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BrooklynBornThis blog started in my head when I listened in the 90's to friends who feared Brooklyn and newcomers who blogged about BK as if it barely existed before they arrived. Brooklyn as Tabula Rasa. My blog satisfies my need to hear and air feelings of B'klyn from the people whose life experience was born here. Also I hope to provide balance to some of the revisionist historical musings I've seen how Brooklyn and her residents used to be, we're still here. If we can all live as best possible while appreciating the past and neighbors we've inherited that would be great too.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Photo Wednesday 3/27/13 - Sometimes the Past Sees You Edition

Its been a while since the last "Photo Wednesday" so considering I didn't stop taking photos (everyday even!) I am stocked with visual moments to share from many points Brooklyn.

"M. H. Koski, Inc" was apparently a pawn shop, this Brooklyn Eagle link shows an advertisement for the business from 1946.

I wanted to post a shot from what I think is about as far away in Brooklyn as a person can be from everything and still be in Brooklyn, but for now this one I picked up wins the day. I know this corner intimately.

I recall being about nine and standing across the street from this corner waiting and desperate to leave. Standing next to my little feet was a box big enough to hold a starship and it did. The Millennium Falcon. My mother bought it from Mays' Department store (Corner of Fulton St & Bond) and we'd stopped off from the bus to meet a friend of hers. The only thing that made the wait tolerable was the thrill I got from each kid walking by who's wide eyes spied the classically 70's photo of the spacey plastic hunk of junk.

I was headed down Putnam (which I still can't believe no longer awkwardly flows into Fulton Street, when I noted this space of wall that had not been painted over since I'm guessing at least the 60's. That day as a kid there was a billboard covering that patch of wall. When I moved to my second adult Brooklyn apartment up the block on Grand a billboard still covered it. When I saw the painted old sign beaming waves of yesterday outward I had to take a shot of it.

 Brownstowner and Faded Ad Blog beat me to publishing the pic (steamed) so here's links to them as well: http://www.fadingad.com/fadingadblog/?p=10347 & http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2012/03/signage-archaeology-on-grand-avenue/ Brownstoner was kind enough to point out that corner of the expose sign was an open air drug market in the "70's and 80's" a commenter posted they should include the "90's, 00's & 10's" yeah... as mentioned I lived right up the block, and I swear a more industrious and consistently staffed drug spot I've never seen. Hell I've worked in corporations were people weren't at their station as often as these guys were (are?). My question has been and still is what kind of economic model were those corner hustlers working in the 90's? They'd have more guys on the corner than customer regularly, yet everyone seemed paid. That's Buffet math.

Also I'm going to include a little "Best of.." Photo Wednesday this one from February 3rd 2010 when the Lowes Kings Theater was featured. I'd taken a few cools shots of the exterior and meant to post it, when months later the new broke that the formerly palatial long since condemned theater on Flatbush was poised to be restored to greatness. A few months back the plans were confirmed. Here's a quick look back with a personal story to boot:

http://umbrooklynborn.blogspot.com/2010/02/photo-wednesday-020310-retouched.html


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Crown Heights: Now - (thoughts on the 3/23 Town Hall)


New and old sights around the western edge of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. From top left: The former Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, Bicycle parking racks on Franklin in front of new cafe "Little Zelda", Residential construction on Eastern Parkway and Franklin Avenue, A lot cleared for large residential construction on Sterling Place btw Classon & Washington, A newly opened Animal Hospital on Franklin Avenue, Center, the Brooklyn Museum, Bottom LeftL a long standing bodega gets the "Mini-Whole Foods Make-Over"

On Saturday March 23rd 2013 the Crown Heights neighborhood group known as the "Crow Hill Community Association" held a Town Hall to be an open invitational forum for discussing any resident concerns. The event was held in the auditorium of the still new school building and facilitated by young volunteers, local residents and business owners. I heard a lot of sincere feeling, and quite a lot of love and admiration for Crown Heights and what struck me most was the similarities of the people of came from vastly different places to be there.

I walked into that building for the first time still thinking about what had been on this very same location not long ago. Across the street the Hospital of my birth, stood no longer a care center but an apartment complex home to one of the largest groups of tenants and of the highest rents in the neighborhood.

Besides my concern for the neighborhood I attended because recently I've followed the debate about things as seemingly trivial as whether it's fair and right for a parking space to be given to bicycles on a commercial street. It's a a proxy debate of course. It's meant to take the place of questions of why in a community that had been ignored for so long by much of the city, does the city "suddenly" care whether bikes have parking when they didn't care enough to keep an entire hospital going in a neighborhood that still needs it.

Because of the services that were cut from Crown Heights in the 70's & 80's and the resulting departure of home owners, commercial and industrial businesses and even a major clinical and surgical hospital, Crown Heights in general and in particular the streets surrounding Classon Avenue became a sort of Alamo where concerned residents worked to maintain the remaining good quality of life. One one street like Prospect Place you'd have beautiful homes and under cared for apartment buildings all being held together by the grace of residents and their willpower. Two blocks away on Bergen Street you could find crack houses and it's residents in tragic conditions.

I was one of the those residents, a kid who's family wondered aloud if moving away from it all was the best way to secure a better life, or if it was worth it to stick it out and keep guarding the fort.

Twenty-odd years later home owners began to discover that next their dutifully tended community garden, down the block from the trash cans they may have had to beg the city for, around the corner from local restaurant they faithful supported, there was a new wave entering the neighborhood. New faces, new shops, new habits bringing. Some new people, a noticeable minority of the new in my opinion came with what the kids would call swagger. Some of the new came upon what they say as a barren fertile land ready to be made in whatever image pleased them. Some of the new didn't interact with long term residents as much as might reasonably be expected of new people.

For a neighborhood of long invested concerned residents, it's not hard to see how after years of being under siege and finally beginning to see the flourishing of seeds planted in the community decades earlier, the long term residents of Crown Heights began to feel invaded.

If I had worked hard to keep something good, fighting against physical, systematic and metaphorical attack, the last thing I'd want is for someone new to come and claim that which I worked so hard to maintain. I might rather put a hood over my positions, keep them from sight, keep them for me.

However you can't hide the hood. Crown Heights and hundreds of blocks like it are changing, because to be honest the neighborhood despite the good work and good will of it's residents has been lacking for a long time. We all wanted better. Better schools, better food options, better government service and it is a damn shame and an intolerable insult that we who worked hard we're largely ignored until someone else came along.

Let us all residents of Crown Heights who witnessed the 1980's be honest; we wanted better in this neighborhood. And we knew a neighborhood that is situated like this one deserves better. Thousands of working class home owners live here. Three of the city's cultural institutions are here (Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Main Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library). Five subway lines service the neighborhood. We expected better and so I doubt most people hate that you can buy the New York Times or soy milk on Franklin Ave and on Nostrand Ave instead of having to travel a half mile to Park Slope, most people aren't unhappy that an open air drug market no longer exists on Franklin and Lincoln place. Most people aren't bothered by the fact that unlike in the 80's eastern parkway is once again beautiful tree lined and well lit. What most long term residents are bothered by about the change is the concern that this change might financially force residents out who can no longer afford local rents or prices.

And of course most long term residents still feel the stinging insult of a city that didn't have good reasons for lackluster polices in the 80's and 90's now almost instantly providing that clearly essential bicycle parking space. (for the record I'm all for the bike parking space)

So the other largely understandable thing my ears heard at the Town Hall, in the discussion I was part of was pain. That pain. That "we've keep this place whole for 20 years and made it possible for you to even have a place to move into with your new community organizing, and your "$15 dollar hamburgers" and your "craft beers" and yet "you don't even say hi when you see me in the street"

But streets, sidewalks have a tendency to go both ways.

Community means sharing obviously and their are expectations of community. It's up to the long term residents to share and correct new people in what is reasonably expectable of neighbors here But I really don't think most people moved into Crown Heights to be brow beaten. That's the challenge. To remember that despite all we have suffered, the chances that the blond girl from Kentucky who moved with four roommates next door came to personally oppress us and deprive us of a neighborhood is slight.

The changes that Bjorn from Scandinavia who moved here to become a filmmaker is purposefully trying to ignore us, as opposed to say, not sure what to expect from us and afraid he'll offend, is slight.

I think we can agree that most people moved to Crown Heights for an improvement in their lives some of which has an inversely negative effect on the lives of long standing members of the community. But on the micro level that is not a conspiracy. For the couple that moves uses their income or their inheritance to buy a house that is a plan yes, but not necessarily a plot. And just as long residing members of the community expect our new coming neighborhoods to adhere to certain basic social communal norms, (saying hello to neighbors, investing in the community interests, supporting local business) they should also expect us not to see the enemy in each of their faces and stories unless new comers to the neighborhood give us reason to.

The cat is long since out of the bag and the bag has blown away. This neighborhood wasn't gentrified yesterday last year or last decade. Gentrification started right after the embers of the burnt out buildings in Bushwich began to cool. It started when members of the city government began encouraging an environment that fostered red-lining, police cuts, social service cuts, negative redistricting and cuts to basic services. It started with a Mayor who's no longer living. It started long before most of the newest new comers were born. Long term residents of Crown Heights have a reasonable expectation that new-comers will at best contribute to the community they've come to reap the benefits of, and at least that they won't make it any worse for the community as a whole than they found it. But every newcomer and shouldn't be made the straw man for the indignities the community has suffered since the 70's.

Besides that being unfair and and foolhardy, its misdirected. Gentrifiers are people of all backgrounds and a few income levels. The average person can no better presume on appear who is a new coming hipster gentrifier than the NYPD can judge by appearance whether or not I should be stopped and frisked and arrested. In the last two years I've been accused of both out in these Brooklyn streets that I love and I guess that makes sense if its a crime to be a black man born in Brooklyn and a professional who can afford to eat out at restaurants with $15.00 hamburgers and craft beers.

I had to leave the Town Hall because of a prior commitment, but as I left I hoped for the best. There's a lot of interest in Crown Heights, a lot of positive interest and a lot of rightfully lingering pain.

The life, the edge the spark of communities like Crown Heights that draws the new like moths to a flame is available because civic minded people, most of them African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans, kept a loving torch burning for this neighborhood. They kept alive hope it'd come back from the brink. When those long term residents are excluded from conversation, from participation, that flame burns and resentment smolders.

In 1990 the corner of Classon Avenue and St Marks in what was then undisputedly Crown Heights, an enormous public school building in the classic style of New York City that can easily be found from borough to borough sat continuing it's slow and glacial decay. The decaying school was the same in 1980 and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same in 1970.

By 2000, the old worn decayed school had been torn down. A new school building was constructed at St. Marks Place and Classon Avenue, PS 22. Part of me misses the old, because it's what I grew up with as a kid walking with his grandmother, a hospital worker, down Classon Avenue on the way to get her check cashed and for myself maybe an icy.

On Saturday March 23rd 2013, hundreds of people, local residents, renters and home-owners, black, white, brown, yellow, green purple and every other classification we can toss up, came together in the still new PS 22 school auditorium to positively consider this neighborhood. Things have changed. Some of that change is better and if we can work together we can make it better still, for all of us.


A photo taken prior to the March 23rd Crown Heights Town Hall.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Crow Hill (Crown Heights) Town Hall happening Today 3/23/12


I'm in attendance at the Crow Hill Community Association Town Hall starting right about now (12:20p) at PS 44 on the corner of Classon & St. Marks.

Live blogging isn't my forte but I'm going to give it a shot. A diverse crowd if civic-minded folk of many stripes are gathering now in the auditorium. A cheerful staff of volunteers are helping everyone get situated and a fiddler is warming things up.

Can't wait to hear opinions about the neighborhood issues, new businesses, development and of course bike parking.

Come for the fiddling stay for the friendship. Who doesn't love a good fiddle metaphor?

(Semi Live Blogging)

12:30 Garnett and Nick (writer of the I Love Franklin Park blog) open the meeting telling their stories of coming to and living crown heights. They've made to point that the conversation is intended to be open to everyone and that no topic is off the table. Including the much debated topic of gentrification.

We're told we'll e breaking into to small discussion groups and then a full discussion will be held at the end of the meeting

12:46 Karen Granville crown heights resident she reminds that our voices will shape our neighborhood.

Each group will feature a conversation facilitator to help the discussion stay on topic

12:50 were getting into discussion groups based on our birth month. Seems like a hilarious meetup ppsession I can't wait to see the June group try and stay on topic (speaking from experience I'm a Gemini)

(Update)
I couldnt get great cell service in the auditorium even though its above ground (thanks AT&T) so my last posts didnt make it out.

For a recap you'll probably want to check the "I Love Franklin Ave" Blog since Nick was one of the many volunteers faciliating the event.

Over all I thought it went very well providing an open forum in smaller groups whose keypoints were poured into a wider discussion (after I left). Based on the discussion I was party to there seem, very generally to be two directions of conversation, one in my view, comes from pain and poor treatment long term residents have received in our community, and the other comes from people who like most people came to this neighborhood to improve their lives and are left wondering if that should carry around a scarlet letter, or if its even worth it to try to make amends. I'm writing my thoughts about that and I'll post them soon. My overall take-away is as great as I think this Town Hall was, if we go into these avenues of conversation as well as the avenues in our neighborhood with a intentionally intransigent point of view we can expect all our worse fears to come true.

We can do better together.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Crown Heights (Crow Hill) Community Meeting Tomorrow, bring popcorn.

 After weeks of public discussion and scattered media reports on just about all things Crown Heights, including the debate over the bike parking spot in front of new cafe Zelda on Franklin Ave, tomorrow is time to air it all out face to face.

The Crow Hill Community Association is providing this opportunity for the residents to come together and discuss relevant issues.

The Town Hall meeting will be held tomorrow March 23, noon – 3pm
P.S. 22 Campus
443 St. Marks at Classon Ave.
http://crowhillcommunity.org/projects/town-hall-meeting-in-march-on-community-vision-for-crown-heights/

 The CHCA has worked hard over the years to not only improve conditions but facilitate residents in achieving common goals of neighborhood redevelopment. Personally "Crow Hill" is a name who's modern day usage I despise (since I think it came into being as someone's derogatory swipe at the early African American residents of the area around Utica Av south of Eastern Parkway)
Crow Hill was in reality a succession of hills extending along the southerly side of Eastern 
Parkway running east & west from Utica to Classon Avenue & south to Empire Blvd & New York Ave, 
originally this was applied to the Utica Avenue portion of the range where then was the negro 
squatter colony. 
When the Kings Co. Penetentairy was built it was known as the Crow Hill Penetentairy and the 
association of the vicinity Crow Hill became permanent. 
source - "http://www.bklyn-genealogy-info.com/Town/Eastern/C.html"
My feeling is based also on the belief that subdividing neighborhoods by name, serves to lessen the strength of the neighborhood. Crown Heights is a huge neighborhood. Once upon a time Prospect Heights was considered Crown Heights, but when tax brackets changed, so did that. Now I can't help wonder when the end of Crown Heights that touches Brownsville is going to be given the boot.

But I digress and the CHCA has worked very hard often effectively to make the neighborhood better. Today we have bigger fish to fry, apparently like debating over bike parking. Which has to be some mark of progress, when you consider, just months ago Brooklynites were debating over bike lanes.

I'll be there hope to see all five of you too! ; )
 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Photo Wednesday 030613 - The Patience of El Anatsui (at the Brooklyn Museum)

Work of El Anatsui

I want to share this with you. Above are a few of the several wonderful, intricate, transformational works of artist El Anatsui of Ghana now on display
at the Brooklyn Museum - make your eyes and mind happy, check them out before they're gone. 

I won't tell you about the details of the work, they're better seen and experienced in person.

El Anatsui has been creating works of various types, materials and messages for decades, it took a while for the world to catch on to him and I'm glad he persevered and continues to create.

At Brooklyn Museum now thru August 4, 2013.

Review:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/arts/design/a-million-pieces-of-home-el-anatsui-at-brooklyn-museum.html