by Jedika Sinaga
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and have been living here for 22 years. It’s been interesting to see first-hand how my borough constantly goes through many changes. I moved from Cortelyou Road to Avenue M in the 5th grade, around 2002. But for the sake of this topic, I’ll just talk about the neighborhoods near Avenue M such as Marine Park and Mill Basin (District 18).
My parents bought the house for $270,000, which is fairly cheap, especially for a corner house. When I first moved here, I remember being very intimidated because our neighborhood was predominantly African American and we were the only Asian family on our block. Our block used to have tons of teenagers hanging around, and every year during the summer we had a block party. Growing up I saw drugs being distributed at the local park. I always imagined the house down the block on 38th street was a local New Jack City crack house because of all the people constantly running in and out the house. Needless to say, it’s probably going out of business now because of good ol’ gentrification, but we’ll talk about that later.
Back in 2002, I knew most of my neighbors’ moms were nurses and dads worked for the MTA. I went to my zone school for junior high school, which was Hudde I.S. 240. At the time, my junior high school was also predominantly African American, but there was still a lot of diversity. The school was (and still is) divided into four programs: CIG, Magnet, Nova, and Mainstream (CIG being the “smartest class”, Magnet the second smartest, and so on and so forth). As I would walk home after school with my Korean and Egyptian best friends, you could tell that African Americans hung out with African Americans, whites with whites, and asians with asians. Everyone stuck with their own kinds and that’s just the way it always was.
Now in 2014, things are a lot different. A lot of the African Americans moved out the neighborhood to Mill Basin and Canarsie, while more Hasidic Jews moved in. My neighborhood is still made up of middle class residents. The average household income in 2011 was $70,000 (very pretentious, I must say). We no longer have our annual summer block party, and our house is now valued up to $550,000. The Jewish community has helped plant more trees alongside Flatbush, Flatlands, and Kingshighway. There is a lot less crime, and the crackhead house is no longer in business.
In my interviews I got 3 different perspectives on sustainability and how they felt about their own community. Resident 1 is my sister, who still lives in the Marine Park area on Avenue M with my parents. She is a 20 year old student and has been living in the same area for 10 years. Like most regular citizens, she believes that sustainability is important and has “something to do with recycling before everything that we have learned to love on this Earth will be destroyed.”When I asked her about any changes that she noticed in her community, she reminded me that there is a new sitting area/park called Fraser Square that the park committee built about 5 years ago (Photo 1). She also reminded me that it’s a new spot for people to smoke weed. When I asked her about what she thinks are some of the pressing problems in our community, she immediately said, “There are a lot of stray cats and possums that need to be exterminated”. Well, I guess someone bumped into an unpleasant possum the other day. I don’t believe they need to be exterminated though.
Resident 2, Ms.Minott, is my best friend’s grandmother who is now retired. She is Jamaican, lives on 53rd and K in Mill Basin, and has been living there for 27 years. Ms.Minott made it very clear that she hates litter, dumping trash in the water, and people leaving their drinks on her stoop. Some of the changes she has witnessed are more black people moving into the community and white people moving out. I asked her if that means the property value is going down or are black people getting better jobs. She responded, “It’s still the same crummy house. More single moms are owning houses now. There are more teachers and nurses in the area. The women are the breadwinners.” She also told me that there are 3 new 99 cents stores and more fast food chains opening up like Popeyes and Wendy’s.
My third interview was my friend’s dad who is 54 years old, also Jamaican, works for an insurance company, and lives up the block on 53rd and L. Mr.Browne-Simpson has been living there for 22 years. I asked him what does sustainability means to him, and he says the Earth needs constant balance for food chains. He offered me a scenario where if there is too much food, then there will be too many squirrels, which would lead to too many earthworms… and who likes earthworms? I asked him about the crime in the neighborhood and he said, “you know it’s summertime when you hear the shootings. Every year you get more robberies, shootings and seeing kids try to be inconspicuous doing drugs.” I said, “Well, have there been any positive changes in the community?” He responded, “Yeah the park committee put up a tree here and there… oh, and there’s a new Popeyes.”
As I walked home after my interviews, I’ve noticed a couple of sustainability-related practices. I saw a middle-aged woman hanging up her laundry to dry. I don’t see why more people don’t do that as it saves both money and energy. I also saw an elderly woman putting banana and orange peels into the little patch of soil that she has by the side of her house. It wasn’t exactly the heavy duty compost that Williamsburg princes and princesses are used to but at least it’s something. Lastly, I saw clothing bins in every gas station that I walked by from Avenue K to Avenue M. But despite of all the small-scaled yet hopeful actions of sustainability, I saw even larger-scale problems. There was a hydrant left running on the sidewalk, just letting out all of this clean water. Someone’s AC was on even though it was only 65 degrees outside. And there was a motorcycle gang revving up their engines, blowing out all this black smoke and fumes. Most people are aware of sustainability. Most people actually do care and are educated on recycling and conserving energy. Then there are some people who just don’t care and want to live in ignorant bliss. I think we need to make laws for conserving energy rather than rely on the good hearts of people to want to save the Earth. Sometimes a little push is what people need to help a good cause in motion.