“Come Alive, Riverside.”
If you’ve driven down Flanders Road recently, you’ve probably seen signs on telephone poles with that slogan.
The signs are the work of a newly-formed nonprofit group called the Riverside Revitalization Committee, and reviving Riverside — considered one of the most economically depressed hamlets not only in Southampton Town but in all Suffolk County, according to the Census — is its goal.
“The corporation was organized due to the need for a local neighborhood association to address the concerns of the residents, in order to revitalize the Riverside community in areas of housing development, family outreach and improvement, economic development and any other social adverse conditions that will require our attention,” said John Parker, a Riverside property owner who has decades of community-building experience in Brooklyn. He is helping to organize the group.
Unlike the well-established Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, the Riverside Revitalization Committee is concentrating solely on the hamlet of Riverside, with a special interest in the particularly depressed Old Quogue Road, which runs north-south through the hamlet. “That’s the target,” Mr. Parker said in an interview.
And while FRNCA is more of a civic association, Mr. Parker said the Riverside committee will focus more on things like obtaining grants or donations to help residents of the area improve their neighborhood.
Mr. Parker said the group has formed a small steering committee comprising himself and several Riverside residents.
Mr. Parker runs a family-owned construction business called D. Parker and Sons, which is based in Port Jefferson and is 99 years old. But he also has vast experience in neighborhood revitalization projects in Brooklyn dating from the 1960s through the 1980s.
He was field supervisor in the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in 1968, a federally funded program that did home improvement and exterior renovations on more than 1,000 homes in that section of Brooklyn. Mr. Parker said he had direct responsibility for the training of more than 450 unemployed or underemployed, local residents in the crafts of painting, carpentry, masonry, ironworks, and various other construction trades.
“These trainees were supervised by local skilled tradesman, and the project had an office of about six to eight people and a budget of more than $6 million,” he said. “The special impact program was successful.”
Mr. Parker was also treasurer and executive board member in a program called Williamsburg Industrial Neighborhood Development corporation, which worked with New York City government and helped train and employ more than 5,000 local residents, he said. The program received federal, state and city funding.
In addition, he was president of the Flatbush-St. Mark’s-Carlton Avenue Block Association for 10 years, during which association members came together to refurbish and revitalize homes in their neighborhood.
“It was not dependent on government funding,” Mr. Parker said. “It was just a block association that wanted to improve their community and they just went in and made things happen by unifying people.”
The association covered an area of at least 10 blocks, he said.
“Today, those houses are going from anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million,” Mr. Parker said. “And they originally were purchased in the 1960s and 1970s for no more than $30,000 average.”
Mr. Parker is hoping that similar projects can happen in Riverside.
“Riverside has undergone a real benign neglect attitude for many years,” he said.
Mr. Parker said he first got involved in Riverside about three years ago, when he was called to the area to help someone who was going through a difficult time.
“Every now and then, I would take a ride out there, and it seemed like these people needed help, and since I had the background and the time, I thought maybe I could provide that for them,” he said.
Around this time, his knees began to bother him, and it became difficult to get around the two-story Setauket house he lived in at the time. So he bought a piece of land on Old Quogue Road with the thought of building a one-story house there, in which he planned to live. He still hasn’t built the house, but he said, “the more I went out there, the more I saw deterioration and neglect, and then, that old community activism in me just started to come alive.”
Mr. Parker said the Riverside Revitalization Committee is still in its beginning stages and hasn’t decided yet what specific projects to undertake.
He said they plan to work much with FRNCA, and they hope to secure a meeting date at the Flanders Community Center so they can send out notices to as many residents as possible and call a meeting to introduce their organization.
“I don’t want to be the leader,” Mr. Parker said. “I’m just organizing.”
FRNCA president Brad Bender says he’s looking forward to working with Mr. Parker and the new group.
“He’s worked in other communities and had great success,” Mr. Bender said. “He has a laundry list of accomplishments.”
Mr. Bender agreed that Riverside, Flanders and Northampton, three hamlets in Southampton Town often considered to be part of Riverhead, mainly because they are in the Riverhead School District, have traditionally been ignored by Southampton Town government. “We’re the community everyone drives by on their way to somewhere else,” he said. “It would be nice to be the place they stop at.”