TALKING TO TONI: UNOFFICIAL RED HOOK MAYOR AND RESIDENT SINCE 1990
We sat down with Toni Mitchell, who we met at Dance Theatre Etcetera’s Red Hook Fest- to talk about Red Hook- how she settled down in the neighborhood in 1990, how it’s changed since then, and why the BQX would improve her neighborhood.
Red Hook: Past
Red Hook remained largely rural and undeveloped until the 1850s, when the construction of shipping centers turned the area into one of the busiest import/export areas in the United States. Ships from all over the world used the docks to load and unload cargo- attracting immigrant works and others to the neighborhood. To house the shipping area workers, the New York City Housing Authority built the Red Hook East and West Houses in 1938.
However, the advent of container shipping and the subsequent decline of the maritime industry in Red Hook plus the construction of the Gowanus Expressway, (which cut the neighborhood off from the rest of the borough) isolated Red Hook cutting residents off from jobs and other opportunities.
Toni left Crown Heights with her 10 year-old son and moved to the Red Hook East Houses in 1990. She quickly enrolled him in P.S. 15 and began her life in New York City. Toni needed to find work, which was hard given she hadn’t completed high school. Patrick Daly, who was the Principal at P.S. 15 at the time, introduced Toni to a GED Program in Red Hook. She started GED classes in November of 1990 and finished her GED by 1990- crediting Principal Daly for her accomplishment. Toni found work that also gave back to her her community by working for organizations like Bronx Community Solutions and the Red Hook Initiative.
Red Hook has seen a resurgence in recent years. The new businesses on Van Brunt Street, the first IKEA in Brooklyn, increasing in public and private investment, and the expansion of community-based organizations like the Red Hook Community Justice Center, are just some symbols of this renaissance.
However, transportation options to and through Red Hook remain limited. Over 14,000 people live in Red Hook (many in NYCHA’s Red Hook Houses). They face long commutes to work and limited options for schools, healthcare, and other key services. There are no subway stops in the neighborhood, and the closest one is in nearby Carroll Gardens, which is between a half mile and a mile away. Bus service is unreliable and slow.
“Red Hook has become so hip. I couldn’t even get a cab to come out here when I moved here 25 years ago. I would have to pay the cab driver first! I’ve seen the metamorphosis this place has been through and I’m proud to be part of it. It’s a lot safer now and gives people in the community jobs,” Toni says of her new home.
Building the BQX would connect Red Hook residents to more quality jobs, support growth in the neighborhood, and give residents increased access to city services.
“The BQX would be an awesome way to get to and from Red Hook. Anyway to get out and get back is great for me and my neighbors,” says Toni.
Toni lives in Red Hook East. She enjoys spending her time in the neighborhood and giving back to the Red Hook Community. She’s an active member of several community churches- River of God, Calvary, New Ground, and Red Hook Ministries.