BROWNSVILLE – Folks passing by could easily have mistaken the gathering Wednesday night (Nov. 6) at NYCHA’s Van Dyke Houses in Brownsville for a party. R&B music from inside the tent, assembled on the grounds of the apartment complex, could be heard half-way down the block. Inside the tent, neighbors socialized and enjoyed a buffet spread, as they discussed ways to improve their neighborhood with each other, city officials and community organizations.
That’s exactly the type of atmosphere that the organizers wanted, Renita Francois, executive director of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP), told Bklyner.
“Instead of a formal meeting, we wanted to create a relaxed environment where people in the community could interact and share their views,” Francois explained, adding that experience taught them that people are less likely to participate qualitatively in the rigid, traditional community meeting format.
The purpose behind the gathering—organized in partnership with the Brownsville Community Justice Center and Van Dyke Houses Neighborhood STAT—was to give Van Dyke residents a chance to contribute ideas for how to spend $30,000 to improve their community, which officials plan to implement by June 2020.
Community improvement and safety is a broad concept. A few areas that are under discussion include health and wellness, renovating playgrounds, producing public art and improving the relationship between the police and residents.
Participants met one-on-one with organizers and were asked to write down their ideas on stickers that were placed on a bulletin board. Francois pointed to several of them that asked for improvements in sanitation, repairs of cracked pavement and installation of new lighting at the complex.
Those are problems that could be fixed quickly. Many more residents, she noted, wanted something done about the violence in Brownsville—which is not so easily fixed.
At the event, the organizers unveiled the Brownsville Mobile Trauma Unit, assigned to the 73rd Police Precinct. Mayor Bill de Blasio promised the $175,000 van under his almost $9 million in anti-violence funding. The influx of cash stemmed from a mass shooting that killed one man and injured 11 others during the annual Brownsville Old Timers Festival in July.
Portions of that funding will also go toward the $5.2 million renovations of the Brownsville Houses Community Center, about $576,000 to hire more staff and expand hours and security at the Brownsville Recreation Center, and $140,000 for cameras and lighting around the Brownsville Playground.
At the event, a team of Van Dyke Houses residents encouraged their neighbors to get involved. NeighborhoodStat (or NStat) members are integral to the city’s goal of giving residents a meaningful voice in the process. NStat members meet with their neighbors, city agencies and community-based organizations.
“We want a healthy, happy, vibrant neighborhood,” NStat member Sophornia Pickett told the audience. “We want to thank the officers who are here tonight. If we treat them like people, maybe they’ll remember that we are people too.”
Her comments pointed to the often tense relationship between the cops who police Brownsville and the residents they serve.
Francois said the next step in the process is to compile the spending ideas posted on the bulletin board and to address the quick fixes. In February, residents will vote on the recommendations of how to spend the $30,000.
After the vote, the organizers will work with residents and experts to design the winning projects, which will be implemented by June.