Year in Review: Our Last Round-up of Last Year

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

The following was printed in the Jan. 18, 2024 edition of the newspaper; view the series cover art collection here.

This issue represents Part 3 of our Year in Review series, which features highlights and reflections from our borough. Putting together this series has been a community effort, with different organizations in North and Central Brooklyn participating. They have submitted quotes, statistics, and photos, and, as possible, given their time to phone interviews with the Brooklyn Star. Here is an official thanks to all of the organizations who responded to our requests; you have helped give our readers a fuller idea of some of the incredible things that happened in Kings County in 2023.

Here are the last drips and drops of the official Brooklyn Star 2023 Year in Review:

 

Brooklyn Borough Hall

The following is a 2023 Year in Review quote submitted via email by the office of Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso:

“Borough President Reynoso’s highlight of the year was the release of his Comprehensive Plan for Brooklyn, the first borough-specific, large-scale planning effort ever in our city’s history. The Plan recognizes that Brooklyn is patterned with deep inequities–from access to affordable housing, to health outcomes and quality of life. For example, between parts of Park Slope and Brownsville, life expectancy differs by nearly a decade and median household income varies as much as $125,000. When it comes to housing, the disparities are just as stark. Between 2010 and 2020, Community District 5 built or preserved more than 12,100 affordable housing units—but Community District 10 only built or preserved 7 affordable housing units over the same period. Rooted in data like this and containing over 100 maps and 200 land use, policy, and budgetary recommendations, the Plan identifies the specific challenges and needs across the borough’s neighborhoods to put forward strategic opportunities to build toward equity. The Plan is not a rezoning, but rather a roadmap chock-full of actionable ways to ensure that all Brooklynites are housed, healthy, and supported. More info is available at https://www.brooklynbp.nyc.gov/the-comprehensive-plan-for-brooklyn/.

Another highlight of the year would have to be the Borough President’s continued advocacy around addressing the harmful legacy of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). Ever since the infamous urban planner Robert Moses tore through through working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn to build the BQE, the expressway has cut communities in two and sentenced largely Black and Brown, Latino, and AAPI New Yorkers to decades of toxic pollution. You can see this clearly in Los Sures Williamsburg, where Borough President Reynoso grew up and served as a Council Member representing the 34th Council District. This year, Borough President Reynoso was joined by Congresswoman Nydia Velásquez to call on the State to renew BQGreen, a project that would aim to mitigate environmental harms and reconnect the neighborhood. This more-than-decade-in-the-making plan would platform over a portion of the BQE that runs below street level in Williamsburg and build a 3.5-acre park with a flower garden, playground, baseball diamond, barbecues, and more.”

-Isabel Panno Shepard, Brooklyn Borough Hall Press Secretary

Brooklyn Public Library

Photo of Brooklyn Public Library Central

The Brooklyn Public Library happily reported several highlights for 2023 in a phone interview with the Brooklyn Star. One was Books Unbanned, a digital iniative that allows teens and young adults (ages 13-21) from across the country to apply for a card and access e-books that may be banned in their local jurisdictions. Last year, more than 2,500 book titles were questioned in libraries across the U.S., which is the highest number in more than 20 years. Since April 2022, more than 7,000 teens from all 50 states have applied for the card. Collectively, they have checked out more than 170,000 books. San Diego and Seattle Public Libraries, in addition to Boston and Los Angeles County, have since joined the effort.

The library’s popular companion podcast for Books Unbanned is called Borrowed and Banned. Produced by Virginia Marshall, the seven-episode series investigates the rise in book bans across America, and was recently named one of the top 25 podcasts of the year by The Atlantic. Interviews with youth, as well as commonly challenged authors appear on the podcast. Some notable names include Maia Kobabe, George M. Johnson, and Mike Curato.

As part of its Books Unbanned initiative, in October, BPL collaborated with Teen Vogue for a celebration of Let Feedom Read Day. The day featured a conference with teens about the critical importance of literature in society, covering themes like our right to access information and the need for civic engagement as it relates to reading and learning.

2023 also marked the 20th year of the library launching its PowerUP! Business Competition. Previous winners have included Greenlight Bookstore, Island Pops, and Bogotá Latin Bistro. In 2023, BPL awarded more than $40,000 to aspiring entrepreneurs. The award ceremony was hosted by Sally Herships, director of the audio program at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a frequent guest host on NPR’s daily economics podcast. The grand prize went to Noel Gaskin, Jovon Browne, and Cheryl Culpepper for Hemp Thyself, which is a licensed CBD health and skin company.

Another highlight for BPL was “The Book of HOV,” an exhibition celebrating the life, work, and legacy of Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter, a Brooklyn native and legendary hip-hop figure. Over the course of nearly five months, the exhibition, which graced the Central Library, attracted more than 600,000 visitors. This marked a 74 percent jump in attendance for the library. On the last day of the exhibition, almost 11,000 patrons visited the library. This was the largest number of library visitors in a single day in the institution’s history. The line to enter the library was so long that it extended down Flatbush Ave.

A new Sunset Park Library branch opened in November 2023. The newly developed branch is nearly 21,000 square feet, making it close to twice the size of the previous branch. The new branch features a new HVAC system, as well as 49 units of permanently affordable housing atop the building. Nine of the units are specifically for victims of domestic violence. Most of the units will rent for between $500 and $1,000 a month. Anyone who meets the income, credit, and family size requirements may apply for the apartments, regardless of immigration status. The joint library/housing project was made possible through a partnership between Brooklyn Public Library and the Fifth Avenue Committee, alongside the New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Prior to the new branch opening, an interim library had been provided at 4201 Fourth Ave. at 43rd St. in a space the New York City Police Department made available.

To find out more about the Sunset Park Library, visit: https://www.bklynlibrary.org/locations/sunset-park

Brooklyn Ballet

The following is a quote submitted via email by Lynn Parkerson, founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn Ballet:

“Our 20th year was a glorious celebration–of looking back and looking forward, at what we have accomplished and towards a bright future. The people of Brooklyn fuel our creative process, our education programs, our performances on the streets and stages throughout the borough. We are a high-impact arts organization. Ask any of the communities we serve or audience members who see us perform. We have an impressive track record and we’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities of what a dance company can be.”

In December the Brooklyn Ballet presented its annual The Brooklyn Nutcracker at Kings Teheatre in Flatbush. Here is the official description of the production: “Culturally immersive, The Brooklyn Nutcracker  transforms familiar Nutcracker characters and scenes to represent the heart of Brooklyn’s cultural mosaic, From a mysterious pop and locking Herr Drosselmeyer and a daring hip hop battle scene, to a bohemian Mother Ginger, the characters embark on an enchanting journey from Victorian Flatbush to modern day–with exciting detours through notable Brooklyn landmarks, including a visit to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden [sic] and a Flatbush Avenue subway platform.”

More than 5,000 students attended morning performances of The Brooklyn Nutcracker. All students came from local Brooklyn schools in low-income areas.

The 2024 performance season will begin in March.

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

The following is an excerpt of an email submitted by Downtown Brooklyn Partnership to list the organization’s highlights for 2023:

“Construction really ramped up at Abolitionist Place this year. The new 1.15 acre of open space located between Duffield Street and Albee Square West will have a children’s play area, waterplay feature, lawn space, a dog run, multiple seating areas, and more. Abolitionist Place is slated to open in spring 2024.

In July, NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced an investment of over $40M in Downtown Brooklyn, that will deliver streetscape improvements, transportation and public space upgrades, and pedestrian safety enhancements. A key win for Downtown Brooklyn is the $8M funding for the Fulton Mall Streetscape – adopting the recommendations and designs of DBP’s Public Real Action Plan.

In September, Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO Janno Lieber, Chief Accessibility Officer Quemel Arroyo, Councilmember Lincoln Restler, and DBP President Regina Myer unveiled the newly-renovated Fulton Mall entrance of the Hoyt St. Subway Station. The renovations were paid for by Macy’s, and include a new elevator — a win for accessibility in the neighborhood!

By the time fall came around, Willoughby was freed from the shackles of the sidewalk sheds that had enveloped 345 Adams Street for the past seven years – shrouding Willoughby Plaza and the adjacent sidewalk of Adams Street. Finally, we could again sit outside and enjoy food from nearby businesses while soaking in the Downtown Brooklyn sun!

DBP’s public art program saw the installation of Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s COMMON GROUND, a site-specific interactive public art piece in partnership with Van Alen Institute. With its sound-activated lights, the work offered a playable topography that transformed The Plaza at 300 Ashland into an oasis for sitting, socializing, and gathering. The piece was accompanied by programming featuring from Brooklyn artists who activated the space with their movement and sound.

Downtown Brooklyn’s Shared Streets network got brand new colorful asphalt art. Inspired by natural landscape and topography, Terrain Park by Ann Tarantino uses vibrant hues to create a lively streetscape that complements the street furniture, bike racks, granite blocks, and signature planters of Downtown Brooklyn’s Shared Streets ped spaces.

Originally unveiled at Clumber Corner near the Brooklyn Bridge, Sky’s the Limit in the County of Kings by Sherwin Banfield — a project of the Downtown Brooklyn and Dumbo Art Fund — was relocated to Columbus Park in August.

This year, Downtown Brooklyn welcomed a wave of shop and dine establishments – adding new and fresh flavors to the neighborhood.

• A slew of healthy food places, such as Quality Greens Kitchen, Sweetgreen, Everytable, and DIG — which lead us to renaming Willoughby Street Salad Alley.

• Classic-style fast food joints, such as 7th Street Burger, Dave’s Hot Chicken, and 375° Chicken n’ Fries. Meanwhile, beloved Circa Brewing Co. rebranded in December with a new name: Sound & Fury Brewing.

• Fast-casual eateries, including Mighty Quinn’s, Halal Munchies, Empanada Loca at AL B’s, Jack’s Stir Brew, Osteria Brooklyn, Nan Xiang Express, Silky Kitchen, German Doner Kebab concession at Columbus Park, and Wonder — just to name a few.

• 2023 further cemented Downtown Brooklyn as a recreation destination. Openings included tennis club Court 16 at City Point BKLYN; and Pilates studio [solidcore] at 11 Hoyt.

• In the world of fine dining, Gage & Tollner began offering lunch service, and famed chef Michael Brogan opened up Maison Sun at 200-3 Schermerhorn. And that’s not all — more beloved establishments plan to open their doors in 2024, such as Sephora, Raising Canes, Fogo de Chão, and Hot Peppers Inc.; as well as grocery stores Fresh Grocer and Gourmet Glatt.

2023 marked the tenth year of our annual Downtown Brooklyn Presents programming series! Throughout the season, we hosted several events in celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, including Check the Rhime Hip-Hop Karaoke, a hip-hop edition of Bare Feet Downtown Brooklyn with Mickela Mallozzi featuring The Ladies of Hip-Hop, a Juneteenth celebration with 651 Arts, and an all-out hip-hop party titled FLAVORS with the renowned DJ Spinna.

To celebrate the public spaces that make Downtown Brooklyn so great, we held several car-free events on the streets, including Downtown Brooklyn Car-Free Earth Day on Albee Square and Albee Square West…”

Looking forward to all that Brooklyn has to offer in 2024!