Diversity in the City: Stephanie Matthews

As a Black, Master of Urban Planning student at Hunter College, I am interested in the specific ways that people of color experience cities and how planning intersects with race and gender. I’m also interested in exploring ways that vulnerable populations can be actors in creating more sustainable communities rather than being objects of sustainability research and planning.

This series of interviews with New Yorkers of color seeks to both explore these issues and to capture personal narratives of individual experiences related to community equity and sustainability.

Name: Stephanie Matthews

Neighborhood: Flatbush (Prospect-Lefferts Gardens)

Occupation: I work for an ad agency in Manhattan running online campaigns for a pharmaceutical brand. I’m also a visual artist (painting/collage)

My Hood

What makes your hood dope? There seems to be a real sense of community and cultural diversity. People say hi to each other, kids seem to feel safe playing outside. About a week ago I saw a man get arrested on my block and several of the neighbors looked on to make sure nothing foul happened between him and the police. I love that the mom and pop shops still exist and “Ali’s Roti” is a block away from my house. There’s also a dope Black-owned & operated wine shop called 65 Fen that’s literally on my block.

What makes it wack? Honestly the only really wack things about my neighborhood are the lack of fresh food and housing neglect. The managers of my building don’t seem to care a great deal about the building or the people living in it. We don’t have a landlord, there is no superintendent present in the building and repairs are slow to happen. Some of the tenants have claimed that the building is at risk of collapsing because of a crack across the entire facade of the building… to my knowledge, the city ordered that it be repaired over a year ago but nothing’s been done to fix it.

My Food

Does your neighborhood have a supermarket in walking distance? Yes, we have an Associated, a Western Beef and a few produce stands.

If so, does it have fresh produce? Not really… unfortunately the places that sell produce tend to smell like chemicals so the only thing I really buy from them is plantains or canned food.

So, how do you get fresh produce? I usually have to shop in the city after work or go to farmer’s markets.

How many bodegas are in walking distance from where you live? Tons

Does your bodega offer fresh produce? No

Do you even like fresh produce? Hell yes

How many fast food restaurants are in walking distance from where you live? Let’s see, there’s two Popeye’s, a Wendy’s, a few chicken shacks… I’d guess about 5

How many liquor stores are in walking distance from where you live? I’d guess about 5-7

My Community

What does your community look like? Largely African, West Indian

Do you consider your community gentrified? It’s starting to be.

Who are the gentrifiers? What are the signs of gentrification? I could be considered a gentrifier. Fancy new cafes are popping up, a new bodega just opened that sells organic and ‘natural’ products, there are now bike racks by the park.

Does gentrification matter to you?  Why or why not? Yes, it matters to me… even though a lot of folks talk about gentrification in terms of the neighborhoods changing (and I do believe it’s important to preserve the neighborhoods), at the end of the day it’s really about the people. I’m not a native New Yorker but I’ve grown up very aware of a loss of culture, loss of land, and traditions. I think it’s extremely important that people are not displaced and that folks don’t lose what really matters to them, however they define that.

My Green

What does sustainability mean to you? I define sustainability by thinking about what is not sustainable. Something that’s unsustainable is something that cannot last because resources will eventually deplete, knowledge will be lost, etc. Sustainability means building a foundation now so that life and well-being can exist in the future.

Do you recycle? Yes, because I was raised to and I think it’s necessary. I don’t feel like it’s really encouraged in New York. [For example], the recycling bin in the back of my building (which has 45 apartment units), I would only consider big enough for a family of 5. Either they do picks ups very infrequently or people aren’t recycling.

Do you have a garden? No, but I did at my old apartment in Crown Heights. We had tomatoes and arugula growing in the backyard and the neighbors had a bunny farm.

Why would anyone want to have a garden anyway? So that they can have fresh, readily available food to eat that’s free of chemicals. Also, I think it’s important to know where food comes from and to know how to grow your own food.

Come back on March 14 for the next installation!

If you would like to be profiled in “Diversity in the City”, send an email to: mopierre@hunter.cuny.edu.



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