Grand Street Settlement Block Party: Good times make good neighbors

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.


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“I have to be honest with you,” says Tiffani Lawson, leader of the project Grand St. Settlement’s Brownsville Block Party. “Brownsville is awesome.”

Tiffani, who also directs the School’s Out New York City (SONYC) Program at Grand St. Settlement, says what’s great about Brooklyn in general can be found in Brownsville in particular. “People talk so much about Brooklyn—and that spirit is right here!” she says. “This is a great community already, and it’s in the process of becoming an even better one.”

A native of Ohio, Tiffani had been living in the Bronx for five years when she was offered a job at Grand St. last summer. “I had never heard of Brownsville before then!” she admits. “But I soon found the community was just like me: it’s a prideful black community. The parents are adamant about getting the best for their kids. And the kids… They’re just waiting for someone to see how bright their shine is.”

Grand St. Settlement’s Brownsville Block Party will connect two of Tiffani’s professional passions—promoting healthy eating and enjoying the outdoors—in an all-hands block party that will introduce neighbors to each other and to local services, businesses, nonprofits, and amenities they might not be aware of.

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[via Grand Street Settlement]

Tiffani says it’s easy to walk down the street in Manhattan and get a salad on your lunch break, but not in Brownsville. She hopes all the new buildings going up in the neighborhood will bring some healthier culinary options with them, and wants to educate kids about making good food choices wherever they are. Also, she says, as schools have become more focused on “teaching to the test,” they’ve taken a lot of outdoor play time away from kids. “We keep hearing that kids are stuck inside all the time, but are we giving them the opportunity to go outside?” she asks.

A lot of people are new to Brownsville these days—including Tiffani. “I don’t know all the other organizations here yet, so let’s get together,” she says. “What better way to have fun than with a good old fashioned block party? Let’s celebrate all that Brownsville has to offer and all the new people who are moving here. Let’s introduce ourselves and see what we can do for each other.”

While coordinating an effort like this takes hard work, Tiffani says she knows she can rely on her community to help. “I alone can’t reach everyone here; I can’t make all the connections,” she says. “So I want to get more people on board, and I’m very open to suggestions. Other people’s input will make this better than what I can envision on my own.”

In local community board meetings, Tiffani says she’s heard residents express concern that newcomers will alter Brownsville’s identity, but she doesn’t want them to fear change. “I want to say, ‘We’re coming in with good intentions! We want to help make it better!’ We want to help show all the pride, all the positives.”

“Really,” she says, “I want everyone to come out and enjoy Brownsville: for what it is now, and for what it could be in the future. I think it’s going to be outstanding.”