When Dorothy Siegel moved to Cobble Hill in 1978, there was a "waterfall" in the back of her house.
"It would leak into the basement!" she said. "These were negelected homes."
Ever since then, Siegel has fought tirelessly, though she'll say she's slowed down a little in the past few years, to maintain the character and beauty of the neighborhood.
"The good things from the past have been preserved, largely because of the landmarks law," she said. "I totally appreciate that."
Siegel is a political activist: as chair of the local Working Families Party club and the party's current treasurer, she has worked to get the party on the ballot and get good candidates elected. She is a preservationist and a community builder: as a concerned resident she has fought time and time again to help maintain the character of Cobble Hill and to build parks. And she's an educator and mother: she is a member of NYU's professional staff and works on education issues and was elected to the school board in 1989. Her issue? Making a premier elementary school that it is today.
Siegel's big issue today is Brooklyn Bridge Park. She has been working for many years, with a host of other locals including , President of the Cobble Hill Association, to fight against the city's plan to build private housing within the footprint of the park.
"We've been fighting for a real Brooklyn Bridge Park for years," she said. "We mounted a battle, and it looks now like the city is blinking."
Questions for Dorothy Siegel
1. What do you like best about Cobble Hill?
"I like the fact that it's an evolving neighborhood. It didn't gentrify overnight...This neighborhood didn't have to become something, the neighborhood was already there...Though i'd like it to be much more economically diverse.
"We in Cobble Hill have won so often on impossible fights...Serious mobilization put us on the map as, 'Don't mess with Cobble Hill.'"
2. Currently, what is your favorite restaurant in the neighborhood?
"Oh, that's easy, . It's the only restaurant I go to. 'Oh, nothing in the house, Hibino!' It's the best fresh tofu, the best of anything else in the world. They call themselves Kyoto homestyle cooking, I like homestyle. It has the kind of food I want to eat."
3. Where do you like to shop for food?
"The Park Slope Food Co-Op. Yup, it has 16,000 members. If I didn't have that in my life it would have been much more difficult over the years [Siegel has been a member for 27 years] to know where my food was coming from. I know who grew it. If you can afford to buy healthy food...I love produce, fruits and vegetables are the best in the world. It's a great place."
4. Are you afraid of the Gowanus Canal?
"What does that mean? I think it has to be cleaned up. I'm optimistic because of the Superfund but I know the pollution is too endemic. The Federal Government has a pretty good track record of cleaning up these sites.
"People don't know what's really dangerous. There's no guide to risk assessment. Afraid of the Gowanus Canal? I don't think it's going to hurt me."
5. What's the best (or worst) change you've witnessed during your time in the neighborhood?
By far the worst thing that's happened is the over development of Downtown Brooklyn and the encroachment on Brownstone Brooklyn and the serenity of those neighborhoods.
When I go to NYU, when I get out of the subway, i'm assaulted by noise. I start vibrating. When I get out of the R train at Clinton and Montague I feel a lot better. Cross Atlantic Avenue, a breeze hits me and it's 10 degrees cooler.
"The unbelievably ugly buildings on Flatbush Avenue, it's such an eyesore. They [the developers] have gotten off the hook and haven't provided the public amenities. No more schools, fire houses. It's beyond the capacity of the community."