A town hall meeting sponsored by the group brought together a diverse cross section of residents who worked together to outline the most important issues facing the community and lay the groundwork for the next several years of neighborhood discourse.
Since it was formed in 1994 as Neighbors Against Garbage, NAG has successfully guided the neighborhood through some of its most difficult battles, including the recent and upcoming rezonings and the continued presence of affordable housing as a part of the residential boom.
After having accomplished so much, organizers within the group felt that it was necessary to recharge and refocus their priorities by reaching out to the community and learning about new issues and approaches to best serve the neighborhood.
“What we’ve seen both as a community and as an organization is that, post-rezoning, we’ve splintered off into a number of smaller organizations,” said Peter Gillespie, executive director of NAG. “We are going back to working on the broad community issues and refocusing on the bigger vision that was lost after the rezoning.”
In order to reset their agenda, NAG held a town hall meeting that brought together neighbors of all stripes from Williamsburg and Greenpoint. NAG’s ferocious flyer-ing and advertising for the evening brought out more than a hundred residents, who gathered in the basement of Holy Ghost Hall.
The crowd was a mix of long-time residents and newbies, both young and old. After a short introduction by NAG’s Michael Freedman-Schnapp, attendees broke off into small, directed discussion groups to determine what are the biggest challenges facing the neighborhood in the coming years. After nearly a half-hour of discussion, the results were shared with the entire meeting and recorded by NAG.
Though the town hall was broken into several smaller units, each group came up with very similar lists of issues facing the neighborhood. Asked to come up with three things that they could change about Williamsburg and Greenpoint, attendees turned in eight similar lists with contents that were hardly shocking.
The most common concerns shared by the groups were related to the growth of the neighborhood, as manifested in the arenas of transportation, building codes, and community diversity. Many people were worried that the L train, which is notoriously crowded during morning rush hours, and the G train, which is notoriously late, are already unable to meet the needs of the neighborhood, and will only continue to fail as more people move to the area.
Many residents were also concerned that the developers and the Department of Buildings were undermining not only the character of the neighborhood, but actual building foundations. Neighbors definitely agreed that the real estate boom, though now cooling, has had - and will continue to have - a tremendous effect on the community, either through noisy construction, damage to nearby homes and streets, or just the changing skyline.
Neighbors were also concerned that new developments, both residential and commercial, may be driving low-income residents out of the neighborhood. Affordable housing and advocacy for low-income tenants was the most common concern shared by the breakout groups.
“We weren’t surprised by what people had to say,” said Gillespie, who explained that while the lists were important to NAG, the focus of the event was on creating connections within the neighborhood over shared concerns. “We were delighted to see a lot of old-timers and new residents working together. What we saw was an energized community. That was the central message.”
The results of NAG’s town hall meeting will be presented to the community at a currently unscheduled November meeting.