Your Friendly Neighborhood Power Brokers

With the tabloids shouting each morning, the blogosphere buzzing all day and the chattering classes divining tomorrow all night, it’s easy to forget that real politics aren’t a spectator sport best summed up in a box score but personal, local and precious.

At Reclaim, we’re as guilty of celebrating the simplified story as everyone else. Too often in these pages, it's about the Mayor, the City Council, these Advocates or those Community Groups, when the fact is that most real change boils down to individuals speaking out for what they believe. There are thousands of people standing up for livable streets in every corner of New York City. They’re spreading the message, showing love and living the change they want to see. Their hard work is real politics: the kind of labor that not only shapes elections but communities and lives. These are a few of...

Yonette Fleming planted her first crop of medicinal herbs at the Hattie Carthan Community Garden nine years ago. From that carefully cultivated patch in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the healing powers of music, jobs, friendship, some 17,000 pounds of healthy food, and one of the city’s most inspiring Play Streets have found their way into the neighborhood.

It wasn’t easy for Yonette to start a Farmer’s Market next to the garden or to get a temporary street closure out front each Saturday. "People have this idea that change happens through a critical mass or some linear thing, but that's not it," she said. "As a leader, you have to be willing to do it. I always tell people 'If I had to think about myself in another form, I’d be a resilient weed, like a dandelion that just pops up all the time and keeps on growing and enhancing the space by any means necessary.'"

Every summer for the past 34 years, the residents of Lyman Place, a three-block snippet of street in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, have agreed to ban cars from 8am until at least 5pm. Instead of traffic, honking and parking, their roadway is filled with children, games, smiles and laughter. Seventy-three-year-old Hetty Fox, who has organized this street closure since its inception, couldn’t be happier.

Every summer for the past 34 years, the residents of Lyman Place, a three-block snippet of street in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, have agreed to ban cars from 8am until at least 5pm. Instead of traffic, honking and parking, their roadway is filled with children, games, smiles and laughter. Seventy-three-year-old Hetty Fox, who has organized this street closure since its inception, couldn’t be happier.

"I grew up on Lyman Place. I learned to ride my bike on that block. I learned games and conversation and confidence and respect, and I think we owe the same opportunity to the next generation of New Yorkers," she told Reclaim. In 1970, Hetty left behind a college teaching position in California to return to her embattled community and stand up for what she believed. "Coming back to New York, caring about my community, caring about kids, those are all things I owe to playing on Lyman Place when I was young. Those games give you a sense of belonging to your block, your neighborhood, your city and your country. They make you care."

Morris Worksman opened the bicycle company that bears his name in 1898 on a lower Manhattan street that was demapped and demolished to make way for the World Trade Center. Despite a century of changes that sent most manufacturing out of the city, Worksman Cycles is still based in the five boroughs and still producing the stout-framed cruisers and industrial-grade tricycles that have made happy customers of Boeing, Ford and neighborhood pizza places the world over. Wayne Sossin sits proudly at the company’s handlebars.

"We’re a lesser-known New York institution," he said during a recent phone call with Reclaim. That status came in handy a few months ago when Councilmember Eric Ulrich, who represents the Queens neighborhood where Worksman is now based, introduced a bike-licensing bill. "We’re one of the largest employers in the community, so any bill that is bad for biking is bad for us and bad for the neighborhood. I told Councilmember Ulrich that and I think he was good enough to listen."

"If you want to get what you want, you have to work with what you’ve got," Marina Ortiz told Reclaim recently. Since she founded East Harlem Preservation, Inc. six years ago, she has practiced what she preaches, speaking out and standing up for her neighborhood’s cultural, architectural and environmental history, as well as safer streets, better biking and more sustainable transit.

"My community should not be overlooked. All those wonderful improvements happening Downtown – we need those Uptown," she said. "East Harlem’s streets could be a great gateway to Manhattan. Right now they're a highway off-ramp."

"Survey findings indicate more than 20 percent of Denver B-cycle riders use shared bikes in conjunction with transit," says Duvall, "and many of the most utilized B-cycle stations are in close proximity to major transit stops."

"The most hostile place I've ever ridden my bike is Staten Island – it's where I'm from and where I live and that kills me," John Luisi said in a phone interview. "It wasn’t always like this. I learned to love cycling while riding around the Island as a teenager and I want other people to be able to learn that love."

John has put that passion into practice plenty in the past three decades, leading group rides, consulting on bike projects around the Island and even challenging Borough President Molinaro twice, receiving 42 percent of the vote in 2009. "I wasn't a one-issue candidate, but a large part of my private motivation was to displace this one person who I saw as a stated enemy of bikes."