Comment: Coming Together for the Community

A while back, a few Park Slope Civic Council trustees had the idea to devote an upcoming issue of Civic News to the question, “What is the Park Slope Civic Council?” No doubt many of you who are reading this publication know what the Civic Council is, but it never ceases to surprise me that many others around the community do not. In this editorial, I embrace the opportunity to reach out, to talk about what we are and what we do, and to take stock of ourselves. One could well ask not only “What is the Park Slope Civic Council?” but also “What is Park Slope?”

[pullquote] Look all around
the neighborhood, and
you’ll see evidence of
the Civic Council’s work.[/pullquote]

The Civic Council has been around a long time, starting life in 1896 as the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, a body that functioned much as a chamber of commerce. South Brooklyn, a useful term even today, referred to the many communities south of Downtown Brooklyn, including Park Slope. After several waves of change for South Brooklyn, by the 1950s the Board of Trade had become “repurposed” as an advocacy organization called the Park Slope Civic Council. By 1959, the Civic Council had organized the first Park Slope House Tour, the first step on its new mission to preserve and restore Park Slope.

Look all around the neighborhood, and you’ll see evidence of the Civic Council’s work. Perhaps most obvious are the thousands of “No Flyers” signs here (and, I’m pleased to say, in neighboring communities). The Halloween Parade is a safe activity for children in our community, fun for all ages, and run by our volunteers. The twice-yearly Civic Sweep gives people the tools and motivation to clean up around the neighborhood, plant flowers, and more — and this is run by Civic Council volunteers, with the generosity of local businesses. Toys for Tots provides presents for needy children every year — and this is run by volunteers of the Civic Council, with assistance from local businesses and institutions. In May 2012, we will have the 53rd annual House Tour, run by legions of Civic Council volunteers. We provide scholarships for local high school students and grants to community organizations. We pushed long and hard for the reopening of a long-closed subway entrance on Fourth Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets; by the end of 2011, that will be a reality.

The Civic Council is also involved in issue advocacy, from calmer streets to Atlantic Yards to being out in front of changes along Fourth Avenue. We are organizing a community roundtable to propose locations for the city’s upcoming bicycle-share program. We are forming a business advisory council to bring the Civic Council and local businesses together, to see how we might help each other, all for the benefit of the community. And more is on the way, all run — you guessed it — by volunteers who comprise the Civic Council.

Today’s Park Slope Civic Council looks to build community throughout the area sloping westward from Prospect Park. Civic Council Trustee Lyn Hill remembers a long-ago House Tour that was considered revolutionary because it included houses south of Ninth Street. We have come a long way from that, actively engaging the whole Park Slope community and its amazing diversity of people and businesses. We are not content to sit back and watch the change that occurs in our community every day, in plain sight. We are part of shaping that change. Our September 2011 “season opener” meeting welcomed new members and welcomed back longtime ones. More than a few new members came up to me amazed at all that the volunteers who comprise the Civic Council do. I had to say that what they heard that night only scratched the surface.

This is the first time that Civic News has been devoted to one topic. In this issue, you will hear many voices, long-timers and new arrivals, people from all walks of life, talking about what we are. I hope you like what you see. Be part of what the Civic Council and the community will be. Join the Park Slope Civic Council.

— Michael Cairl is president of the Park Slope Civic Council.

from the Fall 2011 Civic News