We missed our city while we’ve been sheltering at home: we missed all the different neighborhoods, cuisines, languages and histories of the five boroughs. We’re starting to peek out the door a bit, we still can’t experience our city in full. So we’re going to take our followers on a tour of 10 NYC neighborhoods where we’ve built. We’ll feature our projects, the history and culture of the neighborhood, and some fun facts along the way.
New Dorp, Staten Island
Let’s take a virtual stroll around New Dorp, Staten Island! In a lot of ways, Staten Island is very different from the other four boroughs. The most suburban of all the boroughs, Staten Island boasts the most green space of any borough – 9,300 acres of federal, state and city parkland! That must be why Staten Island is officially known as The Borough of Parks!
One of those beautiful green spaces is Freshkills Park, which at 2,200 acres, is almost three times the size of Central Park and the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years. The area was formerly the world’s largest landfill. Freshkills Park is still a work in progress, and is opening in phases. The NYC Parks Department expects the park to be completely open in 2036.
Not only is Staten Island the greenest borough, but it also holds the highest homeownership rate. Nearly 70% of Islanders own their homes, compared to The Bronx at 18%, Manhattan at 24%, Brooklyn at 30%, and Queens at 45%. (The national average is 64%.) With such a high rate of homeownership, one might think that the Island doesn’t need Habitat NYC’s help. Well…
At Habitat NYC, we don’t just help renters become Homeowners, but we help existing low- to moderate-income homeowners through our Housing Preservation Program.
Our Preservation program is a multi-faceted, holistic program. One of the aspects of the program is disaster recovery, or, as we call it, Critical Home Repair. Our CHR was vital to the recovery of Staten Island homeowners, who were particularly hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy.
After slamming into the Caribbean, where the storm killed dozens of people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, Hurricane Sandy’s storms surge hit NYC on October 29th, 2012. The storm destroyed homes and businesses, swept away cars and boats, flooded streets, subway and traffic tunnels and left millions of New Yorkers without power. 53 people were killed across New York State, 24 in Staten Island alone. Hurricane Sandy was the most powerful storm to hit the NYC area in at least 300 years. According to the MTA, it was the worst disaster in the subway’s 108 year history.
Our city was hurting, and Habitat NYC jumped into action. Despite the flooding in our own office building (Habitat NYC staff carried our computer servers up 23 flights of stairs to save our files), we launched CHR to get homeowners back up on their feet. We started our work in Staten Island by ‘mucking out’ homes hit by the storm surge. Utilizing hundreds of volunteers and Habitat NYC staff, we raked mud and debris out of more than 60 homes. Then we got to work repairing 36 homes all around the Island.
We had a few special guests join us on the Island – Mayor Bill deBlasio, Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford, and even our most famous volunteers dropped by, Jimmy and Roaslynn Carter!
Which brings us to New Dorp! New Dorp is one of Staten Island’s most bustling shopping and dining districts! The heart of the community is New Dorp Lane – a family-friendly shopping district that has events like a car show, a community Christmas tree lighting and the New Dorp Restaurant Crawl.
Hopefully the crawl features Nilla Wafers, which were invented just across the street from New Dorp! That’s right – all banana puddings have Staten Island to thank!
The community has been a destination for centuries! During the American Revolution, the Rose and Crown Tavern served as the British Military headquarters. British leaders planned the Battle of Brooklyn in the tavern (which didn’t end well for George Washington).
Back in the 1930’s and 40’s, New Dorp residents could take in a movie at The Lane Theatre. Opened in 1938, had 600 seats and had air conditioning (which all New Yorkers know is the reason to go to the movies in the summer). A young Emenim even hosted some concerts here in the late 80’s.
New Dorp may be a quiet community for middle-class families now, but 100 years ago, there was one wealthy family who famously settled in the neighborhood: the Vanderbilt family. While the name is most closely associated with Nashville, Cornelius Vanderbilt was born and raised on Staten Island (the building where he was most likely born is now a Chinese take-out place)! The family took control over what is now the Staten Island Railway in the 1860’s.
The Vanderbilt family have a 12 acre private mausoleum in New Dorp’s Moravian Cemetery – largest and oldest active cemetery on Staten Island. The Vanderbilt Mausoleum is a replica of a church in France, and the grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park and Prospect Park! Lots of other famous New Yorkers have permanent homes at Moravian Cemetery – photographer Alice Austen, Gloria Vanderbilt (mother of Anderson Cooper), as well as Congressmen, activists, playwrights and more.
We love this photo of a section of Vanderbilt Avenue in Park Hill – two groups of different, but incredibly influential Staten Islanders!
As a coastal neighborhood, New Dorp was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, leaving homes flooded, damaged or destroyed. Through the CHR program, our volunteers completed two homes in New Dorp, gutting them and rebuilding so that they were safe and healthy for the homeowners and their families.
Did you know that our A Brush with Kindness program is more than just painting? It’s true! BWK volunteers plant, build and rake too – because we believe that a habitat is more than a home.
BWK volunteers even completed a landscaping project at a home on Cedar Grove Ave.
Staten Island is sometimes referred to as “The Forgotten Borough,” but at Habitat NYC, we will never forget the life-transforming work we completed there, nor the hard-working communities we served. We look forward to coming back to the borough ASAP!