Trails: Brooklyn Hidden Treasures
By Joshua Brustein
An Underground Movement: Designers,
36th Street Stop: N,R line in Brooklyn.
While many are looking for ways to escape the city this summer,
Karen Smith, a professor at New York City College of Technology
of CUNY, and a group of her students are trying to give people a
reason to stay by creating a guide to Brooklyn that celebrates its
diverse ethnic populations.
Entitled Immigrant Trails, the project is taking a look
at the four largest ethnic groups in Brooklyn Caribbean,
Eastern European or Russian, Hispanic, and Italian. A website,
and soon a print guidebook, profiles the historic neighborhoods,
local restaurants, cultural and artistic sites, everyday activities
and each groups major festivals. This project began in a class
that Smith taught in the spring on community based tourism in Brooklyn,
yet she was able to extend it beyond the end of the semester after
receiving a grant from CUNYs Diversity Projects Development
Fund in May.
Smiths class deals with the idea of sustainable tourism,
which implies a respect for the "carrying capacity" of
a place, and tries to make sure that tourism does not dominate or
damage it. Applying this to Brooklyn, Smith is focusing on the use
of public transportation. "We dont want everyone driving
through," she says. "Nothing against the tour bus companiesbut
we want them to use public transportation." A special MTA subway
map with the projects sites is in the works, and will probably
be completed in about six months.
"International travel is terrific," says Smith, who has
been to over 70 countries herself, "but its really very
rich right here." There is value in a personal connection to
a place, and rumor has it that one out of seven Americans can trace
their roots to Brooklyn. Whether or not that statistic is true,
Smith wants to give people a chance to see where they came from.
"Our audience is two fold," she says, "Were
trying to get local people to celebrate and identify with their
own roots, but also [to allow] people who maybe had Brooklyn as
their first starting point to come back and see either where you
are from or where their forefathers - their mom, their dad, and
their great auntfirst settled."
The student research assistants, who do the bulk of the fieldwork
for the project, have jumped on the chance to be involved in a project
where they get to learn about Brooklyns ethnic communitiesand
to teach about their own. "I was greatly interested in working
on this project for two reasons," says Inga Taper, who has
been researching Eastern European sites, "first, Im really
interested in tourism, and the second reason is because Im
an immigrant myself. Originally I come from PolandI was born
and raised there. So, after the twenty years I spent in Poland Im
looking to preserve our traditions, customs, and language, and to
promote that to other cultures."
Cheavon Braff, another participant who lives in Brooklyn with her
husband and 8-year-old daughter, says, "I am a resident of
Brooklyn and prior to working on this project, I never knew [it]
had so much to offer."
While this summers focus is on the four largest ethnic populations,
Smith intends to teach the class again next year, and expand it
to include other groups. She sees the various areas of Brooklyn
as a way to get away without leaving home. And while the thought
of staying around the city for a vacation may not seem like an appealing
alternative to a trip to some faraway beach, Smith points out that
there are advantages to sticking around. "You can start feeling
like youre in a different country," she says, "and
then just go home and sleep in you own bed that night."
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