By Allison V. Esposito
Anne Pope is on a mission to save the earth— starting with her neighborhood of Flatbush. Originally from Berkeley, Calif., Pope moved to the area five years ago and started a blog, Sustainable Flatbush. “I felt that there were individuals here with this interest but no place to get together,” she said. According to Pope, people motivated to save the earth are from all over Brooklyn, and the blog has been good at linking people together. “The idea that all the environmentalists live in Park Slope is just bunk,” she said. Through outreach events and a web presence, Sustainable Flatbush is growing from a blog to a neighborhood-based organization. Pope hosted the group’s first meeting in November where 25 people— including residents and community leaders—formed six committees with the goal of improving transportation, street conditions, and environmental education in schools. Mark Levy, who hosted the event at his house, said he was impressed with the turnout. Levy plans to join the recycling committee but admits there are a slew of other environmental problems in the neighborhood, too. “Traffic is a major problem both in terms of safety and pollution,” he said. “I also think that energy efficiency for both the large homes and the apartment houses in Flatbush will be more important as fuel costs rise.” Although there were many issues discussed, transportation was at the forefront for many local residents. Pope referred to the area east of Nostrand Avenue, where there is limited access to trains and residents often have to take a bus just to get to a subway. “We have to dramatically improve our bus service, especially so that people who don’t live close to the subway will find public transportation a better option than driving,” said Pope. “The buses there are not reliable and they’re slow. The option to not drive has to be practical, it has to be the better choice, in order to get people to stop driving.” Fellow blogger and activist Ethan Oringel agreed that transportation issues are important to the future of the city, citing health impacts from car and truck pollution. “Asthma and cancer are caused by diesel exhaust from trucks,” said Oringel, “Cutting down on vehicle traffic and enforcing inspection of large vehicle exhaust systems can take polluting trucks off the road and away from densely populated areas.” Gretchen Maneval, director of Brooklyn College’s Center for the Study of Brooklyn attended the meeting to find out about local concerns. Maneval, who is also serving on the advisory panel for the environmental initiative Imagine Flatbush 2030, said it is important to listen to concerns of locals in order to make improvements in their neighborhood. “The most effective means for change is through community organizing and having the people who are impacted being at the forefront, and owning that initiative,” said Maneval. “The ideas expressed at the meeting were incredibly innovative. I’m very optimistic that that group will reach great heights in going green and figuring out solutions.” Pope hopes word-of-mouth will increase turnout at future events. “Environmentalists are everywhere!” she said, but Pope admitted that finding them is not always so easy. “At the moment I am focusing on just getting people involved, period. Since the neighborhood is itself very diverse, I’m hoping we will reflect that,” she said “I also realize that most of our outreach is via computer and in English, so that limits who we reach,” she said. “Demographically, our neighborhood is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. However the meeting on Monday was largely white,” said Chris Kreussling, a local blogger known as the Flatbush Gardener. “The initial meeting was not representative of the community at large. That’s going to be challenge to overcome that,” he said. One way Sustainable Flatbush plans to expand is at local schools through their “Schools Outreach” committee. Once in place, the committee would start programs that could include teaching kids anything from how to recycle, to growing and cooking their own organic produce. Pope said that kids can be great environmentalists with the right tools. “I think kids instinctually recognize that what we are talking about is the world they will inherit,” said Pope “Their parents’ generation grew up thinking that things like energy and natural resources and open space were infinite, and that belief is something people don’t want to give up.” Anne Pope hopes Sustainable Flatbush’s efforts will remind residents that environmental activism is not all about sacrifice. “I think it’s important to talk about all the things that we can gain— really nice, human, quality-of-life things,” she said. At the meeting a “Livable Streets” committee formed to reduce the amount of cars on the streets, and increase space for pedestrians and bicyclists. “This would mean the kind of community where people want to walk to their errands without having to deal with cars dominating the landscape and the noise, danger and pollution that accompanies them,” said Pope. “You can see how nice it is when the streets are quieter, the air is cleaner, and people can interact with each other.” Sustainable Flatbush has meetings open to the public on the first Monday of every month. The next meeting is on Dec. 3. For information on location, visit www.sustainableflatbush.org.