On the night of the vice presidential debate, with politics on their minds, a diverse group of community members found themselves mostly talking about local community-building issues at the NAG (Neighbors Allied for Good Growth) Town Hall Organizing Meeting on Williamsburg’s north side.
Held in the basement of the Holy Ghost Ukranian Catholic Church, 160 North 5th Street, the town hall was a brainstorming session among residents of different communities to bring significant issues in their neighborhoods to NAG’s attention.
Now in its 40th year of operation, the community planning and environmental justice group has been seeking to capitalize on interest in the presidential election to expand their own grassroots activities.
“Once again we find ourselves in a church basement with a motley crew of people going over issues in our community,” Peter Gillespie, executive director of NAG, said.
During the meeting, NAG volunteers divided up more than 80 community members into eight groups to list the most critical issues that their neighborhoods were facing. While many of the traditional issues NAG has dealt with, such as creating affordable housing, securing more open space, and preserving the character of the neighborhood, were brought up, quality-of-life issues sometimes handled by Community Board 1 regarding bicycle parking, traffic and noise reductions were also mentioned.
“We’re going to use [the lists] to put together an organizing agenda for the neighborhood on trying to accomplish some of these goals,” Michael Freedman-Schnapp, co-chair of NAG, said.
It was no surprise that several members of Community Board 1 attended the meeting. Many of them, including Transportation and Environment Chair Evan Thies, are members of the NAG Board of Directors, and came to hear more about the specific issues community residents are anxious about and working to improve.
“It is very encouraging that many people took their Thursday night to come here,” Thies said. “This gives us a picture of the challenges ahead.”
Ken Diamondstone, a candidate for City Council in the 33rd District along with Thies, participated in the meeting to engage with constituents and help raise awareness about improving North Brooklyn’s transportation and infrastructure.
“I think that this kind of community building is necessary for this area,” Diamondstone said. “Greenpoint and Williamsburg have been historically ignored because there are so many transient residents and non-voters. The G train is a disaster, all the waste transfer stations are here and development is pushing many people out of this neighborhood.”
An unusual aspect of the meeting was the large presence of young residents, many of them under 30 and living in Williamsburg or Greenpoint for less than five years. Freedman-Schnapp said he reached out to younger residents by having a table on Bedford Avenue during Williamsburg Walks and at the McCarren Park Pool Parties during the summer. He also focused outreach efforts by launching a blog that linked with other neighborhood blogs in North Brooklyn as well as sending invitations online through social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
Allison Davis, who learned about NAG while she was volunteering during a voter registration drive at McCarren Pool, was interested in NAG’s work on a variety of community issues.
“I like how they combine open spaces with transportation issues, tenant advocacy, and quality-of-life issues,” Davis said. “It’s really nice to be able to address everything in one place.”
Alison Levy, an art curator, was similarly interested in community development and wanted to work with NAG before she is priced out of Williamsburg.
“All these different communities, old and new, have a lot of work to do to respect each other and I want to be a part of that,” Levy said.
For more information about NAG, located at 110 Kent Avenue, visit http://www.nag-brooklyn.org/ or call 718-384-2248.