No Summer Recess for FOFA

It was a busy summer for the Park Slope Civic Council’s Forth on Fourth Avenue Committee (FOFA). We’ve been hard at work on projects associated with our recent MillionTreesNYC award. We’ve also been reaching out to and collaborating with other civic groups and concerned individuals, hoping to build a larger, better informed group of participants who would be for upcoming Department of Transportation hearings on Fourth Avenue improvements (one of the steps outlined by Borough President Marty Markowitz’s Fourth Avenue Task Force).


MillionTreesNYC Award

During the summer, FOFA completed the tasks we outlined for the mini-grant we received from MillionTreesNYC. In total, we have brought 31 trees into care between Carroll and Bergen Streets on Fourth Avenue. Starting with our tree-bed clean-up and planting effort in June, we have installed FOFA-designed DIY tree guards at all of our planting sites, or received assurances that local residents and businesses will install permanent tree guards on their own this fall.

A huge thank you goes to the tree-guard design and installation team, including Joe Ciccone, Grace Freedman, Michael Freedman, Judy Janda, Bob Lesko, and Talia Wallner.

Joe Ciccone, left, received the Golden Cultivator Award; with him are FOFA member Judy Janda, co-chair Elise Selinger, and member Grace Freedman.

(Another note: Joe Ciccone received the Golden Cultivator Award at the Parks Department’s Stewardship reception in September, marking the work done in MillionTreesNYC projects. In addition to FOFA, Ciccone is a member of the Lincoln Road [Rogers-Bedford] Block Association, which won this year’s Greenest Block in Brooklyn Award [the second time for the group] and the Borough President’s Fourth Avenue Task Force, and has held several tree-steward training sessions. Kudos, Joe!)



We’ve also succeeded at building new connections throughout the community. FOFA members Judy Janda and Tom Twente, for example, are working together as GreenSpace co-coordinators to bring to life the long-promised community garden in the empty lot at Sackett Street and Fourth Avenue. Their efforts to draft a license and memorandum of understanding with the City are finally near completion. (It’s been the City that has dragged out the process for this Department of Environmental Protection-owned lot, not the gardeners.) The GreenSpace garden, which will promote native plants, will be a highly visible improvement of the streetscape along Fourth.

A community effort to keep tree beds clean, with FOFA, the Arias, and P.S. 321.

Related to the GreenSpace project, Janda spearheaded three work days with residents on Sackett Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenue; by July, all 32 trees on the block were brought into care, with help from MillionTreesNYC (mulch, hydrant access, and deep watering). The Sackett Street work is sparking interest in tree stewardship and formation of an owner-tenant block association — and generating more GreenSpace members.

This summer, FOFA engaged with urban greenscaper Bob Hyland to learn about subirrigated planters (SIPs) and the opportunities they may offer for additional greening along Fourth Avenue. (Hyland is an SIP authority extraordinaire; check out his blog at SIPs require less maintenance once greenery is planted and, as designed by Hyland, are portable.

During the summer, Hyland worked with Frida Lim, owner of Slippery Slope Farm to put together a “Garden of Wonder” SIP garden at the temporary P.S. 133 site, Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street. Tomatoes and other vegetables are growing in these SIPs! Several FOFA members visited the Garden of Wonder during summer weekend demonstrations, as did area residents and P.S. 133 parents.

Hyland’s photography work has also spurred interest within FOFA to create a photo-documentary of current Fourth Avenue conditions, which we intend to use as a record of work and as a visual aide in identifying greenscaping opportunities. FOFA members Joe Ciccone, Ken Kramer, and Elise Selinger have begun photographing sections of our streetscape for this initiative.

FOFA member Grace Freedman, meanwhile, brought the SIP growing technique to the attention of Scott Pelzer, the director of Brooklyn Woods, an organization that helps unemployed and low-income New Yorkers start careers in skilled woodworking and cabinet making. He then created a SIP container prototype for commercial and residential use on Fourth Avenue. FOFA members are exploring ways to finance plantings for the prototype and secure a maintenance partner for it. Construction of the containers would help provide job-training opportunities through Brooklyn.

The Church of the Redeemer, slated to be torn down, at Fourth Avenue and Pacific Street.

Another initiative to build new coalitions within our community has centered on the Church of the Redeemer, on the corner of Fourth and Pacific Street, which is scheduled to be torn down and replaced by an eight- to ten-story building. Area residents have been organizing to protect at least some local history in an area that is seeing massive development and to form a community vision/plan that would help maintain some sense of scale and place. Members from the Boreum Hill East Pacific Street Block Association came to FOFA’s August meeting to discuss the issue with us.

The FOFA membership asked to be kept informed about organizing efforts (some members will be attending an upcoming meeting on the topic) and expressed support of activities related to the preservation work. The possible loss of the church also prompted discussion about identifying and protecting structures along Fourth Avenue that have historic and cultural significance to the area.

Last but certainly not least, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy has been very helpful to FOFA during planting sessions. Over the summer, FOFA wrote a letter of support for GCC’s application to New York State to conduct a tree inventory, promising to provide volunteers to assist with the project if funded.

Mitigation of water runoff from sections of and above Fourth Avenue, which contributes to flooding of the Gowanus area, is another issue FOFA is hoping to address in discussions about design improvements.


Taking It to the Streets

FOFA organized a walk from Degraw Street to Times Plaza for a survey that will spark larger discussions about the Fourth Avenue streetscape.

Following our regular meeting earlier this month, FOFA organized a walk from Degraw Street to Times Plaza. The goal of the on-the-ground survey was to spark larger discussions about the Fourth Avenue streetscape and the importance of putting forth a vision for a “greening” component in future discussions with the city’s Department of Transportation. (DOT has told us that they will begin holding public forums this winter to discuss street treatments/medians on the stretch of Fourth Avenue from Times Plaza to 15th Street.)

We took both written notes and photos during the walk to help us develop recommendations to bring to the table during public workshops. Joining us on our walk were Patrick Cullina, former vice president of horticulture and operation at the High Line; David Gurin, former DOT commissioner; Catherine Zinnel from Councilmember Brad Lander’s office; Ashley Thompson from Councilmember Steve Levin’s office; Hans Hesselein from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy; and Jesse Mintz-Roth and Megan Quirk from DOT.

We expect to sponsor more of these walks prior to meetings with DOT.


Looking Ahead

In early summer, FOFA held a strategic planning meeting to identify and calendar future activities, many of which are reflected in this article. We also identified possible sources of project funding that we are currently exploring.

This fall and winter look to be just as busy as summer was for FOFA. For more details, take a look at our page on the Civic Council’s website. We welcome volunteers! Feel free to contact us at Committee meetings take place the second Tuesday of every month, 7:45 a.m. at the Brooklyn Lyceum on Fourth Avenue and President Street.

— Elise Selinger and SJ Avery are co-chairs of the Forth on Fourth Avenue Committee. Photos by Joe Ciccone.

from the September 2012 Civic News