Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More Power!

Thanks to Brownstoner are in order for posting my "Why are there power lines in East New York?" question as their closing bell on Monday. My curiosity centered around both the lines' existence and the shoes that adorn them. Brownstoner's followers offered some insights, but the first question, at least, remains unanswered.

On the shoe-tossing query, posters were split on the two leading theories, "gang territory markers" and "kids goofing off." Ultimately, I think these two bleed together: kids goof off and throw sneakers over the wires near where they live. Kids are sometimes in gangs. Gangs identify their turf, sneakers on wires become appropriated as "turf markers," and more are thrown up. Meanwhile, some kids down the block mimic them because it looks like fun and they're kids. The point, I suppose, is that gangs and miscreant kids are a pair of groups with a whole lot of overlap.

As for the persistence of power lines in ENY, I don't have an answer. Respondents mentioned that ENY isn't the only Brooklyn neighborhood with power lines, which is true: Red Hook, Gravesend, parts of Canarsie, and parts of Dyker Heights also have their full grid above ground, and lots of other nabes have bits and pieces in the air, such as the telephone lines in backyards in parts of Bed-Stuy. So perhaps my argument that above-ground power lines are "rare in major cities" should be revised to "relatively uncommon in Brooklyn." Still, my interest in the original question remains--why are the lines in East New York above ground? What sorts of factors led to some neighborhoods having subterranean power supplies? There must be a history of this out there somewhere, but I haven't found it yet.

On an unrelated note, the photos above illustrate another interesting feature of ENY--the remarkable continuity of its rowhouses. Street after street is either composed of turn-of-the-century brick numbers like the ones in the first photo, or identical red-bricked ones built (I'm guessing here) in the 1970s. On a sunny day, the uniformity gives the neighborhood an almost suburban feel. As long as I'm asking questions, if anyone has any information on the building of either breed of rowhouse, I'd be curious.


  1. Great photographs! I would be interested in knowing what these two streets are. I tutored in ENY in 1993, on Bradford Avenue, near Sutter, and the second picture looks similar to that block. I think those houses were built in the mid-fifties, rather than the 70's

  2. I checked through my photos and I'm honestly not sure exactly where these photos were taken, though I'm pretty sure the newer ones are somewhere along Vermont between Sutter and New Lots. As for the older ones, my best guess is somewhere just off Sutter between Vermont and Shepherd. You might well be right about when the red row houses were built--what's really remarkable about them is just how many there are in Brownsville and ENY, all exactly alike. I was hoping I would turn up an article about the builder or development, but I couldn't find anything.

  3. i am really curious about this as well. when i was walking in redhook, i saw a large truck was driving down the street and the top of the truck hit the wires. they snapped like strings and went flying - it was quite scary. within seconds the near-empty street was FULL of people curious, angry, and inconvenienced. luckily, the truck driver stopped and called it in (311? no idea).