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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crown Heights, a tale of two cities at least

Thanks to Facebook I've learned of an episode of gunfire in Crown Heights on Crown St. near Utica Avenue which makes it the Eastern side of Crown Heights to some or as long term residents would recognize the part of Crown Heights furthest from the warm glow of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

Yesterday I learned from reading the IloveFranklinAve blog of a shooting that wounded a man on Franklin Ave & St Johns Place.

Two shootings in one area in less than a week may very well provoke the worn conversation among new comers of whether Crown Heights is "going back" to something dangerous and negative. I hate that conversation. it's simplistic, reactionary not supported by facts and I hate the what it implies and what the conversation omits, namely that for some crown heights residents hard times never ended.

Crown Heights is a large area. It measures two miles long by a mile. Part of it is seeing a boom of new activity shops that were redundant are having their rents raised by their owners in the hopes of attracting the next artisanally prepared cash cow. Vacant spaces are being cleaned up for the same in the areas around Franklin, Bedford & Nostrand Avenues. Personally I think the new consumer options are great and the process by which their made unfortunate and sometimes unfair.

This past weekend while enjoying the sun and sounds of teens playing in Brower Park on Brooklyn Avenue near Prospect Place I noticed across the street on the wall of a school annex a mural created in 2009 by high school students and the non-profit Groundswell dedicated to the problem of gun-violence. Gun violence never stopped being a problem for many in Crown Heights.

Despite all the fuss about things of relative little consequence like bike parking spaces, there are people in Crown Heights who are working class, and spend much of their time trying to make ends meet in a section of the neighborhood that doesn't get the New York Times and New York Magazine coverage so generously bestowed on the Crown Heights just one mile west.  

Meanwhile on commercial strips like Kingston and Utica Avenues (between St. Johns & Atlantic) there is nearly the opposite situation with some addresses looking ready to collapse under the weight of time and disregard.

It's nearly a tale of two cities. Go ahead, google "Crown Heights Shooting" see which comes up first and which has more listings. The Franklin Ave shooting barely comes up. I doubt that's the story anyone wants to tell of gentrified Franklin Ave. The story of the shooting near Utica Ave is hard to miss.

You have one Crown Heights where owners decide to unleash building improvements and investment spurring increases in city services, police protection, beautification, bike racks and the other where many commercial and rental owners haven't made investment possibly because they're waiting for a community different from the current one, to take root. This is a big part of why it's destructive and simplistic to sub-divide Brooklyn neighborhoods as has been commonly done and at a hyper rate for the last ten years. Once there was Crown Heights. Now there is Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and there appears to be attempts at making distinctions between West & East Crown Heights. Before I drag out my soap box to shout about the past when a resident didn't need geographical distinctions to the name of their neighborhood, because they knew their neighborhood, I'll bring up what I think the bigger issue is. Changing the name of the "improved" part of a neighborhood only increases the likelihood that the "unimproved" part of the neighborhood won't get better.

Imagine braking your leg and rather than give aid to it, you cut it off. That's what happens if points East of Kingston Avenue (to pick a street) become unhinged from Washington, Classon & media daring Franklin Avenues. Separating one part of Crown Heights from the other means separating the stories that are told of those places, and those stories become the public realities. So shooting on Franklin get's a certain type of media attention if for no other reason than it's contrary to the expectations now existing (and reported) for Franklin Avenue. While a shooting near Utica is reported as the same old song.

The conversation I've heard after almost every violent crime is committed in this neighborhood of over 150,000 people is "Is it going back?!?" The reality is there are a lot of people who never got to go forward.

Crown Heights will have occasional violent episodes, just like most New York City does. Those tragedies when they occur will less a harbinger of new comer doom than a sign that long term residents are still struggling in crisis.

1 comment:

  1. Really good article. Thanks for publishing it---the more awareness about the different parts of Crown Heights, the better.


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