so our kids aren't too hot to learn.
In 2017, I will be chairing Local Progress, a national network of progressive local elected officials (city council members, county commissioners, elected school board members) working together for a strong and more inclusive economy, equal justice under law, livable cities, and engaged government in the public interest. This fall, more than 500 of us worked together on local resolutions and a national letter against hatred and anti-Muslim bigotry. Right now, we're gearing up to fight back against policies of the Trump regime that will harm our cities.
In the year ahead, we'll be helping to lead the fight to protect & expand sanctuary cities (check out this great new resource page on what cities can do to protect immigrants). We will launch a national campaign to link cities working on police reform. We will help cities blazing the path toward economic justice, by raising the minimum wage, adopting paid sick days, and fair work-week policies. Local Progress is also where we "build the bench" of inspiring progressive leaders. If you need a little inspiration, check out these profiles on Local Progress board members Helen Gym, Ritchie Torres, and Greg Casar.
Fighting Trump & Affirming Our Values Through #GetOrganizedBK
The morning after election day, our community woke up shocked, angry, sad, and afraid. But we didn’t just mourn, we organized – and we’ll continue to do all we can to resist policies of injustice, corruption, and hate. I’ve been so inspired by the action we’ve taken and the energy in our community to immediately roll up our sleeves and get to work.
This work (which we're helping to bring together under the #GetOrganizedBK umbrella, but also to link with similar efforts around the city & the nation) is just beginning, but we’re already off to a great start. Besides several absolutely packed meetings, our newly formed group of thousands has already put together vigils, marches, informational meetings, donation drives, carpools, phone banks, trainings, protests, and more. The commitment our community has shown these last several weeks has provided a constant source of inspiration, during an otherwise dark and depressing time. If you’d like to join us, sign up for email updates here, and join our Facebook group.
The work highlighted here are the accomplishments of an incredible team. So much of that work is done by community members. Our tireless "District Committee," budget delegates, and volunteers power participatory budgeting, year & year. Neighbors in Kensington & Windsor Terrace won the first-ever "Compassionate Communities Award" from the Coalition for the Homeless, for their tremendous work welcoming CAMBA's new family shelter. Age-Friendly Park Slope is the initiative of volunteers through "Good Neighbors of Park Slope." Our streets are safer because of the work of residents of Carroll Street, and the courageous leadership of Families for Safe Streets. The chesed (kindness) organizations of Borough Park support thousands of families in need every year. Through #GetOrganizedBK, thousands of you have gotten involved in just a few weeks, in well over a dozen active working groups. It reminds me of the work we did together in the weeks after Hurricane Sandy -- and I feel deeply blessed to be part of this community.
These accomplishments would be, quite simply, impossible with the extraordinarily hard work of my truly tremendous staff. So I want to say a huge year-end shout out and thank you to them: Ruby Abdul, Juan Ardila, Susie Charlop, Gabriella Friedlander, Annie Levers, John Schaefer, Vicki Sell, Catherine Zinnel, and especially Rachel Goodman (my long-time chief-of-staff). They are a treasure, and the best examples of public servants working hard for our district and our city.
In the same vein, I want to give some holiday-time appreciation to the public sector workers who will be working on Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, nights, and weekends (and even harder if it should snow). We owe a deep debt of gratitude to our police officers, fire-fighters, sanitation workers, park workers, and others who make sure this is the best city in the world, and the most welcoming, every day of the year.
Thanks to all of them, and all of you.
So ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.
- Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)