Ridgewood is known for its charming cafes and refreshing, residential atmosphere. But just beneath the surface, a unique community group—known as Woodbine—is holding meetings in a small space on its namesake street.
Founded in 2013, this experimental hub has worked to create space for those interested in developing the skills and tools necessary to build collective autonomy. “We host workshops, lectures, discussions, and serve as a meeting and organizing space,” the group responded collectively in an email. “We are a space to get organized for a collective future beyond capitalism, within a time of catastrophe. We’re building a community where skills and passions are magnetic forces that pull people together.” The group credits the overwhelming trend in increased “screen time” and decreased face-to-face contact as inspiration for this human-centric collective.
One might wonder how a space so novel in its mission, and so independently-minded, can exist in our beloved Ridgewood. “Because of the economics of New York City, physical spaces usually have to institutionalize to find the funding to sustain themselves. This means having to render themselves clearly legible as an arts or cultural space, a community or political space, some kind of incubator or entrepreneurial space, or whatever the case might be,” the group says. “We’ve tried to either reject or blur these explicit self-definitions, to be fluid or adaptable to different uses at different times.”
All of the practices the collective focuses on—from research to poetry, from gardening to protests—allows for the “creation of a world of our own inside New York City, of a communal territorial fabric which links and values those things equally,” says the collective.
The Ridgewood neighborhood, then, is an ideal location for the experimental hub, as it allows for confinement as much as it does freedom. “The idea was to build a web of relations wherein a group of people could walk around and collaborate in a much smaller area. Rather than traversing neighborhoods and boroughs for hours on the train, we felt if a group of people focused themselves on a much smaller scale in one neighborhood, like Ridgewood, we could create together a different density, or sensibility, and our presence would be better felt, would make more of an impact,” says the group.
As part of their loyalty to the community of Queens, members of Woodbine have helped built Topos Bookstore Cafe, the Ridgewood Community Garden, and the Ridgewood Farmshare.
Every Sunday night since 2014, Woodbine has held “Sunday Dinners” which are open for people to meet, break bread, and organize. People rotate taking turns cooking the meals and $5 donations are taken from attendees to cover the cost of ingredients. “It’s sad that something so banal and everyday, something done with families and communities all over the world for centuries, has in New York City become this radical, experimental gesture,” the group says. “So just for a few hours, once a week, to eat and talk with literally no other agenda is an attempt to wipe clear the bullshit, the psychosis, mania, and misery of the metropolis.”
In light of the fluidity of Woodbine’s structure, members of the group have come and gone over the years—but some have remained firmly planted in this garden of community. “A number of us are from New York, or have lived here for a decade or more, so always realized the necessity for spaces and practices like we’re trying to cultivate,” the collective says. “People are constantly moving in and out of New York, for work, for school, for political and economic reasons, and they’re looking for something to do, they’re looking for other people that don’t seem nuts, or maybe that seem the right kind of nuts. So we’ve tried to be here, to be found.”
As for Woodbine’s next steps, the future is looking bright. The group remains open to new ideas any member may bring to the table, while also maintaining a roster of consistent, community-focused events. There’s the monthly reading series Crush, workshops hosted by Woodbine’s Health Autonomy Group, a Communal Luxury Sailboat and Sailing Group, and other one-time discussions with different speakers.
“We try to be a space to encourage and facilitate practices that take people out of their traditional forms of work, leisure, [and] activism. We hope people will continue to see us in this way, and bring us ideas and proposals of this nature to help bring them to light.” Woodbine is launching a new monthly subscription platform on WithFriends to help sustain and fund their space, since the space is run by volunteers who curate free programming for the community.
All images courtesy of Woodbine.
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