In 1979, the Williamsburg that Felice Kirby, a longtime community organizer, had just moved to was in regress. The streets were drug-heavy, and a diaspora of once-powerful manufacturing plants left certain parts along the waterfront totally abandoned. The North Brooklyn neighborhood felt unwanted by the rest of the city, and forgotten.
“I wrote my first grant in 1980, and I had to crunch all the census data,” Kirby told me on a recent afternoon. “Right by the L had the highest incident of elderly people in the city of New York, and the lowest rate of birth.”