Heroes of Bushwick Inlet Park: Part 1

The fight for Bushwick Inlet Park has united the greatest group of eco-heroes in Greenpoint today. Together they have organized an exceptionally creative and strategic grassroots campaign to deliver us a long promised and much-needed waterfront park. Impossible to cover them all, what follows here is a brief 2-part history of the struggle for this park and the heroic people that fight to make it happen.

While the community has dreamed of waterfront parks for decades, this particular story begins in 2005 when the City of New York overrode the local Community Board’s vote against rezoning. This allowed for massive development to take place all along the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront, radically increasing the population. To assuage the upset community, the city promised to build a much needed 28-acre park on the waterfront. The area already suffers from many pollutants (more fully explored on GoGreenBK.org), such as multiple Superfund sites, dozens of brownfields and 23 garbage transfer stations handling 40% of waste for the entire city and some of the worst asthma rates in NY. At the same time, it has roughly ⅙ of the open space ratio of Manhattan! And yet here we are, 11 years on, with a slew of new buildings going up, exacerbating all of these issues, and no park.

Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park (FBIP) is an organization that formed to hold the city accountable. They were spurred into action at the beginning of 2015, ten years after the city promised the park, when there was a fire on the CitiStorage property, the remaining parcel of land not yet acquired for the park. Norm Brodsky, the owner, accelerated his plans to sell it, and the city did not even make a bid. What has since ensued is a series of strategies that would impress the political consultants on K Street, to make our park a reality.

So who are these folks that we would all do well to emulate? The following is a cast of characters that, if you see them on the street, you ought to hug. Most of them have been involved in various community issues and conflicts for decades.

Katherine and Dewey

Let’s start with Katherine and Dewey Thompson, the parents of now college-aged kids. They are the founders of the Greenpoint Williamsburg Youth Soccer League (GWYSL), the biggest connector and hub for families in North Brooklyn. Back when they started it, there was no online registration option, so they actually spent their weekends knocking on doors and visiting organizations like Los Sures and El Puente to ensure a diverse and true neighborhood representation. They instilled their values into the programming from day one, making it affordable (and free if needed) and incorporating the “AYSO principles of good sportsmanship.” In the beginning, there was not even a track in McCarren park;  they would spend hours cleaning up broken glass and filling holes before the games. GWYSL marks the start of the couple’s’ park advocacy careers. They began to work with the community board and parks department to demonstrate need and secured funding from the elected officials. Thanks to their help, today we have the oval at McCarren Park. Bravo!

Though his kids have long since graduated, Dewey continues to volunteer coach for GWYSL. He is a founding member of the North Brooklyn Boat Club, is on the board of GWAPP, and has volunteered for about eight years on the Community Board. In short, he is a local hero of the first order. Dewey has also applied his film production skills to create some the FBIP videos and projects, including projecting a massive message right on the CitiStorage building stating: “This, right here, is supposed to be a park.”

Where’s Our Park? Flash Mob from Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park on Vimeo.

 

It was Katherine who came up with the brilliant idea for a Where’s Our Park? flash mob at BIP during the youth soccer league practice, arranging hundreds of kids into a giant question mark. Katherine has stepped up to become the glue to Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, regularly surveying the situation and managing goals and resources to keep things moving forward. From exercising her design chops in order to whip up banners and mock coffins, to brainstorming strategy and coordinating operations, Katherine’s smiling Buddha face is one of the two you will always see representing at FBIP events.

steve

Steve Chesler is the other principal coordinator and core spokesman. A veteran of long and worthy battles, Steve knows what it takes to defeat Goliath. He moved to Greenpoint in 2001 and immediately jumped into the battle to prevent a power plant from setting up on the water. It took seven long years, but the permit was finally denied. Steve was also one of the community members who tried to prevent the massive rezoning changes of 2005 because of the inevitable overpopulation, infrastructure, and quality of life issues; FBIP is the natural evolution of this struggle.

When he is not building websites with his company Poppy Bagel, Steve is updating the FBIP site and social channels to build the community digitally. He is the zen task-master: methodical, steady and kind. He is equally happy getting his hands dirty as-as he is speaking to the media. Steve’s volunteer commitment to the cause is almost a full-time job, just follow him online to see a man living by his principles.

trina

Trina McKeever is a core BIPer, a key strategist, and longtime activist. Trina is a member of Community Board 1 and serves on the board of GWAPP. Trina is a pro at figuring out the best course of action and which avenues will yield results. And she is wonderful at enlisting the right kind of help. Trina facilitated the Community Board 1 Resolution to not support rezoning of the CitiStorage property, thus deterring a great many potential buyers. 

maggie2bvw_occupy_the_inlet___1

Ongoing protests have been essential to building the movement and keeping the issue alive. During an anxious time in late July of 2015, designer Maggie Baker, in charge of creating the large banners, posters & flyers, had the idea to surround the parkland with protesters by land and water. They joined up with the North Brooklyn Boat Club, and Occupy the Inlet was born.

jensfuneral-opening-1140x500

 

 

 

 

 

Jens Rasmussen came on early and, as an actor and performer, had the creative idea to stage a funeral making it clear that a deal with developers was doomed because of the city’s refusal to change the zoning. Acts like this have made it clear, to prospective buyers of that last bit of promised parkland, that the community it not going to make it easy for them.

For nine long months, the city stonewalled the community. You can believe that they hoped a big developer would swoop in, promise a minuscule bit of park front and make the problem go away. But thanks to these creative strategies and the resulting media attention and public pressure, FBIP simply could not be ignored. And these are only half of the strategies deployed. Read Part 2 here to learn about the rest of the core heroes in this story and the ingenious tactics that effectively put pressure on the city to enter the negotiations.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP MAKE THIS PARK A REALITY?

COME TO GREENPOINT BEER AND ALE ON WED, OCT 5TH AT 7PM to meet the the crew and learn about next steps.

And take the following actions, as described on the FBIP Get Involved page:

  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Repost our posts. Make your own #wheresourpark posts and tag us. You may also consider tagging or directly tweeting the Mayor & First Lady @billdeblasio and @chirlane
  • Join our mailing list.
  • Sign the GWYSL petition asking CitiStorage site owner to take the City’s offer to acquire his land.
  • Sign our petition calling on the Mayor to remain steadfast in completing our full park.
  • Call 311 – Ask: Where’s Our Full Park? We’re missing 11 acres.
  • Write the Mayor: City Hall, NY, NY 10007
  • Attend our Planning & Organization Meetings.
  • Check our Events page for dates & times.
  • Volunteer: we are looking for more staunch open space advocates who would like to lend their passion and skills to achieving our goal, to attend meetings, strategize, help with outreach, marketing and assist with actions and events. Contact us for more information and feel free to attend our regular meetings and events.
  • Check out all of our events.

Donate to the cause. All donations are 100% tax deductible. As an all volunteer organization, all funds go to support material and direct costs related to our activities.

 

By Charlotte E Binns

By Romey Louangvilay