Saturday, February 19, 2011

Our Nabe in the News

My Google Alert for Crown Heights was blowing up this week on account of Thursday's Wall Street Journal article entitled "Prospect Heights edges into Crown Heights." The article makes a number of interesting claims about Northwest Crown Heights, including this gem:

"Now, the attack of the fish-tank condos is pushing the boundary of Prospect Heights eastward into Crown Heights, an in-between neighborhood that realtors and developers have dubbed ProCro. The result is a mingling of million-dollar condos and sleek wine bars with creaky, rent-controlled buildings and graffiti-pocked bodegas."

My reaction to the initial article was "Eh, is this really news?" The "ProCro" thing struck me as a local messing with a journalist (and sounds like some crypto-fascist conservative website), as I've never heard that term before, but maybe I'm just out of the loop (at last summer's screening of "Gentrifying Brooklyn," one landlord said there was a move to dub the same area "Museum Heights"). This was, apparently, not the correct blogger response, as the online commentariat was awash in assessments of the article and the situation it describes. A smattering of the replies:

- The Journal followed their article up with a blog post suggesting that the "Past in Crown Heights is Baltimore's Present".

- Curbed jumped on the "border war" at work in the article's definition of the area.

- Gothamist fired off their standard-issue gentrification news re-post.

- Prospect Heights Patch claimed the entire area west of Bedford for Prospect Heights.

- The Brooklynians and Brownstoners weighed in.

I'm not feeling up to a sensible reflection on any of this on account of information overload, but there is a tone that runs through much of this discussion that doesn't sit terribly well with me (Nostrand Park, who led off the discussion on Brooklynian, took issue with the article's characterization of CH, and I agree with them). Whether it's the initial article passing off the West Indian Day parade (one of the largest street festivals and celebrations of Caribbean culture in the world) as a post-riot "Caribbean festival" that makes the neighborhood more desirable for condo-building or the language of colonization/invasion deployed in so much of this discourse, I feel like a) I'm not learning a lot from it and b) it's not offering a very accurate or nuanced portrayal of what's actually happening in the neighborhood. Even the snarky mockery that lots of blogs/comments employ strikes me as unproductive - it's easy to poke fun at the gentrifyers, but that seems to be a project for justifying one's own authenticity/self-awareness in the context of neighborhood change (and to raise a question that was raised of this blog in comments in the post below, I wonder how many of the people commenting on this WSJ article are CH residents, and what demographic they're in).

Also, this "condo boom" hasn't been seamless at all, and the story doesn't reflect that - there's still a huge hole at Franklin and Eastern, where one of these glassy condos was supposed to go, there are more holes or half-built hulks rotting over on St. Marks and Bergen just east of Grand, many of these buildings took far longer to complete than they were supposed to, and despite the official sales stats, I'm not convinced anyone actually lives in some of them (like Ishi). The condo boom might be peripherally indicative of neighborhood change, but it's definitely not at the heart of the story.

This post is rapidly losing coherence - meanwhile, the 77th Precinct is under the gun for manipulating crime statistics, and their beat saw a significant bump in several crime categories last year (this, I think, is news). Readers, your thoughts?


  1. First Nick I want to point out that the stats issue with the 77th is city wide and is not a symptom of gentrification, but a symptom response policing and justifying tax dollars. A great blog if you're interested in learning more is

    Anyway, God this stuff (the half assed "news" aticles and yellow journalism) ticks me off. It is information overload and the context of these articles tend to shift dialogue to white vs black, or hipster vs local, well as an unassuming white boy I'll tell you what the real conversation needs to be:

    Snooty rich people vs everyone else. It's not the young white kids in college sipping coffee from the locally owned coffee shop. It's not the early 30's couple with their first 'real' jobs who just moved into the Hospital, and it's not lower income or middle income black families in the stabilized apartments. It's landlords, lazy journalism, and insecure, upper class (yes predominantly white), non-contributing consumers who have no neighborhood pride what so ever.

  2. Good point about the 77th - I just slotted that in because I wanted to mention it. This whole post was sort of a shambles, and could use some editing. Maybe later in the week . . .

  3. I'm an oil derivatives trader (NOT a banker, I don't work for a bank, huge difference) who saved until he was 27 and bought an apartment in a nice, newly renovated accordian style rowhouse on Park Place. I shop locally, am a member of the BBG and the Brooklyn Museum, I drop in at the launchpad and help out how I can, and am glad I can afford to own in a cool, young, diverse neighborhood. I too worry about the consistent building of non-family friendly apartments and wish there were rules like in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

    Am I a yuppie scumbag? I don't feel like one but there's certainly an element in this neighborhood that likes to cast dispersions on "new arrivals" (I've been here three years) with a little money.

  4. I think there are people in this neighborhood who like to "cast dispersions [sic]" on douchebags who who protest the difference between oil derivatives traders and bankers and who refer to people as "elements" while waving a flag of "I shop local" and "I've been here a whole three years". Let's be honest, how long until you sell your "accordian [sic] style rowhouse" for a big profit and move uptown? Three years? Four?

    Fucking bankers.

  5. ProCo? HAHAHAHAH. I don't think so.

    I think publications are always looking for the next "hot new thing" so they report on anything, hoping to get in first. I've read similar things about nearly all parts of Brooklyn, but that doesn't mean it's real.

    I do think Prospect Heights/Crown Heights is changing, even since I first got here in 2007. However, to me it feels very home grown. The changes are happening from people who live here, not just investors coming in from the outside trying to make a quick buck.

    We have such a strong community association in CHCA, we also have FAM, LaunchPad, and the new community garden. These are things to be proud of! Let's continue to work to make the neighborhood a better and safer place for the people who live here and care about the community. That's who I want moving in, regardless of race, religion or income. People with neighborhood pride (as Eric put it) who are here for the long run, not just a real estate investment opportunity or some kind of status symbol (the chance to live a shiny condo, cheaply constructed).

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  7. I think that is a problem in every bigger town. That's why I like smaller towns and even villages, you cannot expect to come even close to the atmosphere and environment these villages have.

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