S. J. Avery • Brooklyn Paper

S. J. Avery

Photo by Caroline Ourso

When city and state agencies tell S.J. Avery “No,” she hears the words “Not yet.”

Because she doesn’t take no for an answer.

The community activist volunteers as a trustee of the Park Slope Civic Council and she is co-chairwoman of its Forth on Fourth Avenue Committee. Her goals and the goals of the organization are to promote the health, vitality, and character of the neighborhood, advocating for the interests of residents and businesses there.

The Park Slope of today didn’t happen overnight. Those of us who have lived in Brooklyn for decades remember a very different neighborhood. Avery, who has resided here for 45 years, has been instrumental in its transformation, galvanizing the community to make enhancements a reality.

Her nominator, Candace Woodward, has seen how Avery’s actions have affected busy Fourth Avenue.

“It has changed from an unattractive, dreary corridor that is intimidating to pedestrians, to a more pleasing roadway,” she says. Furthermore, Avery worked with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to improve “the dark, dismal, and uninviting Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street transit hub, to get better lighting, signage, and street-level amenities to make this busy subway station more pedestrian- and commuter-friendly.”

Sure, trees grow in Brooklyn — especially when Avery takes action. She had 60 new arbors, with tree guards, planted along Fourth Avenue. She helped save the Pacific Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library from demolition, and helped secure the promise of a full-service supermarket in the area.

Such improvements benefit everyone, she says.

“When we improve safety, work toward a greener, cleaner streetscape, and promote a more vibrant pedestrian experience along Fourth Avenue, we enhance that sense of place,” says the Woman of Distinction. “It’s hard to have a community without it.”

Fourth Avenue has changed so much that it is sometimes difficult to remember what it once looked like, says Avery, noting that “Not that long ago, it was primarily considered to be a boundary between neighborhoods.”

But as the development of Park Slope continued to explode, realtors eventually worked their way down to that avenue. The problem was that little thought was given as to how these changes would impact those who were already living there. It sometimes seemed to her that developers were not really interested in the neighborhood; they just wanted to cash in on it. Dealing with the bureaucracy of New York City agencies has its challenges, but overall, she is happy to report that they “have been responsive to continued prodding.”

Avery (whose full name is Sarah Jean) is quick to point out that she didn’t achieve success alone. She credits the Park Slope Civic Council of volunteers with preserving, protecting, and nurturing the neighborhood. She has been fortunate to work with other organizations, too, including the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, The Boerum Hill Association, and the Fifth Avenue Committee. Together, they share common goals of bringing economic and environmental justice to these neighborhoods.

Those interested in becoming involved can go to the website: www.parkslopeciviccouncil.org.

Neighborhood: Park Slope.

Occupation: Community organizer and advocate.

Company: Park Slope Civic Council.

Claim to Fame: An advocate for protecting the Fourth Avenue community.

Favorite Brooklyn Place and why: Prospect Park. “It is an unfailing source of physical and spiritual reinvigoration.”

Woman you admire and why: Elizabeth Warren. “She persisted.” Also, “Mother Jones, who said, ‘Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.’ ”

Motto: “All politics are local.”

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