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November 20, 2009 / Brooklyn news / 30th Anniversary Special / Carroll Gardens

An enclave holds on

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Buddy Scotto, a local funeral home director and community activist, once considered leaving Carroll Gardens and moving to Long Island. But his father didn’t want to move to the suburbs, as many New Yorkers did as the city was heading downhill in the 1960s. So Scotto stayed, too.

Like so many other neighborhoods in Brooklyn at the time, the Italian enclave of Carroll Gardens was in a gradual decline. A plan to bring a container shipping facility to Red Hook meant big changes to the community that had always been tied closely to Brooklyn’s waterfront.

“Everyone I grew up with was the son or daughter of a longshoreman, stevedore, or trucker,” said Scotto.

“Everything on the waterfront was to be demolished to make way” for the container port, Scotto said. People would have to be relocated. The little mom and pop shops on Union Street and Columbia Street — like Cioffi’s, where people would line up to buy Italian pastries during the holidays — what would become of them?”

The plans led to panic.

“A cloud of condemnation fell over the place,” Scotto said. “It got so bad, it felt like a bombed-out area.”

Thus spawned Scotto’s activism in the community. Over the next several years, he would form various organizations, work with politicians (regardless of party affiliation), and even rub elbows with Rockefellers and Astors to get money for improvements to the area. Through the Carroll Gardens Association, he helped create housing in abandoned buildings on Columbia Street.

In the end, of course, the massive container port never came to Brooklyn, opting for New Jersey, but Scotto remained active.

Through the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corp., he helped reactivate a 1911 flushing canal system that pumps fresh water into the highly polluted canal, and got funding to create a sewage treatment plant in Red Hook.

His belief was, if you help the depressed areas surrounding Carroll Gardens, you end up actually helping the neighborhood.

That belief holds true today as much of what’s left of the neighborhood’s Italian flavor gets diluted by a steady influx of young professionals that began decades ago.

Scotto calls them “Beatniks” because they were “doing counter to what was going on, which was you move to the suburbs as you move up the economic ladder.”

The “beatniks” moving in now, though, are making it very hard for the original community to stay. That’s why Scotto is against the current plan to designate the Gowanus Canal zone a Superfund site — it would block hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, he said, some of which will be spent on affordable housing that will help stabilize home prices in Carroll Gardens.

“We’re a so-called ‘in’ neighborhood and they’re pushing the Italians out,” Scotto said. “They are people that can afford the neighborhood, that’s why we want affordable housing in the Gowanus.”

— Michael P. Ventura

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Reader Feedback

CG from CG says:
what an odd tale

for decades now the price of Carrol Garden's houses have go up, and up

who has benefited? the families who held these houses, the Italian's, who have sold our recently at great profit. and who has taken on those very large mortgages? people who want this environment cleaned up the right way under the EPA Superfund.
Nov. 21, 2009, 8:05 am
c from G says:
Buddy Scotto talks out of both sides of his mouth. He says the "beatnicks" are the problem (jeez, i haven't heard that word iused n about forty years!) but it was "Buddy" the "supposed mayor" of CG, who opened up CG to development and brought those "damned beatnicks" in! And yes they paid a fortune and have every right to live next to something besides an open sewer filled with cancer causing carcinogens (the Gowanus Canal in its present state). And yes, many of them have kids, whose health they also worry about!

Buddy is pro development all the way and favors the City's plan "non clean up" plan, cause then his buddies over at Toll Bros will be developing sooner rather than later. Cash is the prize and Buddy is after that not some neighborhood protection plan. Buddy is not a neighborhood protection or community voice kind of guy, truth be told.

In fact Buddy's "candidate" for in the City Council race, John Heyer, was the ONLY City Council candidtae in the 39th District t to be ANTI SUPERFUND. Guess what happened? He lost!

John Heyer LOST even with Buddy's so -called "Pull" in Buddy's and Heyer's very own neighborhood! So what does that say about Buddy? His "own people" from Carroll Gardens voted for the guys from Park Slope for City Council, and the Park Slope guys beat Heyer.

The vast majority of Carroll Gardens (80 per cent!) is PRO Superfund Designation and PRO EPA clean-up, but Buddy still call us all "beatnicks". Oh well.
Nov. 21, 2009, 9:54 pm
John from Carroll Gardens says:
I was shocked to read that slavery ($2.50/hr wages for illegal immigrant workers) exists in Pk Slope restaurants as reported by the NYS Labor Dep't. Is this true also in Carroll Gardens restaurants on Smith Street?
Nov. 24, 2009, 12:40 pm
John from Carroll Gardens says:
T am shocked that people are living in the Gowanus Canal area -- a Superfund site. No children, nor anyone should be permitted to live there given the contaminant dangers. The city and state will be sued for billions when all the people living there now will die of cancer. The city must vacate the area immediately and condemn all the contaminated housing there. State legislation is necessary to that end. I will write to our legislators.
Nov. 24, 2009, 12:48 pm
Sperry from Carroll Gardens says:
I am shocked that people are living in the Gowanus Canal area -- a Superfund site. No children, nor anyone should be permitted to live there given the contaminant dangers. The city and state will be sued for billions when all the people living there now will die of cancer. The city must vacate the area immediately and condemn all the contaminated housing there. State legislation is necessary to that end. I will write to our legislators.
Nov. 24, 2009, 12:49 pm
Ann from CG says:
I am shocked that people are living in the Gowanus Canal area -- a Superfund site. No children, nor anyone should be permitted to live there given the contaminant dangers. The city and state will be sued for billions when all the people living there now will die of cancer. The city must vacate the area immediately and condemn all the contaminated housing there. State legislation is necessary to that end. I will write to our legislators.
Nov. 24, 2009, 12:52 pm
gowanusmouse from gowanus says:
What comical fear mongering! Thank you for your concern for the health of those of us who have made Gowanus our home. Too bad you didn't express this concern decades ago to your "legislators" but you all go ahead and write them.

I smell a Superfund designation coming around the corner.

Superfund Now!
Nov. 24, 2009, 3:05 pm
Hipsters not beatnicks! says:
I think Buddy meant hipsters not beatnicks but was afraid to insult them as they are newest new comers of CG and thus pay for all the high priced "services" here: yes even the high rent along the Canal 'waterfront'...Should we condemn their buidlings?? nahh...we need their money

But hipsters are intelligent enough to want the canal cleaned.... hipsters are more 'green" than not and we don't lose them to
another safer cooler nabe do we???

Someone should tell Buddy Scotto that the beatniks all diesdoff in the 80's or became CEO's in real estate companies
Nov. 24, 2009, 11:40 pm

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