Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Weekend on Franklin

Halloween is here, and the weekend weather is supposed to be just about perfect, so get out and enjoy it. On Franklin, kids will be parading and painting pumpkins starting at 3:30pm on Saturday, courtesy of the CHCA and LaunchPad (click the flyer above for more details). I may have misread it, but I think I also saw a poster for a Halloween Party for the big kids at Franklin Park on Saturday night (though there's nothing about it on their website). The Heart of Brooklyn orgs (Prospect Park, the Zoo, the Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Children's Museum) also have a great slate of activities lined up, including the haunted walk in Prospect Park and pumpkin carving at the Garden. Finally, if you want to venture a little further afield, check out Zombiefest, a zombie-crawl, film screening, and after-party to benefit the Food Bank of New York.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tonight - Zombies at LaunchPad

Short notice: If you just can't wait for the weekend to get your Halloween on, get over to LaunchPad tonight for some horror flicks courtesy of the Kings County Cinema Society. Info below:

  • In time for All Hallow's Eve, a screening of Lucio Fulci's Zombi II (aka Zombie, akaZombie Flesh Eaters, 1979, 90min). Shot on a shoestring budget in Brooklyn, Rome, Santo Domingo D.R. and Isla Mujeres, Mexico, the Italian production follows a team of hapless Americans who track an outbreak of the cannibalistic undead from NYC to the Caribbean. Contains bad acting, worse dubbing, hypnotic, surreal imagery, impaled eyeballs, needless T&A, and the best zombie vs. shark battle we've ever seen on film. amazing trailer
Preceded by recent horror shorts:
The Resurrection of Officer Rollins (2009, 20min) a short by Nathan "Karma" Cox, starring Derek Mears (Jason Voorhees) and Rodney Eastman (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3); Mama (2008, 3min) a gothic horror piece from Barcelona by Andres Muschietti; and Aaaagh! A Monster! (2009, 6min) director Gabriel Renfro's account of a domestic monster massacre.
Short films hand picked by our friend Mr. David Woodard Jr. of the NYC Horror Film Festival, running Nov. 10-14 at Tribeca Cinemas.

10/27 at LaunchPad, 721 Franklin Ave btw Park and Sterling. 2/3/4/5 to Franklin Ave.
8pm start time. Total program: 120min. BYOB, snacks, barf bags. Popcorn provided. Couldn't hurt to wear a costume.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's Your War @ Five Myles

(Sabrina Saneaux- Made in the Dominican Republic, 2007, at Five Myles Gallery)

Five Myles Gallery, on St. John's between Classon and Franklin, routinely brings fascinating art experiences to Crown Heights, and they've hosted their share of community events as well, including Experience the Heights and the preview screening of "Gentrifying Brooklyn." On Saturday from 4:30-7:30pm, they open a brand-new group show entitled "What's Your War," co-curated by Oasa DuVerney (whose work was featured in the "Pink Elephant" show at MOCADA and partially inspired my own long-winded think piece on indifference last spring) and Sarah McCann. It looks to be a fascinating show - click the links above for more information and read their blurb below:

Given the multitude of wars the US is fighting - the war in Iraq, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war in Afghanistan - the curators of the exhibition asked the participating artists what would be their own personal war against, if they had the power to declare one.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Love Franklin Ave Turns Two!

I noticed earlier this month that I Love Franklin Ave's 500th post was going to fall almost exactly on the blog's 2nd birthday, and I'd be lying if I claimed that it all worked out by sheer coincidence. At any rate, here you have it: post #500 on October 22nd, 2010, exactly two years after the very first post ran - it was the photo above, with the heading "Franklin and Dean: Signal Malfunction or Anti-Gentrification Message" (if nothing else, ILFA's subject material remains somewhat consistent).

I was plotting a much longer retrospective, and maybe I'll still cook one up, but for now, a few scattered thoughts:

- The Franklin Avenue storefront boom continues to hurtle along - at this point, I count over 20 new shops and restaurants on or just off Franklin that have opened (or are in the process of opening) since the first post. There's a lot to be excited about, but the question of displacement looms large over the process - with so many competing claims on space (the Daily News just picked up the co-naming story), can Franklin accommodate everyone?

- Crime is slightly down over the last two years, but gunplay remains a deadly pastime in Crown Heights, with another innocent bystander hit by a stray bullet this week. Incidents like these underscore the importance of the work that groups like Save our Streets Crown Heights are doing to make streets safer for everyone.

- This relates to the first point, but there are new faces on every block, every day. It goes without saying in NYC that we don't know everyone we meet on the street, but as I've heard several people from all walks of life say, a little "hello" or "good morning" goes a long way. I'm not naive enough to think exchanging pleasantries is going to solve gun violence or prevent displacement, but it's a starting point for building a community that has enough mutual trust and organization to address these issues. So whether or not you're a newbie, get to know your neighbors.

- Finally, thanks to everyone who's read the blog over the last two years, and a particular thanks to those who have offered insights, news, links, and advice in the comment threads. If there's something you want to see on this site, let me know - I don't do advertisements, so the only reason to write a post is because (I hope) someone wants to read it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Round-Up: Links and News

(Just in case you haven't encountered The Astronomical Kid yet, and also because I used to teach after-school at one of the schools in the video and I'm pretty sure some of my former students are featured in it)

Disclaimer: This roundup of links and news has no particular organizing principle, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't click on everything.

- Becku Bratu has a pair of excellent articles posted on The Brooklyn Ink. The first is an insider look at the traditions that surround the Torah in Crown Heights' synagogues, and the second, "Who Was First on Franklin Avenue," is an even-handed look at the ongoing fight over co-naming Franklin Avenue "Panama Walk."

- Heart of Brooklyn's Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program was honored at the White House on Wednesday with a National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award from the First Lady. Well done!

- Seeking ways to address the issues of employment and credit that were raised in the wake of the pawn shop protest (which has been shut down for violations of NYC zoning and construction laws) the Crow Hill Community Association will be hosting special meetings on jobs (November 16, 2010) and affordable credit (January 18, 2010). Representatives from borough and citywide groups working on these issues will be present, and all are encouraged to attend.

- "Wildman" Steve Brill is giving a foraging tour of Prospect Park this Saturday. Forget the Farmer's Market - this is REALLY low-impact food!

- The Crown Heights Writing Workshop is looking for more participants - I was a part of their inaugural workshop this summer found it very enriching. See the blurb below for more info:

Crown Heights Writing Workshop
This free short fiction workshop is open to any interested writer or any level. We will meet weekly at one of the current student's home and critique 2 pieces per session. Each writer will submit 2 stories over thecourse of the workshop. The workshop aims to foster a supportive, constructive environment for writers to receive additional feedback on their work.

Please e-mail Victoria at CrownHeightsWritingWorkshop(at)gmail(dot)com for more information!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Save Our Streets Crown Heights March Tomorrow!

From the hardworking community-minded leaders at Save Our Streets Crown Heights and the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, here's an event that (I hope) everyone in the community can get behind:

In the wake of the rampant violence that has damaged and claimed so many lives in Crown Heights, Save Our Streets (S.O.S.) Crown Heights is organizing a community-wide march to promote a message of peace and demonstrate that we will not tolerate shootings and killings in our neighborhood.

Please join S.O.S., clergy, and residents of Crown Heights, including friends and family of victims, on Wednesday, October 20th at 6:00 PM.

The march will begin at the Northwest corner of Eastern Parkway and Utica Avenue. We will walk West towards Franklin Avenue ending at Franklin and Eastern Parkway. There we will recognize the lives lost and those affected by gun violence in Crown Heights North.

To learn more about S.O.S. call 718-679-9410 or check out our blog at While you're there, click the link to follow us on Facebook!

Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Veggies Vegan Chili

That's right, there's more to Franklin Avenue than a pawn shop controversy. After a chilly day of walking around on Saturday, I stopped in at Veggies because I was cold and and hungry and their chalkboard was advertising "Vegan Chili Jamaican Style." I'm not a vegan or even a vegetarian, but this stuff was fan-damn-tastic. The flavoring was somewhere between traditional chili and Jamaican Jerk (definite hints of sweetness and citrus) with a healthy amount of spicy heat (but that slow, satisfying back heat that creeps up on you and keeps you eating, not the "holy crap this burns my lips" vinegar-y heat you get in cheap chili). It was packed with soy crumble-thingys, red, white, and black beans, potatoes, some carrots and peppers, and a whole lot of delicious. At $5 at pint, it wasn't cheap, but it filled me up and I will most certainly be going back for more.

One quick note on the post and discussion below: The Crow Hill Community Association is meeting tomorrow at 7:30 PM at LaunchPad (721 Franklin), and I urge everyone on all sides of this issue to attend. These are important conversations to have and important issues to work on, and the CHCA provides a space and time for discussion and has the organizational experience and the connections to levers of power (elected officials, city agencies, etc) to make things happen. They aren't the only group in Crown Heights that does this kind of work, but they are a successful community organization, and even if you don't agree with them or like them, you can learn a lot about making change from them.

Finally, please don't use ad hominem attacks or racial slurs in your posts - I don't want this blog to become a forum for defamation or bigotry. Thanks.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pawn Shops, Credit, & Jobs

A sizable and diverse crowd gathered across the street from the newly-opened pawn shop on Franklin Avenue and Park Place to protest the institution, chanting "No Pawn Shop!" and listening to speeches from Crow Hill Community Association leaders and the four elected officials who turned out (pictured speaking above, from top to bottom): Councilwoman Letitia James, State Senator Eric Adams, State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, and State Assemblyman Karim Camara, all of whom stressed the negative impact pawn shops have on communities (increasing property crime and trapping people in downward spirals of debt) and demanded that the Department of Buildings investigate and shut down the pawn shop for violating New York City zoning and permit laws (see the document in the post below for more information). All four of our elected officials stressed the importance of building community, commended the work of the CHCA and other local associations, and urged local residents to continue to organize for safe, stable neighborhoods. Councilwoman James took on the issue of gentrification, saying that many reporters had asked her if the protest reflected neighborhood change. "This is not the beginning," said James, emphasizing that groups like Crow Hill had been at work for decades and that their, and her, goal was to improve the neighborhood for all residents.

Across the street, a small group gathered with the pawn shop owners, and after the speaking program finished, James and several of the organizers crossed the street to talk with them (bottom photo, above). What followed was a fair and frank discussion about the two issues that underlie the pawn shop's presence, namely, the unavailability of jobs and credit for many residents of Crown Heights. One woman pointed out that no bank or credit union would give her a loan and defended the pawn shop as a source of short-term credit, while a man said that he was sick of hearing new business owners say they were hiring "their own people" while lifelong residents were turned down and often forced out of their apartments in buildings undergoing renovations. Another local woman, hired by and working for the pawn shop, echoed his concern, saying that no other business had accepted her application and she was thankful to the pawn shop for offering her employment. All three individuals expressed frustration with the protest, saying that it did nothing to address their concerns or improve their access to jobs and credit, and asked whether the organizers would be willing to stage similar events to support their needs.

These are very, very important questions - pawn shops would not be viable businesses if mainstream lending institutions didn't routinely avoid and ignore lower-income communities, particularly communities of color. Likewise, the people who pawn shops exploit wouldn't have to patronize them if they had better access to employment opportunities, particularly in their neighborhoods - employment provides both income and improved access to credit. These two concerns are connected: many businesses opening on Franklin are the work of entrepreneurs who work borough- and city-wide. Improved credit access would allow would-be local entrepreneurs to compete in this market, and to provide employment at businesses of their own. Any way you slice it, pawn shops are a symptom (a pernicious one that the protesters are right to oppose) of a much larger systemic problem, one that creates markets for predatory lending by denying employment and credit to low-income communities.

Councilwoman James agreed wholeheartedly with the concerns raised, suggesting both improved financial education and a rally to insist that local businesses hire locally. It's up to those of us who were at the pawn shop protest today to work together with the elected officials and business owners to realize these goals - unless the larger issues are addressed, pawn shops will continue to target Crown Heights, even if this one gets shut down (and it seems likely it will). By way of helping out with this process, here's an important link - the Pratt Area Community Council is hosting FREE financial literacy courses just up Franklin Avenue at Lefferts Place this November, and registration is open now. Call 718-783-3549 or email Charrisse Smith at Charrisse_Smith {at} prattarea {dot} org for more information or to register.

One final thought: I'm sure there are dozens if not hundreds of pawn shops are doing business illegally around the five boroughs, and the DOB and NYPD just don't have the time or money to check on every single one. It takes a concerted effort by citizens to draw attention to these (and many other) problems - in a city as large as NYC, things happen when people make them happen, and not until.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pawn Shop Update from Crow Hill

I haven't verified this with any other source, but CHCA released it today in preparation for their pawn shop press rally and protest tomorrow. If what they claim is true, this pawn shop is not opening, at least not anytime soon.

Park Place & Franklin has Residential 6 (R6) designation with a Commercial 1-1 (C1-1) overlay
(see attached documentation from City Planning)


Construction for the pawn shop was done at night and on weekends with no display of a DOB work order.
A call to DOB confirmed that there has been no filing for recent construction.

It is imperative that we join together to protest inappropriate and illegal construction in our community.

Social Media for Kids!

While you're getting your final rounds of voting in for our Crown Heights Do-Gooders, I want to tell you about another group of do-gooders, the trio that's put together Social Media for Kids. You can read all about them in the New York Daily News, so I'll keep this quick: the program, which launched today at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, teaches students about the perils and pitfalls of social media sites and targets hot-topic online issues, including bullying and harassment. They'll also be offering an after-school program right here in the neighborhood at Lily and Fig Cafe this fall.

Founding partners Mike Fink, Casey Miller and Garnett Alcindor (of Collective Concept PR, which helped lead the Franklin Avenue Kids Day) have a great vision, and they're looking for sponsors to help them bring their program to more students in Brooklyn and beyond. If you'd like to get involved call 347.687.SMFK or email smfk10 {at} gmail {dot} com.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CHCA Pawn Shop Protest Saturday

Everything you know is in the flyer (click on it for a larger image), but to reiterate, the Crow Hill Community Association and Council Member Letitia James are hosting a protest and press rally to oppose the proposed pawn shop at Park and Franklin. The event will take place at high noon on Saturday, October 16, and the organizers are asking for community members to come out and show their support. Some relevant information from the press release:

- In August, burglaries on the west side of the precinct (where Crow Hill is located) were up 600%. Thankfully, these numbers dropped substantially in September, but robbery is still a prevalent problem in the community. A pawn shop makes it even easier for a thief to get rid of stolen electronics and gold. We do not want this incentive in Crow HIll where we have been working effectively with the 77th precinct to reduce crime. (editor's note: property crime - which is frequently violent - already hits up-and-coming neighborhoods particularly hard, and the presence of pawn shops correlates very strongly with rising property crime rates in neighborhoods).

- We were on Franklin Ave on Tuesday, putting up posters and we talked with both store owners and residents, not one person thought the pawn shop was good for our community. That's the good news. The bad news is that many people were not aware that there was a pawn shop opening on Park Place and Franklin. (note: I haven't spoken with a single community member in favor of the pawn shop, either, and given the crime and credit risks these institutions bring to neighborhoods, people should know about their presence and their impact)

I'm not going to tell anyone how to think, and I did my best to give the prospective owner a fair shake. That said, nothing I've read or heard has convinced me that pawn shops don't have a massive negative impact on communities.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Reading Series of Biblical Proportions

For all those who missed it, Brooklyn's autumn of weird and wild weather continued last night with a full-blown Old-Testament style hailstorm that left Crown Heights littered with leaves and mothball-sized ice cubes (the lady reports there were still piles on the ground in Prospect Park this morning). ILFA was safely ensconced in the cozy environs of Franklin Park's Big Bar for the reading series, but even glass and steel couldn't keep the hailstones from intruding, which they did by unleashing a machine-gun rattle on the patio furniture and the glass garage door just as poor Alyson Gerber was finishing a reading from her upcoming novel Gracie Garber Loves Goys. To her immense credit, Gerber had the grace and poise to smile through the noise that drowned her out (and the crowds of idiots who took pictures - see above), and then crack wise ("Please don't blame this one on the Jews") and read onward.

All four readers were excellent, as usual, and headliner James Hannaham even read an excerpt from his new book God Says No that included a hailstorm. Organizer Penina Roth outdid herself as usual and offered a welcome editorial at the opening of the event, saying (in reference to the LGBTQ-friendly theme of Hannaham's book) "Well, we've got a synagogue across the street, so consider tonight the answer to Paladino." Zing!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Parade Photos, Reading Series Tonight

The weather couldn't have been better for the Panamanian Day Parade, which was in full drum-and-bugle glory on Franklin Avenue this past Saturday. To the best of my knowledge, it's the only celebration of its kind in the nation.

The weekend also brought a pair of interesting Crown Heights reads to my attention, one much-discussed, one flying under the radar, much like its tragic topic. The former is the NYTimes story on Basil, which follows on the Wall Street Journal's coverage of the kosher pizza joint and wine bar earlier this year (the Brooklynians are unimpressed - they just wanted to know how good the food was). The latter is a heartfelt look at an unsolved Brooklyn shooting death by Becky Bratu on The Brooklyn Ink.

Tonight, get your kicks at the Franklin Park Reading Series, where the theme is "Identity Crises." The event starts at 8pm in the big bar at Franklin Park, with $4 pints for attendees. From salonista Penina Roth, here's the inside take on the featured readers:

This month's characters are experiencing extreme identity crises: a young black Christian struggling with his sexuality; a red-headed, freckle-faced Puerto Rican girl shunned by whites and Latinos; a Jewish teen recasting herself as a WASP princess; and Israelis caught between cultures and continents.

The hero of JAMES HANNAHAM'S debut novel (God Says No) is a gay black Christian torn between his sexuality and prevalent social norms. It's a very timely story, considering recent suicides and this tragic case of homophobia that references the book. Last month's headliner Jennifer Egan called him "A groundbreaking new American voice...topical and ambitious, disturbing and hilarious."
Acclaimed writer and performer MICHELLE CARLO is a true New Yorker and utter original. Here's her book trailer.
SHELLY ORIA (she won the Indian Review Fiction Prize for her story New York 1, Tel Aviv, which is also the title of her upcoming story collection) is a short fiction writer who divides her time between Israel and LA. Her funny, absurd and poignant work focuses on the cross-cultural conflicts of Israelis caught between the American diaspora and their homeland. She also runs the reading series Sweet! Actors Reading Writers (FP alumnus David Goodwillie has been featured there).
ALYSON GERBER has explored WASP envy in essays and a young adult novel, Gracie Garber Loves Goys. Here's a compelling piece she wrote for NY Press.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

MORE Culture in Crown Heights This Weekend

If you're on Franklin, you won't miss it - the Panamanian Day Parade is tomorrow, culminating with a street fair on Lincoln Place. The day should be beautiful, so get out and enjoy it. Also, don't forget the Franklin Park Reading Series on Monday (more info coming soon).

Nostrand Park has a few weekend events up as well, including events from the Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Get Your Culture: Theater and Film This Weekend!

(Godfrey Simmons, Jr. as Becket, photo by Tom Martinez)

You don't have to get on a train to encounter great performances this weekend. The Church of St. Joseph production of T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral is in its final weekend, with performances at 7:30pm Thursday-Saturday and a final show Sunday at 2pm. I reviewed their show a couple of weeks ago, but forget about me, the New York Times loved it! Suffice to say you don't want to miss this unique, site-specific performance (and it only costs $10! $5 if you go in a group of 4 or more!).

Also, the first-ever Crow Hill Film Festival kicks off tonight and runs through Saturday with short films showing up and down Franklin Avenue. The complete schedule is here, and all shows and events are free. Thanks to Five Myles Gallery and Breukelen Coffee House for putting this together.

Vote for Crown Heights!

(photo via

Alright people, it's time to practice for election day and VOTE (if you didn't get enough practice from the last post). Two of the best organizations in Crown Heights, Nostrand Park and LaunchPad, are up for Brooklyn Do Gooder Awards.

You can vote for Laurel Brown of Nostrand Park here: I've said it before, but Nostrand Park is my first source for all things Crown Heights. They're also much more than a blog - sponsored by the Fund for the City of New York, they're a non-profit organization that works to celebrate Crown Heights in myriad ways, and to bring community members together to do so.

Mike Kunitzky and his brainchild, LaunchPad, need no introduction, because everyone in the neighborhood has some reason to go to LaunchPad, whether for CHCA meetings, band rehearsals, writing collectives, yoga classes, art openings, or whatever else they like doing. Since it opened over a year ago, LaunchPad has been a tremendous force for creativity and community on Franklin. Vote for LaunchPad here:

Get your votes out! You can vote 5 times a day through October 15, and if you do, both of these wonderful neighborhood groups will be $5,000 richer, which means Crown Heights will have ten grand of investment in the best of hands. Make haste, voters!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

More Photo Fun - Digital Cameras for Brooklyn's High School Students

A local photographer and educator sent this in - she's trying to win a grant from Pepsi's "Refresh Everything" campaign to teach digital photography to local high school students. Check out her blurb below, and if you like it, vote for her. You can learn more here.

The "Redirecting our Identity" project will benefit students from different Brooklyn neighborhoods. Each student will photograph their lives and communities, while learning basic techniques in photography. The idea is to shoot and swap images by students from different Brooklyn neighborhoods and discuss issues that matter to them. The title of the project "Redirecting our Identity" means to take ownership of the things that matter to us as individual documentary photographers, instead of letting other people tell our stories.

Also, for all you history buffs out there, I just discovered this fantastic blog: Brooklyn in Love and at War.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Photo Fun to Start the Week

I meant to post these last week, but it was a busy week of blogging with the pawn shop saga and I didn't get around to it. At any rate, check out these excellent photos of the Crow Hill Mural going up a few weeks ago from local freelance photographer Alessandro Vecchi.

New Bar From Franklin Park Folks

A tipster reports that the lease has been signed at 724 Franklin Avenue (the first two photos above), making way for a new bar and restaurant from the people who brought you Franklin Park and Dutch Boy Burger. No reports yet on what the name/theme/cuisine at the place will be, but given their proclivity for re-using old signs, maybe it will be called "Grocery" (even if it's not, I vote for keeping the little yellow shingle that reads "Grocery: Cold Beer" above the new place).

Also from the restaurant rumor mill:

- Someone has expressed interest in the long-empty corner storefront at Franklin and Sterling (3rd Picture), apparently with the intention of bringing a wine shop/liquor store to the space.

- The Chavella's folks say their new place (right across the street in the old J&B Deli) is on track for a November opening (though, as the lady put it when they told us that "November?! That probably means March!" I can't tell if it was a good sign that they laughed at this assessment.)

- The revamped Bristen's is open, serving noodles (fried and in soups) and their classic brunch on the weekends. Anyone tried the new fare yet?