Best of Brownsville Photo Project: Looking up is what’s good in the neighborhood

The 2016 Livonia Avenue El-Space Challenge is a partnership between ioby and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) that’s connecting community leaders in Brownsville, Brooklyn with funding and support for their creative, short-term projects that reimagine the space around the elevated train structure (“el-space”) along the neighborhood’s Livonia Avenue.


“So many people travel along the el every day, but they’re looking down,” says Ionna Jimenez. “They’re going from A to B, not seeing the best that Brownsville has to offer. We wondered how we could get them to look up and see more of what’s here.”

Ionna is Program Coordinator at the Brownsville Community Justice Center (BCJC) and leader of the Best of Brownsville Photo Project, a series of three lighted outdoor photo gallery kiosks that will be located under the Livonia Avenue elevated train, at the Saratoga Avenue, Rockaway Avenue, and Junius Street MTA stations. “The lighting is really there to grab people’s attention,” she explains. “To get them to look up at these beautiful images and engage.”

Each month for 11 months starting this September, there will be an open call in the community for photos of the awesome people and places of Brownsville. Youth from the BCJC’s Media Intensive program and its Brownsville Builders Youth Advisory Board will participate in a workshop on curation methods and then choose the images to be displayed each month. Volunteers will be able to help with building the kiosks, maintaining them throughout the year, and surveying passersby for feedback.

“Brownsville is a small, close-knit community,” Ionna says. “Our residents are very prideful and they know exactly what they want. So we’re looking forward to hearing their suggestions and seeing their submissions. How do they picture ‘the best of Brownsville’?”  

Ionna is especially interested in seeing what photos the young curation teams will pick and choose to include. “The older people here are very neighborly,” she says, “and I want to see that translate to the younger generation. They’re going through a lot here; there are turf wars and all the negative things that get into the press. But I’d love to see more pride grow among them. I want to know what they’d like to see here; how they want to get their message across. Let’s see what it is about Brownsville that they think should be strengthened and highlighted.”

“Sometimes we get trapped in our everyday lives and forget about the best pieces of ourselves, of our communities,” Ionna says. “This project is to remind people that we have real assets here. We have a lot.”

In the initial information session for the El-Space Challenge, Ionna says the sky was the limit. “They really wanted us to dream stuff up!” she says. “And we’d already been working with these kids for a while and thinking of ways to put out a more positive narrative about this place. We knew this would be the perfect project for them to take on. Now we want to turn around and ask our neighbors the same question: ‘What can you dream up to make Brownsville better?’ ”