In Spring 2016, the City College of New York (CUNY) collaborated with Brooklyn Community Board 6 to investigate perceived neighborhood needs. The random sample consists of face-to-face structured interviews with 759 adults. Agreement across neighborhoods with widely divergent incomes was expressed for making more affordable housing the top priority. However, other major concerns differed among the neighborhoods in this study.
The survey reported here, a collaboration of Brooklyn Community Board 6 (CB6) and City College of NY, examined a representative sample of pedestrians in the contiguous areas of Park Slope, Gowanus, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. In face-to-face interviews in Spring 2016, surveyors asked questions about neighborhood needs and obtained the representative sample’s spontaneous perceptions as concerned residents, workers, shoppers and adult students. Over two-thirds of the respondents lived in the area.
The data contain detailed responses from one of the most rapidly developing areas of Brooklyn and reveals the primary concerns are for livable, affordable housing, and in separate neighborhoods of the area, for better education and street traffic safety and public transportation. Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a “tale of two cities” theme, and a promise of affordable housing as a top priority. One of the study’s neighborhoods has a median household income of more than twice the median household income of the adjacent neighborhood: $109,153 in Cobble Hill compared $52,567 in Red Hook. Despite their inequality, respondents in both neighborhoods placed affordable housing as their top priority for change.
Beyond the ubiquitous worries over affordable housing, other concerns are not evenly dispersed within the area surveyed in the Community District 6 (CB6). However, as a whole, when asked what issue they would most like to change: education, traffic, public transportation, and civic engagement joined affordable housing on the list of top five changes across the neighborhoods.
This model is generally referred to as “service-learning” where students perform a useful function for a community and at the same time earn college credits for traditional classroom courses. It is the intention of this project to model the linkage of neighborhood civic engagement with scholarship based not inside the classroom but within the existing governmental infrastructure and to uphold New York City’s democratic principles. This “needs assessment” model has been demonstrated in West Harlem, in Downtown Man in were inspired that others using similar methods -have achieved remarkable community assessment surveys in recovering areas in the Central African Republic, Northern Uganda and Liberia. The CB6 survey collected data using tablets equipped with GIS and the Kobotoolbox software, which had proved so successful in Africa. In addition, the collaboration of Michael I. Levine of Pace University and Manhattan Community Board 1 (July, 2015) using the same methods used in the earlier studies, further demonstrates that replication is feasible throughout NYC’s diverse Community Districts.
A major challenge ahead will be for leadership in Brooklyn Community Board 6, its stakeholders, district residents, local academic institutions and commercial enterprises to accept these expressions of community needs and use the survey findings to advocate for themselves and the civic engagement of their varied neighborhoods. Many survey respondents voiced this hope.