By: Dr. Daryl Rock
I am writing concerning a grave injustice that is taking place in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The Department of Transporting (DOT) is building a plaza on Gates Avenue despite the objections of the people most impacted. The Transportation Committee of Community Board 2 also opposes the project, but the DOT is moving forward. Their decision is tyrannical with racial overtones. I have lived in Brooklyn all my life and would never have believed such underhandedness and disregard could take place in 2022.
The Fort Greene Partnership Homes Condominium was built in 1988 and 100 owners, including myself, all people of color, bought our homes despite safety concerns and the state of ill repair of so much of the neighborhood back then. We hoped that our entry into the neighborhood would be the beginning of a renaissance for the community and things would turn around, and it has. Many of those original owners have moved away, but there is a core group of us, mostly retired, who remain. It was a shock to us early in the Spring of 2022 when the DOT set up shop on Gates Avenue, the street that abuts our building. They came to announce that the DOT was proposing to build a plaza right outside our windows. We asked why there was no prior discussion about the project and the DOT representatives said they partnered with area businesses, yet no businesses are adjacent to the proposed plaza.
We continued during that day to ask questions about our quality-of-life concerns, as well as the loss of parking spaces and we received dismissive answers. I had to personally chastise one of the DOT workers who spoke rudely to one of the elder resident owners. I reported his behavior and received an apology from the DOT. However, it is not OK for anyone, much less someone from a city-run agency, to come into our neighborhood, speak disrespectfully to one of our elder residents, and not follow proper protocol for getting community buy-in for large-scale projects. This proposed plaza will be right outside the windows of 32 homes. All the other plazas in this area are in commercial spaces.
My neighbors and I are concerned about the noise, the loitering, the garbage, and the decrease in property values. Plazas may be nice places for people to hang out, but nobody wants people laughing, drinking, and smoking right outside their windows day and night. We expressed these concerns on a video call with the DOT and they were not responsive.
When it became clear that the DOT was not listening to our concerns, we focused on convincing Community Boards 2’s transportation committee that this project should not move forward. We knew they had an upcoming vote regarding support for the project. The DOT presented its proposal to the committee and we followed with our concerns. Residents spoke passionately about how the project would negatively impact lives, and during the committee's August meeting, members voted down the DOT’s Gates Avenue proposal. We felt vindicated!
Imagine our shock when a few weeks later, there was a sign on the lamp post on Gates Avenue saying the construction of the plaza would begin in October 2022. Why have a Community Board if their desires and voting outcomes are going to be ignored? On October 15th another sign posted said all cars need to be removed from the block beginning October 17th. This is not how government is supposed to work, nor is this how elder Black residents should be treated.
Let me be very clear, we are not against safer streets. We also are not against green space or healthy areas for our children. The DOT was not able to show residents or the Community Board committee how this project would make our streets safer. A DOT survey shared on this proposed Gates Avenue Plaza project was extremely biased and shameful in its prejudice and pro-stance leaning. If the street is a real concern, why not increase the adjacent garden area? The residents are open to compromise, but we were not given the opportunity. We want to be treated with dignity and respect, and not marginalized within our own neighborhood that we helped transform.
Finally, I don’t know for sure if race played a factor, but the people from the DOT who interacted with the building owners were all white and we are mostly Black seniors and owners. There have been several developments in our Fort Greene Brooklyn neighborhood that have caused us concern. We understand change is inevitable, but you don’t treat anyone, especially elders this way. The process was flawed and disrespectful from the start. The voices of the people who built this community were ignored. We earned the right to be heard and what hurts us the most is the disregard for what we want in our own community. This whole affair was wrong, ugly, and handled poorly. We deserved better and the DOT should have done better.
Dr. Daryl Rock
Fort Greene Resident and Homeowner
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