By Aaron Short
Back in the day, closing down two blocks of Knickerbocker Avenue near María Hernández Park for six hours usually meant that a significant amount of police tape and wooden barricades would be involved.
Times have changed.
On Sunday, July 19, the Department of Transportation’s Summer Streets initiative officially expanded to Bushwick, with the help of a partnership between the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and Arts in Bushwick. The initiative, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced July 2 at McCarren Park in Williamsburg, follows the success of two pilot programs last year, including Williamsburg Walks, which shut down seven blocks of Bedford Avenue to vehicular traffic on Saturday afternoons during the summer.
Ridgewood Bushwick’s Small Business development office hoped to replicate the program on Knickerbocker Avenue and had planned the event since March. RBSCC’s Rachel Fuentes and Lauren Abel joined forces with Arts in Bushwick’s Laura Braslow and Chloe Bass to organize the event and recruit local businesses and artists to participate.
Their plan was to close the two blocks along Knickerbocker Avenue from 11 AM to 5 PM for three consecutive Sundays in late July, enabling much of the park’s traffic to spill into the street.
"We hope it will be really cool when that happens and people will discover something that they wouldn’t necessarily have gone to, outside their typical spaces and activities they would go to," said Braslow.
Walking along the two-block stretch of Knickerbocker, one may encounter an ever-expanding dominoes tournament, Terrel Davis, The Matt Jones Band, Sangre Nueva, Sound Cartagena, or Bryan Vargas & Ya Está ripping through their set, women sewing threads onto a cloth map as CAPITAL B’s Adriana Young took gentrification-related surveys, and Bushwick street artist 0H10 M1KE drawing portraits of passers-by. A tent featuring to-go service from a wide array of local restaurants was also a major component of the day, though an evangelical religious group loudly blasted sermons from an amplified PA system on the street corner for the first two hours of the event, scaring away many potential customers.
"We want to figure it out so it will be harmonious," said Fuentes.
This is not the first collaboration between RBSCC and AIB, but it is the most visible. Braslow, Bass and Fuentes have spoken about finding additional ways of working together, such as having artists visit RBSCC senior centers or having senior artists participate in Bushwick Open Studios and other AIB events.
"We’ve been collaborating with them before, and we’ve been building a relationship with them over the last several years," said Braslow. "It’s not a new thing to be working with them. This is a great opportunity to work together and bring together different constituencies."
Throughout the afternoon, city council candidate and RBSCC organizer Maritza Dávila scurried throughout the block, monitoring the domino tournament, coordinating the bands, and making sure everyone was having a good time. Next Sunday will feature a health fair and the following Sunday will focus on volunteerism. Dávila will likely be there, too — and she may even teach me how to play Dominos.
"It’s a nice street for people to sit outside and do something out of the ordinary," said Dávila, as a salsa band kicked off and a couple began dancing.