Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fill out your Census Form (and have a cookie!)

For those who don't know, it's Census Time! I posted a rather extended rant about the importance of completing your census forms in my post on the Crow Hill Community Association meeting, but just to re-iterate, almost everything depends upon basic census data, from budgets for city services including schools, police, fire, and sanitation to congressional districts. Neighborhoods with low rates of return lose out on necessary services and are under-represented in government, and tragically, these neighborhoods are often those that need services and representation the most. Central Brooklyn reports below the city average of 60%, and Crown Heights suffers in particular, because two significant portions of the local population -- undocumented migrants and mobile 20-somethings - are among those who typically don't complete census forms.

Thankfully, it's never been easier to do your civic duty - just swing by Lily & Fig this Thursday or Friday to complete a Census Form for your address and have all your questions answered! A census representative (who will NOT ask you about your citizenship status and has no power to arrest, detain, or even ask you for ID) will be there with forms in a wide variety of languages. This is a key point, actually, especially for those who share a home with roommates: even if you never saw the form that was mailed to your house, you can complete one on the spot at Lily & Fig. So come by, help ensure that Crown Heights has a political voice and adequate schools, safety, and sanitation, and enjoy one of Lily's unbelieveably-delicious-should-cost-3-bucks-but-still-only-cost-$1.25 chocolate chip cookies.

For those in need of a few bucks in this economy, the Census rep will also have employment information on hand.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Trees Under Attack?

A week or so ago, I lauded the Crow Hill Community Association for their successful campaign to bring more trees to Franklin Avenue. Street trees make a huge impact on communities, in ways both obvious and subtle, and it's worth recounting them here:

1. Traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian): Street trees make an enormous contribution to safer, more lively streets. They narrow sight lines and slow traffic down (reducing accidents and close calls), while simultaneous acting as a buffer between cars and pedestrians (as well as a buffer for traffic noise). Slower traffic and a sense of separation from it, along with the obvious benefits of shade and beauty, encourages pedestrian traffic, which in turn boosts local merchant revenues and makes streets safer (peopled streets are safe streets).

2. Quality of life: The NYC Parks Department did the math a few years ago and concluded that for every dollar they spend on street trees, New Yorkers derive $5.60 worth of benefits. Along with reducing noise, providing shade, and beautifying a street, trees moderate weather, blocking wind and rain and acting as enormous air conditioners in the summer (the USDA equates the daily cooling impact of one healthy young tree with 10 room-sized AC units going full blast for 20 hours). Trees also improve air quality (no surprise there), attract songbirds, and have even been shown to reduce stress with their mere presence.

3. Economic and environmental benefit (because at this point, we should realize that the two walk hand in hand). I already mentioned the value of increased street traffic to local businesses. Trees also significantly reduce energy use & heating and cooling costs and increase both residential and commercial property values (are trees gentrifiers? We'll return to this in a moment). They also absorb and process stormwater without dumping it into NYC combined sewers, which saves the city real money in processing costs and overflow fines from the EPA and keeps those enormous puddles from forming at every intersection.

Ultimately, the benefits of trees aren't that surprising, and their correlation with NYC's nicer neighborhoods is fairly obvious. Just walk west on any of the side streets or places that cross Franklin, and watch how verdant things get as you approach Flatbush. To my mind, street trees are as close as you can get to an unqualified good thing, which why I was horrified to receive the following email from a local resident, who signed his email "Bummed on Sterling":

There is a mentally unstable guy walking around breaking branches off of the young street trees. I caught him in the act on my tree, but it was too late for the rest of my block (sterling btw bedford and franklin) Really really sad, as i've waited 2 years to get the tree. Anyway, i alerted the cops. But if people want to keep a lookout for this guy who is destroying the trees.

Now, this sounds like a fairly isolated incident, albeit a rather devastating one (something tells me NYC Parks aren't necessarily going to come out and replace destroyed trees unless they feel the trees will survive). However, it reminded me of a story a longtime resident told me last summer about earlier attempts at economic revitalization on the Avenue. As they recalled, a whole slew of trees were planted one day, only to be felled by a furious resident with power tools who declared "we don't need their trees on Franklin." Trees, like anything else that ups property values, are forces of gentrification in their own way, and there are apparently a few rare individuals who find them problematic as such. (Granted, it sounds like we're talking about two rather disturbed individuals here, but the sentiment remains genuine, even if its expression is pretty far out in the deep end.)

I don't really know how to wrap this up, except to say to anyone who might be inclined, PLEASE DON'T DESTROY THE NEW TREES!

Rare Joy

I hopped on a 3 train at the New Lots terminus on Wednesday, and as the doors closed, I realized that I was THE ONLY PERSON IN THE CAR! I didn't know what to do--should I race up and down the center aisle? Swing from the poles? Do pull-ups on the bars? Sing? Scream at the top of my lungs? In the time it took my brain to cycle through the myraid options for extreme subway behavior, the train pulled into the Van Siclen Station, and I was joined by a pair of women, so in the end, I did nothing besides marvel at the quiet, roomy, sunlit car. Still, I could have (though had I dared take up more than one of the 44 seats available to me, I might well have been ticketed).

Beyond my various, nefarious plans for making a scene all by myself, the only other thought that ran through my head in my brief, solitary respite (so different from the 4 train sardine crush every morning as to feel positively otherwordly) was "damn, this car is bigger than my apartment." I don't know whether the MTA would sell me an R62, but if they would, I think I could doll-it up Boxcar Children style and make it into a heckuva pad.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Keeping busy on the avenue

There's a lot going on as temperatures warm up on Franklin. Cranes, cement mixers, and trucks bearing all manner of building supplies have been rumbling up to the future site of St. Marks Gardens, the 8-story, 38-unit affordable housing complex going up on St. Marks just east of Franklin. I speculated late last year about the St. Marks residential boom -- conversion to rental units continues at the old Jewish Hospital across the shuttle tracks -- and with construction moving as fast as it has, I wonder whether we'll see an attendant commercial boom on the northern end of the Franklin strip this summer (and in coming years).

There are also a series of great events coming up this week and weekend:

- Apologies for not shouting out Quilombo earlier today, which returns every Tuesday night with music and drink specials at Prospect Pond. Check the link above for more information about upcoming artists.

- Tonight (Wednesday), the Kings County Cinema Society brings a Short Film Slam to LaunchPad. Come enjoy the free films, free popcorn, and a chance to meet the filmmakers starting at 8pm!

- For all the parents on a budget (we salute you), Nairobi's Knapsack is hosting a clothing, book, and toy swap this Saturday, March 27th. It's free for all parents who bring a gently-used article, and the event will feature free refreshments and giveaways throughout the day. If you don't have something to trade, you can buy in for the very reasonable price of $10.

- On Sunday, Force and Flow/Pulse Studio presents SWAN Flight 2010, a celebration of women artists featuring a clothing swap, discussion, shruti song circle, and showings/screenings/performances of the work of local artists. SWAN stands for Support Women Artists Now, and Swan Day events will be happening across the globe. Contact them here by Friday if you'd like to show your work or take part in the discussion. If you'd like to attend as a viewer/participant, the event starts at 5 pm and asks a $5 suggested donation.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What a Weekend!

Can't beat that weather--and next weekend is looking good, too. I climbed up a fire escape at a buddy's place on Eastern for the first shot (looking north), and took the sunset on Sterling walking home.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Weekend Eats

These tidbits should have gone up days ago, but so be it: there are two extra-special food options on Franklin right now. One is the opportunity to enjoy a pair of 3-course meals for just $25 at Bombay Masala as part of Dine In Brooklyn Week. Listed as a Prospect Heights restaurant (I'll leave that debate alone for now), Bombay is not only participating but offering the double-meal deal, which means that until March 25th, you can enjoy one of their fabulous "dinners for two" for even less than usual. Personally, the lady and I rarely go more than a few weeks without feasting on a vegetarian dinner for two, which comes with two soups, two appetizers, two mains, two piles of rice, bread, and two desserts. Plus, they've got a lovely garden to enjoy in this weather!

Also serving food is Franklin Park, which has made the best of their head-on collision with NYC bureaucracy by planting their new chef in front of a grill while they await the opening of Dutch Boy Burger. Reviews of the nightly BBQs on Brooklynian have been very positive, and sources at the bar say that they plan to open Dutch Boy this coming Friday, March 26th. The issue, as I understand it (thanks to posters on Brooklynian and others for laying this out), is the connecting hallway from Dutch Boy to the Franklin Park "big room." This renders both shops "one space" and as this space has previously been evaluated by the various city agencies (fire, health, etc), it cannot be expanded until it is re-reviewed. The compromise is that Dutch Boy will open, but the seating it adds must be removed from the big room, which the owners plan to accomplish by erecting a temporary partition that will close off the raised platform next to the DJ booth and extend from there to the door. Ridiculous? But of course--it's NYC, after all.

In totally unrelated news, the Brooklyn Eagle had a nice profile of Crown Heights resident Ozzie Fletcher, whose long career of service to the borough has included stints on the local force and in the public schools.

Vicious Attack on Franklin

This is only a link, but it deserves its own post. Last night, two teenage girls were savagely assaulted in broad daylight on Franklin Avenue at approximately 5pm, the Daily News reports. An adult couple, who apparently had a prior feud with a cousin of one of the girls, lept from a car and ran for the girls as they walked on Franklin just south of Eastern Parkway. The man, identified as "Darnell" grabbed and held them while the woman ("Corona") slashed one teen repeatedly across the face and stabbed the other in the body. Miraculously, the girls escaped and ran to one's home on Union, from which they were taken to Kings County Hospital. Both are expected to survive, though one may well have suffered irreversible facial scarring.

Last summer, I spent more time than I hoped to writing about crime on Franklin. Since then, a combination of the Skywatch, the designation of Franklin as an NYPD Impact Zone, and cooler temperatures has improved public safety on the avenue (the outrageous home invasion of a few weeks ago notwithstanding), but as things warm up, crime rises. I sincerely hope this isn't the beginning of another deadly summer on Franklin.

Hopefully the individuals who did this will be brought to justice (the fact that they've been identified certainly helps), and the young women who were attacked will make a full and speedy recovery. If you're familiar with a local couple named Darnell and Corona, get on the phone to the 77th Precinct, stat. You don't have to leave your name or commit to testifying to help the police catch these criminals.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saturday Night - Experience the Heights

Brooklyn-based Masai Marketing is at it again this Saturday night, with a new edition of Experience the Heights (the event was mentioned at Tuesday night's CHCA meeting, and written up on Nostrand Park, but I felt it deserved its own post). February's inaugural event was a huge hit, bringing together local merchants, artists, musicians, and designers at Five Myles Gallery, and this month's iteration looks to be just as eclectic. Taking place at a "trendy loft" on Pacific between Nostrand and New York, the night will feature samples from 10 local bars and restaurants, the work of one live chef, & three film screenings. Come by for FREE food and drink from 5-9pm and get your Saturday night started right in Crown Heights.

CHCA - Talk and Action

On Tuesday night, I attended my first Crow Hill Community Association meeting (I'm ashamed to admit that it took me nearly two years). Held at LaunchPad instead of CHCA's usual location at the Haitian-American Day School on Bedford and St. John's, the meeting drew a sizeable crowd (standing room only if you got in the door) and provided a wealth of information about the Association's efforts to promote and improve the neighborhood.

Members of Community Board 8 and the 77th Precinct Community Council were on hand to explain their responsibilities, answer questions (everything from cleaning up after dogs to notifying neighbors when group homes are created), and encourage people to get involved. A representative from the US Census also spoke, urging residents to complete the 2010 Census forms that are arriving at homes this month. As she told us, New York City's median participation rate (by neighborhood) in the Census is typically around 60%, with Central Brooklyn well under that. Census data is used allocate funding and services (schools, precincts, and sanitation are all affected), as well as to determine districts for political representation, so please, FILL OUT YOUR CENSUS FORM. Crown Heights in particular contains two groups that have notoriously low rates of response -- immigrant communities that include undocumented individuals, and transient young people new to the area -- and for every person not counted, approximately $30,000 of cumulative funding and services are lost per year (and they aren't counting again until 2020).

After providing a forum for these speakers, the CHCA team offered up a bit of their own history and current activities. Founded 25 years ago as an umbrella organization for local block groups that have since withered, the CHCA is the primary neighborhood association for Franklin and Bedford between Eastern and at Atlantic. They've spent their quarter-century working as advocates for the area, doing everything from placing planters and trees on Franklin to improving local sewers and curb cuts to convincing the NYPD to put the Skywatch next to Nam's and make Franklin an "impact zone." They're currently working on a series of new campaigns for their 25th Anniversary, which include sponsoring the Crown Heights Oral History Project, helping facilitate the creation of a Franklin Avenue Merchants Association (email franklinavenue@googlegroups.com for more info), talking with the Bedford Avenue Chase branch about funding local entrepreneurs, and planning a big spring clean-up that will bring more planters and trees to Franklin.

The overall vibe was great on Tuesday night, with pastries and coffee provided by both Pulp & Bean and Breukelen Coffee House (who says we can't all get along?) and the art from LaunchPad's silent auction smiling down on us (those of us who missed the Pencil Party also got our drawing-on-the-walls fix). Still, talk is cheap -- what cemented my support of the Crow Hill Community Association was waking up this morning to the smell of fresh mulch and the sight of new trees going up at Franklin and St. Marks. I don't know if they planned it this way, but they promised new trees, and they delivered two days later!

To learn more about CHCA, visit their website and consider becoming a member (dues are $30 per year, $20 for students and seniors). They meet every third Tuesday of the month.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Found: Santa on Spring Break

Santa and the reindeer gang slipped south to East New York for a weekend of wild partying, but they got so wasted that they left the sleigh in a vacant lot at Sutter and Shepherd. Ms. Claus is NOT going to be pleased.

New York = The Graveyard of Umbrellas

The last dregs of the dying Nor'easter were dribbling down on me as I walked home tonight, remnants of a particularly powerful storm that brought rain, hail, and gale-force winds to Brooklyn. Tree carnage reigned in Prospect Park this morning, and the streets were strewn with even more trash, but the biggest losers of all were clearly the umbrellas of the borough of Kings, whose mangled corpses littered the Avenue and poked out of trash cans all weekend, bits of nylon flapping in surrender. Somewhere, someone needs to get to work on a titanium-alloy model with triple-layered Gore-Tex on top.

At least the weather is supposed to be clear and gorgeous tomorrow.

Crow Hill Community Association Meeting


The Crow Hill Community Association is kicking off spring as "the new CHCA," which includes holding their monthly meeting a new space this coming Tuesday, March 16. The association of local residents and merchants will be meeting at LaunchPad (721 Franklin between Park and Sterling), and the program, which starts at 7:30pm, will feature community updates, census info, and a guest speaker. Refreshments will be served, and meeting-goers are encouraged to hang out and get to know each other from 8:30 - 9:00.

In case you haven't seen it, the CHCA is also collaborating on an exciting new project that sends local high school students into their community to interview longtime residents. Learn more at the Crown Heights Oral History Project blog.

Swing by before you hit up Quilombo at Prospect Pond!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quilombo at Prospect Pond This Tuesday

A little something to add to your weekly Crown Heights/Prospect Heights cultural calendar: Quilombo at Prospect Pond is a new weekly event, kicking off with an inaugural party this Tuesday, March 16. The event is named for the Quilombos of Brazil, which organizer Nadine Friedman described as "democratic settlements created by escaped slaves of mostly Brazilian descent, but also a community of people of every color and ethnicity- sort of a sanctuary for the oppressed and seeking." She added "I think it's a great metaphor for the neighborhood, which is still finding its identity and places that can still feel like home."

Their kickoff will feature drink specials, live music from Fuego Campo of Noble Society, and artwork from Sebastian Andia, starting at 7pm.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Links: The Lazy Blogger's Best Friend

I've been on the road this week, but here are some stories that my various Google Alerts and local sources put on my radar:

Scary - An armed home invasion took place at Lincoln and Franklin yesterday morning, sending a half-dressed man racing into Fisher's Supermarket for help. Police are investigating.

Silly - An ultra-conservative Jewish sect in New Jersey have decided that lox isn't kosher, which sent WABC racing out to Crown Heights (ever the poster neighborhood for New York's Hasidim) to gauge reaction to the issue. Stop the presses--most Jews plan to continue eating lox.

Sad - Nostrand Park reports that local non-profit Sue Rock Originals is in imminent danger of closing. I profiled Sue Rock and her work on behalf of domestic violence survivors last May, and I would hate to see them go. If anyone has any great ideas for ways to raise $25K quickly, from grant-writing to fundraising events, please get in touch with her.

Speaking of Nostrand Park - The NYDN's Denise Romano, who writes frequently on Brooklyn, profiled a series of Crown Heights businesses as part of an ongoing series called "Savings in Brooklyn." Seeing as she does these all over the borough, I'm curious what the local crowd thinks of this iteration.

Sing Along - Local blogger Gregory Malcolm, who writes at Why I Love Brooklyn, put together a fun little video of his favorite spots on Eastern Parkway, set to the sounds of easily-recognizable Brooklyn hits.

Franklin Park Stop Work Order Displaces Reading Series, Cancels Tuesday Night Live

Yikes--I Love Franklin Ave goes out of town for a weekend and all hell breaks loose. For those who haven't heard, Franklin Park/Dutch Boy Burgers was slapped with a Stop Work Order that prevented the grand opening of the burger joint and closed the big room of the bar until further notice. Brooklynian is abuzz, and the Franklin Park Reading Series had to take it's show on the road to Soda Bar last night, where Penina and her readers put on another great show while we in the audience munched cupcakes emblazoned with "FP" (oh, the irony!).

As the big bar remains closed, tonight's show featuring The House Floor is cancelled, but the band tells me they're already working to reschedule. In the interim, check them out at the link above.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Happy Birthday, Franklin Park Reading Series!

What else can I say about the Franklin Park Reading Series--I love it! I went for the first time last June and I was hooked. I didn't miss one until last month, and as the lady can avow, I was deeply distraught when I discovered I couldn't make it. On March 8, salonista supreme Penina Roth celebrates her first anniversary as host of the best Monday night in Crown Heights with cupcakes, $4 well drinks, and $4 Krusovice. But that's not why you should come.

You should come because the Reading Series strikes a perfect balance between serious literary endeavor and open, friendly community event. It's not pretentious, but people will get quiet and listen when readers are sharing their latest work. It brings in big names (check out this month's lineup), but it always makes an effort to showcase local talent. Each month's experience is wildly different, equal only in the satisfaction you'll take away from attending. In short, this is the reading series you always dreamed of attending but never did, because you were worried it would turn into a giant in-joke that you didn't get. It won't. Come.

Readers for this week's bash include (the blurbs below stolen from Facebook):

STEPHEN ELLIOTT is the author of seven books, including the memoir The Adderall Diaries, which was named the best book of 2009 by Time Out New York, a best of 2009 in Kirkus Reviews, and one of 50 notable books in the San Francisco Chronicle. His novel Happy Baby was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lion Award, and was named a best book of the year by Salon.com, Newsday, Chicago New City, the Journal News, and the Village Voice. His writing has also been featured in Esquire, The New York Times, The Believer, GQ, Best American Non-Required Reading 2005 and 2007, Best American Erotica, and Best Sex Writing 2006. He is the editor and founder of The Rumpus, an online cultural magazine.

“Blending memoir and true-crime reportage, Elliott’s first book of nonfiction digs into depression, a fraught father-son relationship, a high-profile Bay Area murder case and the thorny complexities of storytelling itself… the author, with a nod to Joan Didion, weaves his disparate subjects into an emotionally intense and fiercely intelligent work of art.”

VICTOR LAVALLE is the author, most recently, of the novel Big Machine, which was named one of the ten best books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly, a 2009 favorite fiction book by the Chicago Tribune, and one of 2009’s best science fiction books by the LA Times. His previous novel, The Ecstatic, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and he has also released a highly acclaimed short story collection, Slapboxing with Jesus. He has received numerous awards, including a Whiting Writers' Award, a United States Artists Ford Fellowship, and the key to Southeast Queens.

"Gabriel Garcia Marquez mixed with Edgar Allan Poe, but more than that. Big Machine is like nothing I've ever read, incredibly human and alien at the same time."

MATTHUE ROTH is a writer, performance poet and Orthodox Jew at large. He is the author of the memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go and three novels, including Losers, which has just been named to the American Library Association's 2010 Rainbow List. His screenplay 1/20 is currently in post-production as a feature film, and he's now at work on his next novel. He keeps a secret diary at www.matthue.com.

MAURA KELLY writes a dating blog called "The Year of Living Flirtatiously" for Marie Claire and her essays have appeared all over the place, from The New York Times to Penthouse.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Franklin Avenue Weekend Events

It's official--this is going to be a fantastic weekend, and it doesn't end until TUESDAY NIGHT (see below). I'm plotting individual posts on these topics tomorrow and the next day, but for now, make sure you mark your calendars for these great events on the Avenue.

Friday Night: Rest up. You'll need it.

Saturday afternoon: This one's for the kiddies--Nairobi's Knapsack is hosting Grace Chang and Jin-Jin the Dragon for an afternoon of magical storytelling. RSVP to info@nairboisknapsack.com to take part.

Saturday evening (part I): Oh yes, oh yes, it's the much-hyped, long-awaited Pencil Party (though rumor has it markers will be involved) at LaunchPad. Swing by to give their community arts space the personal touch!

Saturday evening (part II): It's Target First Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum. Swing by early to gather inspiration for the Pencil Party.

Sunday afternoon: Wait, in all my arty excitement, I barely ate last night! I'd better check out the fare at Dutch Boy Burger, which opens this weekend (provided that stop-work order in the window is taken care of).

Monday night: The Franklin Park Reading Series celebrates its first birthday with cupcakes, $4 Krusovice, and $4 well drinks all night (not to mention a slew of great readers--a separate post is forthcoming, I promise). For the third time, Time Out New York has noticed our local literary scene, so don't miss it!

Tuesday night (because you can't, you won't, and you don't stop): That's right, you're coming back to Franklin Park for a pair of Brooklyn-based acts that are near and dear to my heart. Poet Coriel Gaffney opens with accompaniment from local rockers The House Floor, who take the stage themselves to close out the evening (Maxwell Rebo will also be performing, though my exhaustive research methods turned up only a guy from Helena, Montana, and I wasn't sure if it was the right person). More to come on this one, but for now, be prepared!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Update: Dutch Boy Burgers Opening This Week

I was on the outside looking in this morning, but that won't be the case for long. Dutch Boy Burger opens this week, according to Time Out New York, who listed the newest venture from Franklin Park and Southpaw owner Matt Roff in their "Restaurant Openings" section:

Dutch Boy Burger Matthew Roff opens a burger joint connected to his Crown Heights bar, Franklin Park. Until 11pm, diners can order from a menu that includes grilled seven-ounce burgers like the Dutch Boy (cheddar, mushrooms, caramelized onions), along with milk shakes made from Blue Marble ice cream; after the restaurant closes, bargoers can continue to order the full menu at the bar. 766 Franklin Ave between Lincoln and St. Johns Pl, Crown Heights, Brooklyn (no phone yet).

It sounds fantastic, particularly the part about the bar serving the full menu into the wee hours. I suppose this does mean the end of take-out at Franklin Park, but it's a small price to pay for a good new burger place.

Organic Bodega Opening on Franklin?

The Yafaa Money Market, a nondescript 24-hour-grocery on Franklin between Prospect and Park, has been undergoing a thorough renovation over the last few months, and as of yesterday, has become the Franklin Mini Market, complete with a shiny new sign. Though at first glance their new look seems consistent with the latest trends in bodega signage (e.g. the Brooklyn Deli a few doors down), a closer look reveals that they will now be stocking "organic food." Bloggers, to your keyboards!

Local reporters from the Observer and NostrandPark have tackled the bodega-renovation-as-harbinger-of-gentrification issue before, with Nostrand Park touching on it just yesterday. Unlike arriving restauranteurs, whose new-look establishments were cited as a major force in today's neighborhood change by the Brooklyn Paper (see yesterday's post), these grocers have been in the area a long time, and their decision to renovate (in the midst of what is still a recession) seems calibrated to meet the needs and expectations of newcomers. As Laurel from NostrandPark points out in her post, these changes, though largely welcome, reinforce problematic stereotypes about "who used to live here" vs. "who's living here now." As she writes, "it’s frustrating that the owner[s] didn’t realize sooner that the residents of this neighborhood deserved better."

To my mind, the biggest issue hinges not on the look of these new stores but the attitudes of their staff. "Organic Food" notwithstanding, I doubt the bulk of the goods stocked at the Franklin Mini Market will be considerably different from those the Yafaa Money Market once carried. That said, Nam's Green Market at St. John's has made a concerted effort to remake itself as an "organic" grocery, and in the process has occasionally alienated longtime locals with higher prices and perceived slights on account of them. As for the Franklin Mini Market, we'll have to see once they're open what "organic" entails, both for their shelves and for their patrons.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Food is the New Art

Dutch Boy Burger looked ready to go this evening when I walked by, with chairs and tables in place and my favorite sign in the world hanging on their wall. The folks at Nostrand Park did a nice photoshoot in the old-timey spirit of the place, too.

Just in time for their opening, the Brooklyn Paper ran an interesting, if somewhat unsurprising, article making the case that gentrification is now led by culinary establishments, their proprietors, and their patrons. The piece traces a familiar pattern: transplants arrive and feel their new nabe lacks that certain something, they open or attract a coffee shop/brick-oven pizzeria/bar, a few more places are inspired to open, and pretty soon an unlikely strip is a culinary destination. Lost in the shuffle is the transient diversity of a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification, and perhaps also the establishments that longtime residents patronized.

I've posted about these issues before, and I think the author does a good job balancing the story and exploring the nuances (some residents resist change, while others create business/improvement organizations and actively recruit restauranteurs) inherent to the situation. On the whole, I think food, as long as it's not too expensive (Abigail gets jabbed at the end of the article for being "just too pricey for the locals") is as open and inviting a path to change as possible, and my faith has thus far has been borne out by Franklin Avenue's newest additions, the coffee shops (Lily & Fig, Breukelen, and Pulp & Bean). They attract diverse crowds, their owners actively promote community interaction, and the vibe, though different in each, is positive. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the loss of neighborhood staples, like the closing of The Spice is Right, removes nodes of community interaction and creates the feeling of being pushed out that so many people in gentrified communities express.

One final thought: while the article was good, the supplement, "Where to Eat Off the Beaten Path," didn't cut it. Only one mention for Crown Heights, and it's the Glass Shop on Classon? I like the Glass Shop just fine, but come on now, Brooklyn Paper--I know you've got people out this way, come have a look around on Franklin!

Knox the Hatter

Charles Knox founded his hat company at 110 Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan in 1838 and prospered by selling beaver hats to antebellum New Yorkers, but his business foundered at mid-century. His son, Edward Knox, a Civil War Hero who fought at Gettysburg and was feted by Congress and the Grand Army of the Republic as "the most popular and handsomest officer of the encampment," took things over upon his recovery from war wounds and turned the company around. One of young Edward's initiatives was a move into the hat-manufacturing business, opening a hat factory in Brooklyn at Grand Avenue and St. Mark's Place. Vertical integration served the company well, and a scant 10 years later Knox moved his headquarters north to 5th Avenue amongst high society's finest merchants, including Tiffany and Lord & Taylor. The Beaux-Arts building he commissioned from architect John H. Duncan, now a component of the HSBC Tower, was landmarked in 1980.

But what of his Brooklyn factory in the Heights? Originally adorned with a Seth Thomas clock tower that bore the inscription "Knox the Hatter" (click here for a fantastic etching of the original structure), the shop turned out headwear that still draws attention from hat aficianados. Shuttered after the Second World War (as was much industry in Brooklyn), the building decayed into the 1980s, when the NYTimes described it as "vacant and vandalized." However, the building was given a second life as affordable housing by developer Alfred Thompson, who also converted the Studebaker building on Bedford for the same purpose, and today stands, sans clock tower, as a proud, functional relic of the neighborhood's light-industrial past.

In the era of industrial parks and loft-conversions, it's hard to envision the 19th-century city, before expanding mass transit and public-health concerns encouraged the segregation of industry and residences. The Knox Building, along with the Nassau and Consumer's Park Breweries on Franklin and the Pirika Chocolate Company on Dean Street (which gets pretty industrial between Grand and Franklin) are reminders that people used to live within walking distance of their employers, particularly those who couldn't afford transit. Sure, living next door to a factory wasn't exactly good news, but it created a different world, one that those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about community can find valuable lessons in, as well as cautionary tales. Cohesion is a lot easier to come by when everyone lives and works in the same 10 blocks, and though rightfully vilified, not all factory employers were evil: some even made efforts to provide decent housing and amenities for their nearby employees. These provisions could be exploitative in and of themselves (company housing in particular), but then again, it's not as though today's biggest employers are putting significant money into improving the neighborhoods where their lowest-paid workers reside.