A poster in the Prospect Heights section of the Brooklynian forum started a new thread last month:
“I’ve been living at Washington Ave & St. Marks since June, and last night this together-looking guy with glasses stopped me between Vanderbilt and Underhill on Prospect Place, and told me his mother had a stroke and crashed her car, and he needed a few bucks. All I had was a 20 and hearing the words ‘mother’ and ‘stroke’ put me in some kind of sympathy trance and I gave it to him!”
The writer then added a link to a video showing this same man being caught on film six years ago, making a similar plea. She added this title to her blog post: “The Prospect Heights con artist is back.”
And so the Internet continued to grow as a central tool in the community life of Brooklyn and other communities in the nation. Forty-six percent of Americans still rely primarily on face-to-face encounters to discuss community issues, according to the “Neighbors Online” report released last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, but fully 30 percent of those surveyed also said they used some kind of website, blog, forum, social media or other digital tool to learn about local issues in the past year.
According to the website Internet World Stats, online users have grown approximately 150 percent in North America over the last 11 years. It’s no surprise, then, that the survey, which looked at how Americans learn about and discuss community issues, found that the Internet is penetrating neighborhood communication.
A review of local websites and interviews with residents indicates that Prospect Heights is squarely in the national trend, if not ahead of it.
A report this year by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) finds that digital communication has taken on an even more critical communications role in complex urban neighborhoods, such as Prospect Heights, because “the larger and more diverse the region of coverage, the more difficult it is to address the full spectrum of issues that matter to its citizens.”
The chairperson of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, Danae Oratowski, said in an interview that digital tools are particularly good for seeing patterns, such as a crime surge or traffic problem, and to bring those concerns to local officials.
The biggest issue that Prospect Heights residents are vocal about is Atlantic Yards, the site of the Barclays Center. Next fall the arena will be home to the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets basketball team. For the past five years, residents have been complaining about increased traffic, littering, noise and other problems that have resulted from the construction.
Locals have taken their concerns online with Atlantic Yards Watch. This site, part blog, part forum, allows registered users to submit incident reports related to the project, so they can be followed.
A pregnant mother of a toddler, desperate to get some sleep, recently posted about the “outrageous construction noise” that has been keeping her family up all night. Atlantic Yards Watch editor, Peter Krashes, responded the same day, with the community construction liaison’s contact information in case the noise problem continues.
Atlantic Yards is a popular topic on the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council’s (PHNDC) website, but it’s not the site’s main focus.
PHNDC.org is a one-stop-shop for information on the neighborhood. The site includes a list of local officials, a blog with neighborhood news and issues, and aggregated Prospect Heights news.
When Gus Vlahavas, owner of the popular local diner, Tom’s Restaurant, retired this May, PHNDC.org, wrote about his farewell celebration.
The website was also used to lobby for an official Prospect Heights Historic District to preserve the neighborhood’s brownstones. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the historic district in June 2009.
The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council also uses its email newsletter, the PHNDC Bulletin, to update residents and promote neighborhood advocacy.
According to the Pew “Neighbor’s Online” report, “one in five Americans have signed up for email or text message alerts about local issues.”
About three weeks ago, PHNDC used the newsletter to rally support for residential parking permits. These special parking spots will prevent Barclays Center patrons from taking up too much on street parking. The newsletter urged locals to “speak up” at a New York City Council committee hearing on the issue. The committee, followed by the full City Council, approved the plan.
Social media like Facebook is also a helpful tool for communities. Brooklyn Bike Patrol, which escorts woman home at night and was founded in response to the recent Brooklyn sex assaults, has a Facebook page.
Prospect Heights resident and founder of Brooklyn Bike Patrol, Jay Ruiz, created the page around the end of September to advertise the service to Brooklynites. As of mid-November, the page had 588 Likes.
Additionally, he uses the Facebook page to alert locals about free self-defense classes, neighborhood association meetings and even a missing New Jersey girl who police believed was somewhere in Brooklyn.
Ruiz also posts about Brooklyn Bike Patrol in the earlier mentioned Brooklynian.com.
The forum was started in 2005 as a place for residents to find news and information about specific neighborhoods in Brooklyn. It’s divided geographically and by topic, such as Brooklyn Eats, Brooklyn Kids, Brooklyn Politics, Crime and Yoga.
In a recent Brooklynian post, residents lamented the closing of Christie’s Jamaican Patties, a neighborhood restaurant that’s shutting down after 45 years in business.
In another post, locals traded opinions on the just released designs for a residential high-rise glass tower to be built near Atlantic Yards.
Lawrence Quigley, a Prospect Heights resident, uses Brooklynian and believes it helps people become more aware of what’s going on in the neighborhood. But he admits that it isn’t perfect, and residents need to use it cautiously.
Brooklynian is anecdotal, “It’s a double edged sword, ” says Quigley. Although before sites like Brooklynian, residents would know about things just sporadically, people can get too caught up and develop a sense of fear, he says.
Things can get distorted. Once a cop told me that ‘it’s like too old ladies talking over the fence,’ he adds.
Oratowski points out that residents can have more of an exchange at block meetings than if they posted on Brooklynian every day.
“If you only learn about Prospect Heights through those [sites], you have a very skewed views of things, ” she says.