The Greening of a Housing Project

By    Published May 20, 2011

BROOKLYN – Edith Tucker stands in her small garden, tending to daffodils and tulips ready for a spring bloom.

“This couldn’t have happened three years ago,” said Tucker, a 68-year-old retired telephone operator. “I wouldn’t even be out here.”

As Tucker sees it, the Ingersoll and Whitman housing development in Fort Greene has been revitalized over the past decade, and she ought to know: She has lived there for more than 44 years.

“There’s so many different flavors of people, and it’s making the community a better place,” said Tucker.

A New Mix

The look of the public housing development is changing. The white and Asian combined population has nearly doubled since 2000, while the African American population has declined by more than 25 percent, according to census figures. Other racial groups, such as Hispanics and American Indians, showed slight increases.

The result is a far more multicultural mix than before. And diversity is not the only change. Apartment renovations, school openings and a new community center have have made life better at Ingersoll and Whitman.

The most important change may be a new mindset.

Tracy Collins, a 43-year-old plaster worker, has lived in the building at 82 Monument Walk for 25 years. An African American, Collins believes the changes in the project reflect the changes throughout Fort Greene.

“If you walk down Myrtle Avenue now, you see skyscrapers,” said Collins. “It gives you motivation to do something, that you’re not just stuck here for the rest of your life.”

Major Growth

The area surrounding the Ingersoll and Whitman houses, like much of Fort Greene, has seen a vast amount of growth over the past decade. Just two blocks away from where Collins lives is the MetroTech business improvement district, an area that has attracted more than 150 businesses since it opened. The district houses the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Chase Bank and a number of eateries and boutiques.

View Location of Ingersoll and Whitman Housing Projects in a larger map
“We still need things like pharmacies, food markets and convenience stores,” said Tucker.

The housing project is getting a facelift as well. After years of what felt like ignored complaints and petitions, every apartment is now being renovated. The $248-million spruce-up began in 2008, adding kitchens, fixing holes in drywall and ceilings, replacing carpets and updating the complex’s 2,569 apartments.

The Ingersoll Community Center, which opened in 2009, offers more social programs and family-friendly events. The center boasts a basketball gym, a fitness center, a large meeting space and, most important, a number of social programs and events that aim to better the community.

Different Paths

Collins, who was a construction worker by trade, has taken courses on taxes and finances and earned certifications for construction jobs.

“The majority of my friends back then, they’d end up dead or in jail,” said Collins. “Now, it’s about jobs or school. My friend James never talked about a job a day in his life. Now that’s all that’s on his mind.”

In a recent community project, students from nearby P.S. 67 and neighborhood children used colored chalk to create murals on the concrete pavement where police investigators formerly had drawn outlines of bodies.

“This is one place I’d never think would see change,” said Collins. “But I guess it’s just never say never, because it’s happening.”

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