By Charlotte E. Binns
In exciting news, we learned from Mayor De Blasio’s office that they just announced the acquisition of the last parcel needed to complete Bushwick Inlet Park. The many efforts from the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park (FBIP) proved to be successful.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
Ward Dennis is a pillar of local stewardship and has been a member of FBIP from the start. Ward is a partner at a New York historic preservation consulting firm and has held various leadership roles in Community Board 1, including the Chair of Land Use, and is on the board of NAG. Thanks to Ward, FBIP was better able to strategically navigate the tricky world of zoning regulations and bureaucracy.
It was Ward, along with Adam Perlmutter, who had the brilliant idea to jump on the City’s 2015 city-wide new zoning meetings and share the FBIP story in order to warn people against the city’s willingness to break promises. By systematically giving testimony at Community Boards, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council, city officials were repeatedly and directly forced to answer to the public.
Adam is the chairman of OSA, a defense attorney, and another expert and key strategist on land use issues. He led and helped to win the historic legal battle against the proposed power plant on the waterfront. Adam is a bulldog on the side of justice.
In addition to Ward and Adam, core FBIP members Katherine and Steve (profiled last week) regularly gave testimony at these public meetings. But it is longtime community activist Kim Fraser who has become the go-to speaker at rallies and hearings, giving testimony in places like East NY, Brownsville, Prospect Heights, and Manhattan Beach. Kim’s husband Scott Fraser has been a key coalition builder helping to forge partnerships with supporting organizations & elected officials.
After 18 months of pressure from all of the described strategies, City Hall made an offer of $100,000,000 to Norm Brodsky for the remaining promised park-front property. But the offer has still not been accepted. Not the least among the heroes listed in this article are many of our local politicians, who have taken every action you could hope for, and then some, to support the cause.
When Brodsky did not respond to the city’s offer, Borough President Eric Adams (pictured above left) had an idea to install a large public countdown clock on the fence of the property for the 60 days that the offer stood. Dozens of local leaders and community organizations came down to tear off a page per day. Eric also had the idea to host a campout during the halfway point of the 30 day offer. The epic event included food, music, a teach-in on the history of the waterfront and dance performances.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, (to the right of Eric above) had just spent the night organizing a sit-in on the floor of the US House of Representatives, in an effort to reform gun control. Even at the age of 70, and not feeling well, she showed up for the campout and spent the night in a tent with our heroes. That is the kind of dedication we hope for from our leaders.
State Senator Daniel Squadron has been a major factor in this narrative of Greenpoint’s local heroes. He’s a quality organizer and creative thinker, and authored two NY Daily News editorials about the BIP issue. With Joe Lentol, he created State eminent domain legislation authorizing the State to seize the CitiStorage property, sending an even stronger message to City Hall.
Local NYC Council Member Stephen Levin has led the Community on the BIP issue since right after the fire: speaking at rallies, applying persistent pressure on the City, and holding fast to not upzoning the CitiStorage property (ensuring it is much less profitable for buyers).
But still now, the city has not acquired the land. Stepping up to help broker negotiations is Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, who, not incidentally, was instrumental in sealing the deal between Norm Brodsky and the Governor for the acquisition of the East River State Park. He has served the community since 1972 and has a long history of fighting environmental injustice in this neighborhood – from the various proposals for noxious power plants and waste transfer stations along the waterfront to the Exxon oil spill where he brought together the US Coast Guard, the CDC and responsible companies to take the necessary steps to clean up. Lentol and Levin are regularly on the phone with Brodsky and the city now and Joe believes that Brodsky could close on a deal with a developer as soon as mid-October so it is more important than ever to keep up the pressure.
The production and execution of FBIP’s many creative strategies is highly collaborative, involving the core members described here and many more artists and citizen activists who offer their passionate input and presence in order to affect real change and to communicate the will of the community. Not to be missed, we want to shout out to local heroes Ed Raven, the owner of Greenpoint Beer and Ale, who is always happy to offer his venue for a cause; John Saponara, a key photo and video contributor; OSA staff Joe Mayock & Konstancja Maleszynska, whom we have written about separately; and State Senator Martin Dilan, Deputy Borough President (& former Williamsburg councilmember) Diana Reyna, Councilman Antonio Reynoso and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez who have all supported the cause.
It is only through the collaboration of so many community members, stepping up to be a hero, that we have exceeded all expectations thus far. And it is only with the additional help of locals like yourself that we will cross the finish line. The next and hopefully final meeting for FBIP is at Greenpoint Beer & Ale on Wednesday October 5th at 7pm. Come to meet the crew and learn about next steps!
In the meantime, FBIP offers the following concrete ways you can take action from their Get Involved Page:
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP MAKE THIS PARK A REALITY
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.