The Brooklyn Safety Net

April 12, 2013

Above: The boardwalk in Coney Island this spring (Image courtesy of JMazzolaa/Flickr)

The images from the boardwalk were staggering. The historic Shore Hotel sign was unhinged. Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand had taken a beating. Mountains of sand blocked the subway station entrance.

Further inland, thousands of residents—and dozens of small businesses—were also left shaken and wounded. Seniors were isolated in top floors of high rise buildings. Families living in illegal basement apartments had nothing left. And for many, closed storefronts meant they no longer had jobs.

The rebirth of Coney Island, signaled over the previous years by new amusements, minor league baseball, and record-high tourism, was in danger. A thriving local economy had meant a stronger neighborhood for the nearly 100,000 year-round residents, nearly half of whom live below the poverty line.

As the news broadcasted scenes of devastation, we all began to question whether the boardwalk would ever be the same. What would become of Brooklyn’s beloved Coney Island boardwalk?

(Images courtesy of drpavloff/Flickr & WarmSleepy/Flickr)

Five months later, New Yorkers and tourists alike are flocking to the boards and businesses. Dino’s Wonder Wheel is once again wonderful, The Cyclone is rocking and rattling, and the beach is packed.

With doubts now silenced, we want to share with you why we think Coney Island’s boardwalk recovery is a sign of what makes our borough special, and why strong communities are critical in times of crisis.

As NPR’s Planet Money reported last week, in places like Brooklyn, there’s an “invisible safety net” protecting communities. When formal insurance stalls or fails—businesses can’t afford flood insurance, FEMA only provides funds for residents, and the SBA loan approval rate is below 15%—members of strong communities rely on neighbors, relatives, and customers to help.

In other words, the more connections, the faster the recovery.

(Image courtesy of Johannes Martin/Flickr)

Superstorm Sandy proved that informal insurance was more effective than traditional insurance. When working against a fixed timeline—Spring Opening Day in Coney Island—many businesses couldn’t afford to wait. Money came from friends, personal savings, and credit. But resources also came in the form of people-power and philanthropy.

As donations came into the Brooklyn Recovery Fund, we looked to the existing community networks to help us direct the funds.

In Coney Island, we identified local leaders in both human services and development, and invested in their coordinated efforts through the newly-established #ConeyRecovers coalition, a partnership of the business-oriented Alliance for Coney Island and the resident-serving Astella Development Corporation, Coney Island Hospital and the JCC of Greater Coney Island.

Thus far, $440,000 from the Brooklyn Recovery Fund has been directly invested in Coney Island’s recovery. The majority of the funding has helped #ConeyRecovers establish a hub for all recovery activity, create a rebuilding plan, and launch the Coney Corps, a program to train and place residents in recovery jobs.

(Image courtesy of Luna Park Coney Island/Flickr)

The silver lining of Superstorm Sandy? Rebuilding has meant building back better. Coney Island—and with it neighborhoods like Red Hook and Sheepshead Bay—are now demonstrating even closer ties between residents and businesses, and even stronger, more resilient communities for the future. 

The biggest lesson of Sandy? Brooklyn didn’t wait. We acted quickly because we know our neighbors and we know where to turn for help. As with the Brooklyn Recovery Fund, we helped each other even when we didn’t know each other. And we shared what we had to make sure we all were part of the recovery.

As Brooklyn’s coastal neighborhoods make huge progress toward getting back to normal life, we’ve learned that we truly need each other.

While we all feel like there’s no better place to live than Brooklyn, the response to Sandy proved it for us.

In next week’s email update, we’ll share the story of the residents of Coney Island, for whom Sandy made a difficult life even harder.


Last week, the Brooklyn Community Foundation's Board of Directors announced that President Marilyn Gelber will be leaving the Foundation at the end of June. Read the official announcement here, as well as this feature from the Brooklyn Eagle, in which she reflects on the Foundation’s many accomplishments under her tenure.

“The foundation belongs to Brooklyn, rather than a private foundation, a wealthy individual or a corporation. Creating this foundation for Brooklyn is accomplishment number one."

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Run for Hope 5K
This spring, help pay tribute to the legacy of a young Brooklyn public servant, Hope Reichbach. The first annual Run for Hope 5K Run/Walk will take place on Sunday, April 28th in Prospect Park, on the two year anniversary of her passing. All proceeds from the race will go directly to the Hope Reichbach Memorial Fund at the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which provides sponsored summer internships at nonprofits in Brooklyn. Learn more.

Anti-Street Harassment Week
The organizations of the Brooklyn Girls Collaborative are joining forces this week to spread awareness and advance education to stop street harassment that threatens the safety and security of young women and men in our communities. Read more here.

Dyslexia Education Event at Maimonides Medical Center
Join representatives from Ohr Halimud-The Multi-Sensory Learning Center on Sunday, April 21st in Borough Park to learn about dyslexia and ways to help young children who struggle with reading. Details here.