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Contrasting Voices Confront Bushwick's Future as Rezoning Vote Nears

By Meredith Hoffman | October 2, 2013 7:59am
 The Building a Better Bushwick panel brings together a diverse group of leaders to discuss development, education and more.
The Building a Better Bushwick panel brings together a diverse group of leaders to discuss development, education and more.
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Bushwick Film Festival

BUSHWICK — As the city prepares to vote on Bushwick's controversial rezoning, an unlikely spread of local nightlife, community board, arts and social justice leaders are colliding to address the inevitable: Bushwick's changes that lie ahead.

A groundbreaking mix of longtime and new leaders are tackling tough questions about how to handle Bushwick's seemingly overnight development, in the panel "Building a Better Bushwick" this weekend.

The panel (hosted by the Bushwick Flim Festival) follows months of debate over Bushwick Community Board 4's "private and illegal" votes on real estate and liquor licenses. The event comes just weeks before the City Planning Commission votes on the proposed rezoning of several industrial blocks to create a mini-neighborhood on Oct. 23, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

"We hope the outcome is to enlighten the community, so they can know everyone plays an important role," said Bushwick Film Festival organizer Melanie Balousek. "It's not left only to officials or the community board or anyone in particular."

Balousek, who plans to moderate the panel, invited Community Board 4 District Manager Nadine Whitted, the owner of popular bar and venue Brooklyn Fireproof Thomas Burr Dodd, and Bushwick-based activist Jose Lopez from Make the Road. Balousek also included local artist Daryl-Ann Saunders and former Bushwick teacher (and artist) Meryl Meisler.

For Saunders, who signed a petition protesting the community board's approval of the Rheingold rezoning, the panel would be a chance to encourage the board to be more inclusive and transparent.

"I think it's important since the community board is used to kind of calling the shots in the neighborhood," Saunders said, noting that few people had taken interest in Bushwick  until its recent gentrification. "Now it's important for the [board] to be very inclusive and take advantage of people in neighborhood who care...It's important for them to be transparent."

Meanwhile at past board meetings Whitted (who did not immediately return emails for comment) has emphasized that more new residents should start attending their sessions to join the existing community.

Panelists will address the rezoning, Balousek said, but they'll also be asked to speak about education, the arts, and the creation of a "central hub" for communication in the community. And she'll also ask them to speak about what this generation can do to help the next generation of Bushwick.

To Meryl Meisler, who taught public school and took photographs in Bushwick back in the 1980's, the group of panelists was "a very thoughtful mix of people." And she noted that Whitted and the community board had helped her get a grant decades ago to teach AIDS education in the schools.

As Meisler ran through the list of planned questions, she stopped to contemplate the biggest, most daunting one:

"What is your vision for a step-by-step process of events the next five years, for building a better Bushwick?"

By asking questions like that, Balousek said she hoped to leave a lasting impression through the panel.

"We wanted to go above and beyond our usual work as a festival," Balousek said of the 5-year-old event. "We wanted to leave more of an impact on the community this year."

The free panel is Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Light Space Studios on 1115 Flushing Ave. More information can be found on the event website.