Residents of North Brooklyn have a storied history of fighting for their neighborhood. They’ve fought the largest public and private nightmare projects imaginable: a massive wastewater treatment plant, a radioactive storage facility, power plants, garbage transfer stations and unrestrained development. But perhaps the most meaningful fight for residents of Greenpoint and Williamsburg was over a relatively small piece of their neighborhood.
In 1975, New York City was deep in debt and making unimaginable cuts. Among them was Engine 212, a three-story firehouse in Williamsburg that was a small bit of rare support from a City that it felt had largely abandoned them. When residents found out the firehouse was being closed, they came in hundreds to its defense and surrounded the building. Some snuck in, bags packed, and stayed for sixteen months. In 1977, the City gave in and re-opened the neighborhood firehouse.
Thirty-five years later, the meaning and inspiration of that moment continues to unite North Brooklyn in a new time of need.
North Brooklyn has been through a lot in the last decade. Rapid change had begun even before the rezoning of the area in 2005—and has since brought both success and stress to our neighborhood. Throughout this period, long-time residents and new arrivals often sparred over the direction, character, and management of Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
But residents of North Brooklyn have made much progress together, despite the differences. And there is no better symbol for that effort than the Northside Town Hall project.
When it was closed for good several years ago, the community united behind a proposal that the firehouse become a town hall, led by two of the most respected organizations in our neighborhood: The People’s Firehouse and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. Although both organizations have been around for some time, they each represent different sections of the community. The People’s Firehouse is led by a board of mainly long-time residents—some of whom have local roots that go back generations. NAG also has long-time residents on its board, but its membership is decidedly newer to the area.
The combination gives us input from all corners of the community, and has already led to lasting accomplishments for the neighborhood. We worked together to start the popular annual “Taste Greenpoint-Williamsburg” fundraiser for the Town Hall, attended by thousands of New Yorkers each year. The event, its sister “Drink Greenpoint-Williamsburg”, and the generous support of our elected officials and neighbors have brought the Town Hall close to its fundraising goal in just a few years.
But we are most proud that our project has brought normally separate parts of our community together. In addition to diverse support within the community, it also has vociferous support from each of our local elected officials, as well as unanimous support by our community board.
Our dream is not yet realized—but, so far, we would like to think those brave souls who occupied the firehouse in 1975 would be proud.