Beyond the Waterfront: A resilient $1.4 billion revitalization program for central Brooklyn

On March 9, 2017, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the $1.4 billion Vital Brooklyn initiative that promises to transform the Central Brooklyn region. This groundbreaking proposal will target and invest in eight integrated areas, establishing a national paradigm for addressing chronic disparities, like systemic violence and entrenched poverty in high-need communities.

The comprehensive plan will focus on increasing access to open spaces and healthy food, while transforming the healthcare system by increasing access and quality of health care services and preventive care. Vital Brooklyn will also create a stronger, more sustainable Central Brooklyn by prioritizing strategic investments in resiliency and affordable housing, as well as job creation, youth development, and community violence prevention.

For too long investment in underserved communities has lacked the strategy necessary to end systemic social and economic disparity, but in Central Brooklyn those failed approaches stop today,” Governor Cuomo said. “We are going to employ a new holistic plan that will bring health and wellness to one of the most disadvantaged parts of the state. Every New Yorker deserves to live in a safe neighborhood with access to jobs, healthcare, affordable housing, green spaces, and healthy food but you can’t address one of these without addressing them all. Today, we begin to create a brighter future for Brooklyn, and make New York a model for development of high need communities across the country.

Social and economic indicators show that Central Brooklyn is one of the most disadvantaged areas in all of New York State, with measurably higher rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, limited access to healthy foods or opportunities for physical activity, high rates of violence and crime, wide economic disparities from unemployment to poverty levels, and inadequate access to high quality healthcare and mental health services.

Vital Brooklyn will break down barriers of health and wellbeing through eight integrated areas of investment:

  • Open Space and Recreation
  • Healthy Food
  • Community-Based Healthcare
  • Comprehensive Education and Youth Development
  • Economic Empowerment and Job Creation
  • Community-Based Violence Prevention
  • Affordable Housing; and
  • Resiliency

Open Space & Recreation.
Currently, Central Brooklyn residents have some of the fewest opportunities for physical fitness in the entire state. In fact, 84 percent of Central Brooklynites have gone without adequate physical activity in the last month alone, which is more than 30 percent higher than the rest of the state.

To ensure residents have access to recreational amenities, nature and open space, Vital Brooklyn will:

  • Eliminate the area’s “park deserts” by building green space and revitalizing athletic facilities within a 10 minute walk of every neighborhood;
  • Enhance amenities at more than a dozen community gardens and school yards to create public spaces for recreation and fitness;
  • Create more than five acres of recreation space at state-funded housing developments;
  • Improve and enhance existing recreational facilities through grant opportunities.

Healthy Food.
Today, one in four Central Brooklynites are food insecure — almost twice the state average — meaning they lack access to quality and variety in their diet, leading to diabetes, obesity, and other health issues.

To promote healthy lifestyles, Vital Brooklyn will increase access to nutritious food through:

  • Farm-to-Table initiatives that connect Upstate growers with Downstate families, proving youth job training and life-long healthy habits;
  • Increase access to locally-sourced food by adding more than a dozen new farmer’s markets at community schools;
  • Provide job training for young people through the United Federation of Teachers to develop entrepreneurial skills;
  • Provide existing community gardens with additional resources to expand their services.

Community-Based Health Care.
Compared to the rest of the state, Central Brooklyn lacks access to primary care doctors and other critical mental health services. Current statistics show that there are only 55 primary care physicians per 100,000 people in Central Brooklyn, while the statewide average doubles that figure. Additionally, there are 497 Emergency Room visits in Central Brooklyn for every 1,000 people, which also eclipses the statewide average.

Communities need access to healthcare facilities that recognize and prioritize people’s unique needs, which is why Vital Brooklyn:

  • Will strengthen local healthcare facilities to close current gaps and increase services;
  • Will transform the healthcare system by increasing access to quality services and preventive care;
  • Will develop a 36-site ambulatory care network which will include partnerships with existing community-based providers.

Comprehensive Education & Youth Development.
Today, a well-rounded education requires more than in-class learning. The Billion Oyster Project and the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Justice programs will expose at-risk youth to hands-on learning on shoreline and habitat restoration efforts in the Jamaica Bay.

Vital Brooklyn will grow these efforts by:

  • Adding more than 30 new environmental education sites across the community;
  • Expanding the Billion Oyster Project school-based curriculum to 20 sites, exposing more than 9,500 students to oyster habitat restoration and Staten Island Living Breakwaters Project
  • Leveraging DEC Environmental Justice Program to engage at-risk youth in green jobs training and habitat restoration projects.

Economic Development & Job Creation.
While many communities throughout New York State have experienced an economic resurgence over the past six years, the recovery has been slower to reach Central Brooklyn with an unemployment rate almost three percentage points higher than the New York City rate. To break this trend and jumpstart growth in this community, Vital Brooklyn will give residents of all ages the resources they need for economic empowerment, including financial literacy, entrepreneurship and job training and placement programs.

Specifically, Vital Brooklyn will:

  • Add 7,600 new hires through the Brooklyn Unemployment Strikeforce, preparing the workforce to meet new market demand;
  • Expand Green City Force AmeriCorps program, providing NYCHA youth with higher-paying opportunities;
  • Train 1,200 people in the construction trades through the expanded Unemployed Workers Training Program;
  • Provide leadership, education, and job training skills to more than 300 students through CUNY’s Workforce Development Initiative;
  • Deploy Mobile Command Center to increase financial literacy.

Community-Based Violence Prevention.
Central Brooklyn has been grappling with violence which has put residents at risk for years. In fact, the homicide rate in Central Brooklyn is almost triple the statewide average. To make neighborhoods safer, Vital Brooklyn will expand violence prevention programs, create new opportunities for youth engagement and increase support for victims by:

  • Support community-based SNUG initiatives that conduct outreach and prevent gun violence;
  • Enhance more than 20 anti-violence programs;
  • Establish new Midnight Basketball program throughout the community by partnering with local groups

Affordable Housing.
Every family deserves a safe and decent place to call home. Residents of Central Brooklyn pay approximately half of their total household income on rent alone — compared to 32 percent of household income statewide. Vital Brooklyn will create new affordable housing opportunities that encourage active lifestyles and increase access to preventive care.

Specifically, Vital Brooklyn will build 3,000+ new multi-family affordable housing units at six State-owned sites developed with community input on options including:

  • Supportive services, housing for the developmentally disabled, seniors and formerly incarcerated;
  • Publicly accessible open space;
  • Pathways to home ownership.

Resiliency.
Central Brooklyn faces the dual challenge of being vulnerable to extreme weather, while its need for electricity is increasing. To make Brooklyn a more environmentally sustainable and resilient community, Vital Brooklyn will:

  • Invest in sustainable practices, including renewable and redundant energy sources, energy efficiency and green jobs training;
  • Reduce energy costs for homeowners and businesses through 382 solar projects;
  • Complete 62 multi-family and 87 single-family energy efficiency projects;
  • Support development of 15 new cogeneration projects;
  • Advance the Clarkson Avenue Microgrid Project, linking Kings County Hospital, SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Kingsboro Psychiatric Center with a resilient source of on-site backup power.

The $1.4 billion Vital Brooklyn initiative deploys state resources in a strategic, coordinated fashion to create a healthier, more vibrant community. Funding is reflected in the FY 2018 Executive Budget with the components funded as follows:

  • Open Space & Recreation: $140 million
  • Healthy Food: $325,000
  • Comprehensive Education & Youth Development: $1.2 million
  • Economic Empowerment & Job Creation: $692,000
  • Community-Based Violence Prevention: $800,000
  • Community-Based Healthcare: $700 million capital investment
  • Affordable Housing: $563 million
  • Resiliency: $23 million

Senator Kevin Parker said, “I applaud Governor Cuomo for recognizing the urgent need in Central Brooklyn and responding with funded commitment to coordinate state services. This needs to be passed in this year’s budget and when it does it is our aspiration that Vital Brooklyn will usher in a new era in our community that will be filled with and hope Opportunity.

State Senator Jesse Hamilton said, “I welcome Governor Cuomo’s “Vital Brooklyn” initiative. This $1.4 billion investment will bolster the work of countless community institutions and neighborhood organizations seeking to meet the needs of Brooklynites. More truly affordable housing to tackle the housing crisis, violence prevention work to halt the anguish too many families face, action on public health to improve the wellness of our communities, investment in workforce development to pave the way for the careers of the future, and more. These investments vindicate the work of community partners who have been dedicated to tackling these challenges – innovators like those who partnered with me and my colleagues to establish the first tech and wellness hub at a public housing site in the United States in Brownsville last year, and only last week expanded that “Campus” initiative to Crown Heights. And these investments will allow us to realize the promise of a more affordable Brooklyn, a safer Brooklyn, and a more prosperous Brooklyn for all.

Senator Roxanne Persaud said, “Vital Brooklyn is a giant step in improve health care and offer wrap around services for the Underserved communities. I commend Governor Cuomo for working with the legislators on this important endeavor.

Assemblymember Joseph Lentol said, “Vital Brooklyn will support communities in Central Brooklyn by providing the tools for empowerment from increasing access to healthy fresh food and open spaces to investing in workforce development and job creation. After generations of neglect and divestment, Governor Cuomo has developed an initiative that is focused, bold and innovative. Vital Brooklyn is more than a proposal – it is a statement that says we can work together to do the impossible. I strongly urge my colleagues in the legislature to pass this important plan in this year’s budget.”​​​

Assemblymember N. Nick Perry said, “Middle and lower-income residents of Central Brooklyn are currently facing an increasing plague of eviction and homelessness caused by a dearth of affordable housing. All of this occurring in the midst of a boom of billions of dollars of development going towards luxury housing that fails to even provide employment for unemployed neighborhood residents. To make matters worse, the unattended healthcare needs due to a large uninsured population in the community, compounds and increases the social and economic problems facing Central Brooklyn. Governor Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn initiative is commendable, timely and welcome and I look forward to participating with my colleagues in a successful implementation, which will benefit the people we represent.

Senator Erik M. Dilan said, “Vital Brooklyn is taking a new, integrated approach to community development by connecting the dots between important services and resources that impact lives in a meaningful way. When key factors like housing, healthcare and job creation are addressed comprehensively, people’s opportunity to meet their full potential improve. I thank the Governor for his leadership on this issue and strongly urge my colleagues in the Legislature to pass this important plan in the state budget.

Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley said, “Greater access to quality community resources is essential for fostering growth in any region. Governor Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn initiative will utilize a comprehensive approach to help Central Brooklyn gain access to the critical programs – from affordable housing, to initiatives that will spur job creation and help reduce violence – necessary to generate growth and empower the community. This program is a major investment that will yield dividends for Central Brooklyn and I urge the Legislature to pass it.

Assemblymember Martiza Davila said, “Vulnerable New Yorkers are in dire need of supportive housing throughout the city and across the state. At a time when luxury high-rises are rapidly replacing the space occupied by the housing and services most needed by our seniors and families, it is a breath of fresh air to see a project so focused on the overall well-being of the community.​ We need this to be included in this year’s state budget.

Public Advocate for the City of New York Letitia James said, “One of the biggest challenges we face as a City is ensuring that we create and maintain healthy communities. This plan for Brooklyn communities will provide day-to-day resources ranging from affordable housing and healthy food options, to education, youth support, crime prevention, and career support. I applaud the Governor for his leadership in this effort and look forward to working with him to create a stronger, more sustainable New York for all.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “Central Brooklyn neighborhoods have long struggled to emerge from cyclical patterns of poor health, poverty, and preventable violence. That struggle has been based largely in a systemic failure to invest in and support the hard-working men and women of these communities who are fighting every day to create safer places for their neighbors to raise healthy children and families. As a former police officer patrolling these streets, as well as a man who has fought against the same Type 2 diabetes diagnosis that imperils thousands of my constituents, I feel these struggles personally just as clearly as I see the hope for a brighter tomorrow. I commend the State for making this long-awaited investment in the health and wellness of central Brooklyn, and I hope to work in true partnership with Albany to ensure Vital Brooklyn is the vital success that all New Yorkers are counting on it to be.

Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, “Governor Cuomo’s innovative plan to create jobs in Brooklyn is a winning formula that will not only benefit the residents of Brooklyn, but all New Yorkers. With expanded training programs for youth and new economic development opportunities, Vital Brooklyn is sure to give these communities the boost they need to help them succeed.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “While access to quality healthcare and preventive services is an essential component of health, creating healthy communities requires much more. Governor Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn initiative is a comprehensive program that addresses many aspects of community life that affect health – housing, education, employment, economic development, recreation and safety. Investing in these previously neglected and separate sectors as part of an emphasis on wellness should offer central and northeastern Brooklyn opportunities to create and maintain a healthy community for generations to come.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Vital Brooklyn is an innovative plan to address the critical needs of the Central Brooklyn community. By taking a holistic approach to ensuring the health and wellbeing of Brooklyn residents through the expansion of open spaces and recreational areas, and providing new opportunities to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders, Governor Cuomo’s initiative will encourage a healthy lifestyle while creating a more sustainable community. As a result, Vital Brooklyn will improve the environment and the wellbeing and quality of life of thousands of New Yorkers.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “Vital Brooklyn is the inspired, aggressive approach we need to address the economic and health disparities that have affected communities throughout Brooklyn for far too long. This initiative will set an example for the nation in breaking down barriers to accessing quality affordable housing and creating stronger, more sustainable communities for future generations. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his vision and leadership on this initiative and look forward to working with him as we implement these bold and innovative programs.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “Vital Brooklyn will deliver innovative solutions to connect Brooklyn communities with affordable, sustainable wellness options. This program will increase access to fresh, local foods, including some of New York’s quality produce, to help all residents lead a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. These actions reflect the Governor’s unparalleled commitment to bettering the Brooklyn community and I look forward to what this comprehensive approach will accomplish.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey said, “The revitalization of Brooklyn, from economic development to population growth, has been truly remarkable. This initiative will build on that success to provide the tools and resources necessary to sustain healthy communities and encourage their growth. With Vital Brooklyn, Governor Cuomo is taking an all-inclusive approach to the health and wellness of an area to support the continued progress and transformation of Brooklyn.

Today, we begin to create a brighter future for Brooklyn, and make New York a model for development of high need communities across the country,” said Governor Cuomo.

Photo of Brooklyn skyline in 2012 by Nick Amoscato via Wikipedia.

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