Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Franklin Avenue: The Year in Review

It's the lazy week between Christmas and New Year's when, despite our best efforts, very little work actually gets done, unless you count plotting New Year's festivities (on the Avenue, Franklin Park and Barboncino will both be hosting revelers, and Grand Army Plaza will blast Brooklyn with fireworks nearby). In lieu of sleuthing up any new stories, ILFA looks back at the twelve months of 2011, which has been, in retrospect, a very interesting year in Crown Heights (though it'd be fair to ask if there's any other kind).

January opened with the Avenue still covered in snow from the massive blizzard (one year ago today) that put ILFA's block on the cover of the New York Times (above) and shut down the city in the last days of 2010. Nostrand Park started a year-long conversation about development in "Four Corners," the liminal zone at the junction of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill, and a story I ran about MLK and libraries (told every year on MLK Day by my dad) became one of ILFA's most-read posts of the year. 

In February, the Brooklyn Historical Society unveiled a restored copy of Bernard Ratzer's 1770 Plan of the City of New York, giving us a look at Crown Heights 241 years ago, while a local Wall Street Journal reporter's look at the neighborhood today introduced us all to "ProCro", six letters that nearly exploded the blogosphere, pushed Crown Heights into regional and national debates about gentrification, and even produced a bill in the New York state assembly (more on that to come). On Franklin, Posh Nails BK opened their doors.

March was a busy month on the Avenue. Local architect Manuel Avila Ochoa launched his award-winning project, Participatory Urbanism Crown Heights, while Sweet Basil and Island Thyme (the final iteration of Bristen's, which was hailed as the first of Franklin's "new" restaurants back in 2008) opened up and the Franklin Park Reading Series celebrated its second birthday with a star-studded lineup.

April was a month for politicians in Crown Heights: Mayor Mike came to Franklin for a cup of coffee with local legend Tony Fisher (who had just opened Bob & Betty's) at The Pulp and the Bean, while our State Assemblyman, Hakeem Jeffries, responded to all the talk of ProCro with a proposed ban on real-estate-agent-driven neighborhood name changes that poured gasoline on the gentrification debate and kicked off another round of message-board mayhem (while the bill is nowhere near becoming a law, it did purportedly scare Corcoran into re-defining Prospect Heights' eastern border from Bedford to Washington in its materials). The short-lived Franklin Roadhouse also opened its doors, a friendly spot that never quite found its identity on an increasingly crowded and competitive Avenue. 

In May, a massive police raid on Franklin incensed many local residents and brought officers from the Impact Zone and the 77th Precinct to that month's Crow Hill Community Association meeting for a contentious exchange that included a threat from one officer to "land a helicopter in the middle of Franklin Avenue." Conversations about policing on Franklin (and beyond) continue - locally-written blog Epichorus has some of the best and most thoughtful coverage on the topic. In local political news, Assemblyman Jeffries put himself on the radar as a challenger to incumbent US Congressman Ed Towns next year. The excellent Built in Brooklyn Craft Fair also hosted its first event at LaunchPad.

Problematic policing continued in June, with a hasty, unwarranted, and unnecessarily violent arrest by overeager Impact Zone officers, but it was also a great start to a booming summer, heralded by the opening of The Candy Rush (Rosebud Vintage also opened across the street around the same time, though it might have been in July). Brooklyn's own Howard Adamsky took ILFA on a walk through the Franklin Avenue of his 1950s childhood, and Nostrand Park launched Destination Nostrand to celebrate today's Crown Heights just a few blocks away.

July brought 100-degree heat and the fourth annual Franklin Avenue Kids' Day, an event which gets bigger and better every year (look for appeals and opportunities to get involved early in 2012, as they'll be recruiting right away). The Crow Hill Community Garden bloomed big, the CHCA started a push for the continuation of the Franklin Avenue bike lane, and Owl and Thistle General Store opened up. Last but not least, ILFA got married.

August marked twenty years since the Crown Heights Riots, which generated a plethora of conversations and events that discussed the legacy of the clashes and the state of the neighborhood today (including the exhibit Crown Heights Gold). The long-anticipated Chavela's finally opened at Sterling and Franklin (and has been packed ever since), and at the end of the month, Hurricane Irene rolled into town

The annual West Indian Day Parade brought hundreds of thousands of revelers to Crown Heights in September over Labor Day Weekend, but a rash of shootings across the city (including two incidents at the parade) marred the holiday, as did the NYPD's ridiculous arrest of Councilman Jumaane Williams. In the saddest of Franklin Avenue news, Park Place stalwart Denise Gay was struck and killed later that evening by one of 73 police bullets fired during a shootout started by a local man who walked out of his house and shot another man to death before turning his gun on the officers. While it feels trite to follow this tragedy with anything, a few other September notes: ILFA received a trio of complaints about unwarranted rooftop searches, the CHCA marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with its annual daffodil plantings, and Gueros Tacos opened. 

In October, SOS Crown Heights hosted their second-annual Week of Peace, raising awareness about gun violence in Crown Heights and celebrating their successful reduction of violent crime in their catchment area by nearly 60% over the past year. The Panama Day Parade once again wound its way up Franklin, Occupy Brooklyn hosted a General Assembly in a Panamanian storefront church on the Avenue, Barboncino opened, and a freak snowstorm postponed the CHCA's annual Halloween parade. On the last day of the month, ILFA ran our annual neighborhood-change rundown. At last count (updated as of today), there were 37 new businesses, 5 coming soon, 21 renovations completed or underway, and 20 closures since ILFA started blogging.

November began with the news that the giant hole at Eastern Parkway and Franklin Avenue is on the market and may finally be something other than a giant hole in the foreseeable future (for those who've seen the photo in Pulp and Bean and assume that it's just always been a hole, there really was a building there at one point, and there may be one again soon). On the hottest block on the Avenue (between Sterling and Park), The Crown Inn opened its doors to an eager crowd and has been going strong since. 

Finally, December witnessed the first-ever (to our knowledge) holiday lighting of Franklin Avenue - with solar-powered lights, no less - courtesy of the Franklin Avenue MerchantsSeeds in the Middle closed out a great year of service to Crown Heights kids with Soccer for Harmony, Eve and Mike's Pharmacy opened, and Safe in this Place held their first event. 

Quite a year it was, and the one to come will undoubtedly be as action-packed as 2011 was. For all those who shared in the joys and sorrows of Crown Heights over the past year, may 2012 bring you health, wealth, and happiness. An extra-special thanks to all the readers who have shared their stories and thoughts with ILFA over the past year - whether you're a one-time email tipster or a message-board master like MikeF, this blog wouldn't be worth keeping without you.

Happy New Year!


  1. YAY! I love my neighborhood! Well wishes to all and may we continue to grow together not only in the new but in the future years to come.

  2. In addition to Franklin, I'll be watching Washington Ave this year.

    I predict more businesses will discover that its rents are cheaper than those of Franklin Ave, and we will get some more new successes (like Colala, Bar Corvo, Washington Commons, etc.) to build on the area's established long term businesses.

    Meanwhile, I hope Janelle's and Skazzy quickly find their stride, because they don't seem to have yet attracted a loyal customer base.

    Needless to say, I also hope the PH/CH neighborhood is less violent in 2012.

  3. Fantastic! I'll be sharing this post with friends and family who wonder where it is exactly that I live.

  4. Awesome post! FYI Rosebud Vintage opened June 8, 2011.