Activating Public Spaces in Brownsville
Building Healthy Communities
December 10, 2018
Residents of Brownsville have an average life expectancy of 74 years—11 years shorter than the highest life expectancy in New York City.
Brownsville also struggles with violence, which has resulted in a lack of safe spaces, in both perception and reality, where residents can be physically active. For example, Belmont Avenue was once a thriving shopping corridor for Central Brooklyn. Many storefronts are now empty; business corridors are not as active as they once were; and an increase in violence and crime along the corridor has negatively affected walkability and the use of public spaces for recreational activities. To help remedy this, the Brownsville Community Justice Center (BCJC) has developed neighborhood revitalization projects, such as the Marcus Garvey Clubhouse, a youth-led community space. In 2018, NYSHealth awarded BCJC, through fiscal sponsor Fund for the City of New York, a grant to further expand physical exercise opportunities and community wellness programs for Brownsville residents.
Under this grant, BCJC built on past development on Belmont Avenue and the Marcus Garvey Clubhouse. It promoted healthy habits through programs such as “BeFitNYC,” which included pop-up group exercise classes, community conversations on healthy living, pop-up farmers markets, workshops on food as medicine, and public fitness classes for youth. BCJC also developed joint events with Active Citizen Project/Project EATS, whose farm is located across the street from the Marcus Garvey Clubhouse, and streetscaping improvements (e.g., plantings, sidewalk repair, and crosswalks) to connect the farm to the clubhouse. Additionally, BCJC developed the Brownsville Keepers, a resident-led group comprising trusted residents trained in community peacemaking practices to heal rifts and positively address interpersonal and community violence. This project worked at the intersection of public safety and community wellness to improve neighborhood health.