Brooklyn’s Open Streets Expose Tensions In Gentrifying Neighborhoods

Brooklyn’s Open Streets Expose Tensions In Gentrifying Neighborhoods
An Open Street on Berry Street in Williamsburg. (Image: DOT)

The city’s Open Streets program, in which streets are closed off to vehicular traffic to create space for pedestrians and local businesses, began last year as a slapdash attempt to provide pandemic-safe breathing room and has since evolved into a life for restaurants and a major evolution in the way New Yorkers relate to public space.

But some car-driving Brooklynites are apparently unhappy with the change.

The barriers blocking off portions of Driggs and Russell Avenues in Greenpoint have been subject to vandalism in recent weeks, and now the community group that oversees those streets reports that the barricades have been stolen entirely.

The North Brooklyn Open Streets Community Coalition said they were suspending the program on Driggs between Monitor Street and Meeker Avenue, and on Russell Street between Nassau and Driggs avenues, while the city’s Department of Transportation investigates the issue.

DOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Bklyner. But the NYPD said it received a report that, late on Friday night, “barriers that were chained together in the vicinity of Driggs Avenue and Russell Street within the confines of the 94th Precinct were tampered with (locks were glued).”

The Department said it had not received a report of stolen barricades for that location. But a video posted to the website Nextdoor and then shared on Twitter seems to show a man loading a barricade onto an Amazon truck on the corner of Driggs and Russell late Monday night.

The Driggs and Russell open streets are in effect daily from 8:00am-8:00pm. For most of the city’s Open Streets, volunteer-run neighborhood groups are responsible for moving the barricades in and out of place each day.

In January, residents organizing under the name “Neighbors of North Brooklyn” launched a petition pushing back against the program in Greenpoint, citing concerns about lost parking spaces and congestion on adjacent streets. The petition has just under 1,000 signatures.

“This petition is on behalf of my neighbors and car owners of Greenpoint,” the description reads. “Our voices are being silenced and we are getting increasingly worried and upset that we are not being represented in the plans for Open Streets.

DOT is currently in the process of soliciting feedback on Open Streets in the neighborhood.

Other neighborhoods have seen their Open Streets come under attack as well. A volunteer who helps manage the open street on Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights reported multiple instances of hostility and even physical aggression from individuals opposed to the program.

In that instance, DOT wrote on Twitter that the agency is “working with NYPD & our partners to investigate & stop this type of unacceptable action. We intend to get all affected Open Streets safely operational again.”

The transportation website Streetsblog has also catalogued instances of Open Streets opponents berating DOT officials or discussing possible legal action against the program. In one instance, a volunteer helping to manage Greenpoint’s Open Streets was allegedly even physically assaulted by an opponent of the program.

Recent surveying indicates that a majority of Brooklynites are in favor of the Open Streets program, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to make the program permanent earlier this year.

But some advocates have also criticized the city for failing to adequately manage and fund Open Streets, instead relying heavily on volunteer groups to operate the spaces. They’ve called on the city to provide permanent infrastructure for the program, and to ensure low-income neighborhoods, not just wealthy ones, have the resources necessary to create and manage such spaces.