Part of the Solution: The Park Slope Civic Council

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I have always been what some people may call a “do-gooder,” a joiner, an organizer and a chronic volunteer. In fact, before opening Lion in the Sun 10 years ago, I worked in the non-profit world as a fundraiser/volunteer/organizer. I had already, at that point, lived in Park Slope for many years, and loved the historic and “connected” community nature of the neighborhood.  It is why I chose to move here and why I decided to open my business here.

Once firmly rooted in my new position as a capitalist, I was looking for the right place to contribute to my community. Now connected as both a resident and business owner to the neighborhood I loved, the future of the community became more important than ever.

I came to the Park Slope Civic Council through my involvement with a small group of shop owners struggling to keep the Park Slope Chamber of Commerce alive.  Ken Freeman, the President of the Civic Council at the time, out of concern for store closings in the neighborhood approached us to help develop a shop local campaign (some of you may remember the famous “yellow umbrellas campaign”) selflessly funded and supported by Civic Council to support local businesses.

I started attending meetings as a liaison from the “business community” because I felt we might be able to partner more of the business interests with events like the Halloween Parade and the House Tour.  But I began to realize just how deep the roots of this organization really went.  Perhaps more importantly, I quickly learned that their slogan, “Force of good in your neighborhood,” is really true. The Civic Council is an amazing group of people from diverse backgrounds and interests who, while they may not always agree, all share the same passion for this unique neighborhood we call home.

It seems everyone has heard of the Park Slope Civic Council, but I’m not sure a lot of people know what they really do? Most Slopers know about the neighborhood’s famous Halloween Parade, signature “No Flyer” signs, and the annual Park Slope House Tour, but I was astounded to learn of the many other facets of this vibrant organization. It reaches to levels of the community well beyond the bike lanes and the civic sweep clean up days. For instance, did you know that the Civic Council awards three scholarships to a college bound senior from each of the three secondary schools in the John Jay High School building to help buy books for their freshman year or that there is a committee that provides small grants each year to various community projects in need of funding?  What I find most inspiring is that the Civic Council is an organization an individual can actually come to with a mission. For example, a few years back a few brave souls stood up to the changing development on Fourth Avenue, fearing its effects on the vibrant community that has lived in the area for generations, and with the Civic Council’s support and some planning, a new Civic Council Committee, Forth on Fourth Avenue, was born earlier this year after the highly successful 2010 public forum focusing on Fourth Avenue.

Recently, a fellow Trustee of mine, David Alquist, eloquently outlined some Civic Council highlights from over the last decade or so in a letter to prospective members, some of which follow:

  • Park Slope Armory: the Civic Council was engaged with the Armory redevelopment from the beginning and helped guide it to a successful outcome for the community.
  • Grand Army Plaza Coalition: we worked closely with GAPco to improve the pedestrian experience at Grand Army Plaza.  GAPco grew out of a Civic Council public forum on traffic and transportation issues.
  • Historic District Extensions: the Civic Council leads the ongoing efforts to expand the Park Slope Historic District.  The first extension in nearly 40 years has just been designated with more on the way.
  •  The 9th Street Subway entrance on the east side of 4th Avenue reopened in 2012, after being closed for 40 years, due to Civic Council efforts, thus saving Park Slopers from having to cross busy 4th Avenue in order to access the subway.
  • The 3rd Street park entrance was permanently pedestrianized due to Civic Council efforts.
  • One-Way, No Way: the Civic Council successfully thwarted a misguided DOT effort to convert 7th & 6th Avenues to one-way traffic.
  • The Civic Council engages with the Brooklyn Speaks coalition of neighborhood groups to monitor the Atlantic Yards development.
  • The Civic Council will engage with the DOT to help locate new bike-share stations throughout the neighborhood for the upcoming bike-share launch this summer.

In addition to special initiatives like those outlined above, the Civic Council’s ongoing activities include:

Running the annual Halloween Parade, House Tour, bi-annual Clean Sweep events, holiday Toys for Tots toy drive, co-sponsoring the Mulchfest and electronic waste recycling events, administering a Neighborhood Grants program that returns the House Tour receipts back into the community, and the scholarship awards mentioned above.  They also keep an ongoing engagement with Community Board 6, elected officials, merchant groups, and other neighborhood groups and maintain representatives on the Community Committees of the 78th Police Precinct and the Prospect Park Alliance.

What’s in it for me?  As a resident and a business owner, I am already deeply invested in the Park Slope community and truly proud of what I think of as an island amongst the sometimes faceless New York City existence. I love the sense of support, stewardship, and growth that the Civic Council willingly offers as part of its mission.  And on a practical level, what is good for the neighborhood is good for my business, my employees, and my clients.  If we support our local businesses and they thrive, my business thrives too. If we preserve the historic nature of the neighborhood, which makes it a beautiful place and brings new residents and visitors, my business benefits.  If the streets are a little cleaner and the traffic is a little safer for pedestrians, all the businesses and residents benefit.  More importantly, I think we all benefit from being part of the solution.  But beyond all of that, I found a deeper, more meaningful connection to my home and to my neighbors and my community through the Park Slope Civic Council.

I have always believed in the importance of being involved and being part of the change you want to see. The Civic Council is a thoughtful and effective force for making that change and for preserving and, perhaps more importantly, improving the community we all love so much.  As David also points out in his letter, and I would like to as well, “these types of changes did not occur by themselves.  They occurred because of the efforts of the Park Slope Civic Council and its dynamic and engaged membership.”

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