Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Week's Worth of Links: CHCA Meeting Roundup, Safe in this Place, Bike Parking Survey, & More


(From the Manhattan-bound platform at the Franklin Avenue IND Station. Some folks still do things the old-fashioned way, but for the rest of us, there's the web, and its glorious progeny, links)

Last week's Crow Hill Community Association meeting include several announcements about upcoming events on the Avenue. Three major ones are cited below - let me know if I've missed any.

- Efforts to improve bike parking in Crown Heights are continuing with a community survey of the area to determine where bike racks are most needed this Saturday, March 3, from 2-5pm. Surveying will include taking measurements and speaking with local businesses about supporting bike parking in front of their shops. If you'd like to take part, email organizers Judy or Chris with your availability - even half an hour helps! Also, for those who are tethered to their keyboards, you can sign the online petition in support of more bike parking for the area. We just got a series of the new racks on Dean Street, and they look quite handsome, if I do say so myself. 


- Safe in this Place, the community-based theater and dialogue project that has been meeting regularly with the CHCA's support, will host a public dialogue and performance next Thursday, March 8, from 7:30-9:30pm at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church on Sterling and Classon. 

- Ground Up Designers unveiled the website for Art Not Arrests earlier this week, and at the meeting, they showed off some actual latticework made from the colorful cuffs. Thanks are due to all who helped fund this great project on Kickstarter.

In addition to the CHCA story, a whole bunch of interesting links came across my radar at the end of the week. In no particular order:

- For those involved, or interested in getting involved, in local commerce, the Pratt Area Community Council (just north of us in Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy) is offering a Small Business Workshop this Wednesday from 6-8pm. 

- HuffPo ran an interesting article about the advocacy work of Crown Heights native Chaim Levin to combat homophobia in Orthodox communities, while Capital New York had a long and fascinating interview with a survivor of a shooting over Labor Day last fall. 

Prospect Heights Patch reported that Classon Avenue will soon be a one-lane thoroughfare, as part of a city effort to curb accidents. As anyone who's biked or driven on Classon knows, it's only a two-lane road if you're willing to drive like a maniac and risk taking mirrors off parked cars, so the change is a welcome improvement. Let's hope similar measures (and a bike lane) are in store for almost-as-narrow Franklin.

- Finally, last week was a good one for the food-service community in Crown Heights. The Voice's Robert Sietsima gave Barboncino a rave review (and also praised Fatima, which he reviewed in 2004, and which is, unbeknownst to far too many Crown Heightsers, one of the tastiest West African places in the city), while two locals took home the top two spots in the city's regional barista competition

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Participatory Installation at the Candy Rush

If you're out on Franklin, you'll probably notice a what looks like a sail catching the (considerable) wind outside the Candy Rush. It's an installation by ILFA's "lady," one that's changing every time the wind blows or someone walks on it. Come check it out! Hopefully there'll be some more of these down the line, with a little more notice, too. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Mack, Claudine, and Cleopatra Jones at LaunchPad Tonight From 6pm On

Cleopatra Jones (Theatrical Trailer)

Great to see so many folks out at the CHCA meeting last night, and sorry not to post the Secondary Sound Jam Night at Breukelen Coffee House (thankfully, there'll be more). If you're in need of something free and fun to do tonight, head over to LaunchPad, where the Kings County Cinema Society is screening a triple bill.  As always, it's BYOB with popcorn provided. More info below: 

Join KCCS this Thursday the 23rd at LaunchPad as Joanna White-Oldham of 
The Center for Active Learning presents a tripleheader of classic - and disastrously underrated - blaxploitation dramas. Come out for one or waste your night with us and stick around for the full slate of features! Free and free popcorn and BYOB, as per usual with LaunchPad.

6:00pm - THE MACK (dir. Michael Campus, 1973, 110min). Goldie (Max Julien) comes home from prison and takes over the pimp game in the Bay Area. Also stars Richard Pryor.

8:00pm - CLAUDINE (dir. John Berry, 1974, 92min). Dir. John Berry. Oscar-nominated lovely romantic comedy-drama starring Diahann Carroll as Claudine, a single mother raising six children in Harlem. Claudine’s love interest, Roop (James Earl Jones, in one of the hands-down best roles of his career) struggles with managing his feelings for her, her children and his personal obligations. “Rich, poor, black, white or green... you’ll dig Claudine” classic trailer here

10:00pm - CLEOPATRA JONES (dir. Jack Starett, 1973, 89min). Tamara Dobson is Cleopatra Jones, a US Special Agent sent to take out “Mommy," a notorious drug trafficker of the seedy LA underworld. "A 6-foot-2-inch C.I.A. narcotics agent, Cleopatra is out to get the dope dealers who are preying on blacks; the leader of the international dope ring, which operates out of Los Angeles, is "Mommy" (Shelley Winters, in blazing wigs). The movie is brightly colored and energetic, and there's a comic strip grossness (yet good-naturedness) about the continuous mayhem. The whole thing suggests a Pop art racial and sexual spoof-Mommy's chief aide, the black "Doodlebug" (Antonio Fargas), has an English chauffeur, and at the climax, two black brothers named Melvin and Matthew use kung fu to destroy Mommy and her gang." - Pauline Kael

Original theatrical trailers up at our site.

Thursday February 23 / 6:00pm / at LaunchPad, 721 Franklin Ave btw/ Park and Sterling. 2/3/4/5 to Franklin Ave.
FREE / BYOB / popcorn provided.
view the event on facebook

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Crow Hill Community Association Meeting Tonight

CHCA logo

Late notice on this one, but if you're on the Avenue tonight, make sure to stop by the CHCA meeting at the Gospel Tabernacle Church (725 Franklin, between Park and Sterling) from 7:30-8:30pm. For those new to the neighborhood, these meetings are a great way to meet your neighbors and get a sense of the rich history and current trajectory of the community. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two Impact Zone Officers Act Like Meatheads on Franklin

(two officers - not the two mentioned in the following story - patrol Franklin Avenue as part of Operation Impact)

Last week, I found myself walking about 10 feet behind two young police officers as I made my way home down Franklin. The pair, presumably part of the NYPD's Impact Zone, were joking and laughing, when one asked the other (raising his voice enough for me to hear), "Hey, is that the guy you thought was drinking earlier?" as he gestured at an elderly man heading into the BNI Laundromat. The second officer answered "yeah," and the first replied excitedly, "Let's fuck with him! Let's fuck with him!" Officer number two agreed. "Yeah, let's fuck with him," he said, as the two picked up their pace and ducked into the laundromat. As I watched from outside, they confronted the man, who looked frazzled and frustrated, and who clearly wasn't drinking anything at that particular moment. Still, the officers ushered him out of the laundromat as he shouted "I wasn't drinking anything!" Once outside, they laughed and told him to get lost, and he stormed past me muttering angrily about cops always harassing him. The two officers turned and headed back up the hill toward Eastern Parkway, and I stood wondering whether it was worth telling the officers that I didn't think it was their job to "fuck with" people. Since I've got a bit of a public platform here, I can say it now: Impact Zone officers absolutely should not gleefully "fuck with" anyone. If the man in question was drinking earlier, issue him a citation for an open container at that moment and be done with it. Acting like a couple of high school bullies might provide an ego boost for young officers who are none too fond of walking Impact beats, but it doesn't make anyone safer, it's completely unprofessional, a complete waste of our tax dollars, and in the context of the particular incident I witnessed, it confirms the critique that zero tolerance policing amounts to institutionalized racially-based harassment (particularly in changing neighborhoods). 

I can't argue that this incident was representative of our particular Impact Zone, and I can absolutely say that I've seen several officers from both the Impact Zone and the 77th Precinct serving professionally up and down Franklin, particularly since the CHCA made an effort to encourage them to work on their community interactions back in May. However, I think it's important to highlight incidents like these, because one ugly interaction can overshadow months of good work, and because this kind of police behavior can needlessly escalate routine interactions. In the context of years of damning reports about the quality of NYPD training and quota-driven policing, including the Voice's devastating "NYPD tapes" reporting (which brought forth similar reports from other precincts) and, more recently, the hateful "Third Jihad" video (a story that was also originally broken by the Voice, which has done heroic work on police abuses in the last few years), it's hard not to see this kind of behavior as indicative of the poor instruction officers receive before they enter "Impact Zones." I'm unclear on exactly how officers are prepared (one would think such preparation would include encouragement not to "fuck with" people), but the very language used to describe these areas ("high risk," etc) encourages police (and media) to see them as war zones, ones where police are empowered, if not required, to bring an extra dose of aggression to the job. Such aggression doesn't just lead to meatheaded behavior - it can have deadly and tragic consequences for New Yorkers. 

Local community groups and politicians tend to support Impact Zones, and the NYPD routinely crows about their effectiveness. Insisting that officers be trained to see locals not as threats or targets for intimation but as community members who desire safe streets as much as they do (and the vast majority of residents, even in the most "dangerous" neighborhoods, want exactly this) can only improve their effectiveness, the quality of life for residents, and the safety of officers. It's not too much to demand that police perform their duties professionally, and behave not as the occupying army of a billionaire, but as public servants.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Weekend Links - Oprah in Crown Heights, Churches in Schools, Stork Opening Soon

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.

After fraying wires in the backyard knocked our internet out for three days, ILFA is back with some weekend links. First off, however, I must pay homage to the Verizon employee who saved the day this morning: not only did he show up early (usually the 8am-8pm window means a visit around 4 or 5pm), but he ran up and down our stairs ten times at breakneck speed, completely rewired our connection, fixed another faulty connection while doing our job, and reported a bungled attempt at a burglary to the super of the building next door. Not bad for a Saturday before noon.

- This story is a week old, and many readers have probably seen it elsewhere, but Oprah Winfrey made her way out from Chicago to Crown Heights last fall to film a two-part series with two Chabad/Hasidic Jewish families right here in Crown Heights. The first of these episodes aired a week ago, prompting generally favorable reviews from the Chabad community and the general public (Rachel Shukert, who's appeared at the Franklin Park Reading Series, wrote a thoughtful review for Tablet). While Shukert notes that the families Oprah encounters are remarkably camera-ready and gloss over some of the more uncommon or even controversial elements of their lifestyle, she suggests that there's much to be gained from watching, and after a clip or two, I'm inclined to agree. Tensions between longtime Jewish residents and newcomers made news a couple of weeks back, and while Oprah can't solve everything, having a sense of who our neighbors are can never hurt.

- Councilwoman Letitia James came across my Google Alert for Crown Heights yesterday as the focus of a piece in Gay City News with an eye-popping headline. James is leading the charge in the City Council for the opening of schools to churches when school is not in session, which would require a new law allowing worship services in schools (such services are currently banned by New York State). The law in question has interesting implications. On the one hand, I can completely understand the desire to get more community groups, including churches, invested in local schools by turning them into resources for local groups. Churches, including many in James's district, are often repositories of motivated, experienced community leaders, and giving these people a vested interest in public schools could be a route to improvement (courting local investment in schools is something we discussed on this blog a few weeks ago). On the other hand, as the article cited above notes, allowing groups that sometimes openly discriminate against people of different creeds, genders, and sexualities to use public facilities to ply their trade (and to mark schools as "their territory" in some fashion) strikes many observers as extremely problematic. James counters with the point that churches are already tax-exempt and thus state-subsidized - readers, your thoughts?

- Stork got a nice write-up from Prospect Heights Patch earlier this week. They're slated to open on March 3rd. 

- Finally, the Bedford-Union Armory Project linked some truly fantastic photos of the space from Levine Roberts. Use them to fuel your imagination, and then email your ideas for repurposing this massive space to bkarmoryproject@gmail.com, where the Armory Project is compiling them for a spring report. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pulp & Bean (& Beer) to Join Bob and Betty's Across the Parkway

The Fisher brothers are always working. After opening the Pulp & Bean in 2009 and Bob & Betty's in 2011 in their building on Franklin and Lincoln, they've turned their attention to the Avenue south of Eastern Parkway. Construction is already underway on their Pioneer Supermarket at the corner of Franklin and Union, which will open as a Bob and Betty's this summer. Now (as of Monday), they've announced that this market, too, will be flanked by a Pulp & Bean, which will occupy the current Interlink space. In addition to serving coffee, bagels, and everything else the current location offers, this edition will also offer draft beer, available in growlers to take home and pints to stay. They'll also beer garden out back, and their goal, they say, is to open by May of this year, in time for plenty of outdoor summer drinking.

It's a common observation that Franklin south of Eastern hasn't experience the same type of retail boom as the stretch between Eastern and Atlantic, despite its equal proximity to the parkway, Park, and subway. That's not to say there haven't been some new openings (Metro PCS, Fever Grass, Three Brothers Hardware, the now-defunct Roti 'N Dumplings) and renovations (the Associated looking all glassy and such), but one wonders whether the Fishers' efforts will be a tipping point for the commercial corridor from Eastern down to Crown. Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Get Down with Secondary Sound at Breukelen Coffee House Tonight

Secondary Sound Presents: Valentimes Soul Dance Party

Yeah, yeah, Valentine's Day falls on a school night this year (the worst one, in fact - tepid, tiresome Tuesday), so you and that special someone were just gonna have a quiet night in over some leftovers and save the fireworks for another, more convenient night. Heck, you can even use your non-observance of the world's most notorious "Hallmark Holiday" to bolster your anti-corporate credentials (much harder since swinging by Zuccotti just ain't what it used to be). If you're already aching for that laid-back night in the romantic glow of Hulu, don't let ILFA stop you. But if you're really just waiting for something to drag you away from the couch, then look no further than Secondary Sound's Valentimes Soul Dance Party at the Breukelen Coffee House from 8pm - midnight. DJs will be spinning golden soul and R&B all night, and the cover is only $2 if you're dressed for the occasion (check out their FB page for more info). 

Also, if you're doing some last-minute V-Day shopping, Crown Heights has got you covered. Get your above-average flowers from Park Delicatessen over on Classon, and then swing over to Franklin for goodies from The Candy Rush, desserts from Lily & Fig, high-quality chocolate from Bob & Betty's and Pine Tree, and gifts from Owl & Thistle, among others. Quick reader poll: if you're going out locally for V-Day, what's your ideal date look like?

Finally, congrats are in order for Peet Zaaz, which is on the short list for Time Out New York's Best New Pizza Award, and the Franklin Park Reading Series, which packed the house yet again tonight with another five-star reading. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Franklin Park Reading Series: Get Your "Unconventional Love" Tonight at 8pm

The Franklin Park Reading Series returns tonight, with organizer extraordinaire Penina Roth promising "dark tales of tortured love" as a "subversive response to the oversentimalized and commodified love holiday." And did we mention that all drafts are $4? Complete info below, copied from their FB page:

We're marking Valentine's Day with tales of “Unconventional Love” from BEN MARCUS, MARTHA SOUTHGATE, KATE ZAMBRENO, CHIARA BARZINI & WILL SNIDER. Nothing sappy or sentimental here, just the stuff of great fiction: romantic obsession, toxic families, war zone flings, and twisted fantasies.


SUBWAY: 2/3/4/5 to Franklin Avenue



BEN MARCUS (The Flame Alphabet)
MARTHA SOUTHGATE (The Taste of Salt)
CHIARA BARZINI (Sister Stop Breathing)
WILL SNIDER (The Halloween Plays)

BEN MARCUS is the author, most recently, of the novel The Flame Alphabet, as well as three other works of fiction: Notable American Women, The Father Costume, and The Age of Wire and String, and he is the editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. His stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Believer, The New York Times, McSweeney's, Tin House, Conjunctions, and other publications.. Amongst other awards, he is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, and three Pushcart Prizes. He lives in New York City and Maine.

MARTHA SOUTHGATE is the author, most recently, of The Taste of Salt, as well as three acclaimed earlier novels, including The Fall of Rome and Third Girl from the Left. Her work has been widely anthologized, and she has written for Essence, Premiere, the New York Daily News, and The New York Times. A graduate of Smith College, she has an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and has taught at Brooklyn College and The New School. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

KATE ZAMBRENO is the author of two novels, O Fallen Angel and Green Girl. Heroines, a critical memoir centering around her obsession with the wives and myths of modernism, will be published by Semiotext(e) in September 2012.

CHIARA BARZINI is a fiction writer and screenwriter, whose films have been shown in Italy, Spain, Japan, and Latin America. “Into Paradiso,” her most recent film, premiered at the 67th edition of the Venice Film Festival. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Noon, Bomb Magazine, Sleepingfish, The New York Tyrant, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone Italy, Italian Vanity Fair, and other places.

WILL SNIDER is a Brooklyn-based fiction writer and playwright. His plays have appeared in the New York International Fringe Festival, The Shortened Attention Span Festival at The Player’s Loft, and on stage at The Red Room and Columbia University. He is the recipient of the 2008 Best Undergraduate Play Award from Columbia University’s School of the Arts and is the co-founder of The Old Grand Theater Company. Currently, he is working on his first collection of short stories and lives in Crown Heights.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Saturday: Pop-Up Gift Store at Juice Hugger, Big Big City at LaunchPad, and More

Always lots to do in the neighborhood on Valentine's Day (weekend). Tomorrow, check out Brooklyn Skillshare's Big Big City, an art market featuring workshops on everything from bookmaking to Japanese tea ceremonies, at LaunchPad. The fun starts with confetti-egg-making at 11am. A little later in the day, head over to Juice Hugger on Rogers for a Valentine's Day Pop-Up Gift Store with free juice and snacks from 1-6pm (click on the flyers above for more info). 

Also, congratulations to Ground Up Designers, who reached their goal of raising $4,500 on Kickstarter for Art Not Arrests, their community-oriented architecture installation for the Crow Hill Community Garden. Their strong finish (nearly half of the money was raised over the last few days) was made possible by the generous support of several local businesses and organizations, listed below. Thanks to all of them for helping to fund this fantastic project.

CHCA - Crow Hill Community Association
HAD Associates, Accounting - located on Franklin Ave (btwn Park & Sterling)
Franklin Park/Dutchboy Burger - located on Franklin Ave (btwn St.Johns & Lincoln)
The Crown Inn - located on Franklin (btwn Park & Sterling)
Compare Foods - located on St.Marks Ave. (btwn Classon & Franklin)
Neptune Diner II - located on the corner of Classon & St.Marks Ave.
Wino(t) - located on Franklin Ave (btwn Lincoln Pl & Eastern Pkwy)
The Winey Neighbor - located on Washington Ave. (btwn Prospect & St.Marks)
Mayday Hardware - located on Washington Ave (btwn Sterling & St.Johns)
Taqueria Des Los Muertos - located on Washington Ave (btwn St.Marks & Prospect)
Owl & Thistle - located on Franklin Ave (btwn Park & Sterling)
Pine Tree - located on Franklin Ave (btwn Sterling & St.Johns)
It's A Lifestyle LLC - Online: Healthy Paleo Desserts!
WODstack - Online: CrossFit WOD tracking & sharing
Biltboard - Online: Track collaborate & share creative projects online. Coming Soon!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Renegade Readings Tonight, Art Not Arrests Fundraising Closes Tomorrow, & Lots More

The Renegade Reading Series

- The latest installment of the Renegade Reading Series is tonight at LaunchPad from 8pm - 11pm. From their FB event page

Hi Renegades! Can you believe it's already February? I can't. 2012 is flying by. But that means it's time for another Renegade Reading Series! The deets are as usual: the event will take place at LaunchPad on Thursday, January 9th from 8pm to 11pm. Readings start at 9:00pm. The first and last hour will consist of wine drinking, cupcake eating (for I will finally get back to baking cupcakes this month!), chatting, flirting, and general shenanigans.

At 9:00 we will all take our seats and listen, as one captive collective, to our talented group of readers as they share their best stuff. Each reader gets about five minutes to wow the audience with fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. If you would like to read for this or an upcoming event, please email renegadereading@gmail.com with your genre, a writing sample, and a short bio.

Your February list of readers is:
Rich Moy
Hubert Vigilla
Krystal Languell
Gustavo Pace
Josephine Ciliento
Molly Gillin

Bring friends, dates, strangers, dudes off the street, bosses, mommies, and roommates. We will have cupcakes for all of them. If you don't like Trader Joe's wine, you are more than welcome to BYOB. Even if you hate stories and fun, you will probably like the tiny scented candles scattered about the room and also the back garden. And if you hate stories and fun, you have my sympathy. Hopefully The Renegade will change your mind.

- After some big donations from local businesses, including Neptune Diner (which is great because the first thing that put Ground Up Designers on the map for me was the plan for Tiny Urban Park, which was displaced by the construction of the Neptune Diner) and some good press in the Huffington Post and the L Magazine, "Art Not Arrests" from Ground Up Designers is closing fast on their goal of $4,500. With 36 hours to go, every little bit helps, so get your donations in and tell your friends!

- Lots of fun events coming up this weekend, including Big Big City at LaunchPad from Brooklyn Skillshare, Juice Hugger's Valentine's Pop-Up Store, Servus Cookies at Owl and Thistle, and a Panamanian Fusion Cuisine tasting with live music from Afrazz Trio tomorrow night at Kelso

- If you need some flowers for Valentine's Day that are a cut above, check out Park Delicatessen's great arrangements (they're not all this expensive - these are just the most spectacular, and thus the best photos to post): 

The 533 Arrangement
Our mid size arrangement, 18" tall in 4X8" glass cylinder
Filled with Roses, Hydrangea, Ginestra, Tulips, Greens, Astrainia, and lots more

The Classon Arrangement
When you want to make a statement, send a Classon. 
The Largest in our collection over 22" tall in 5"X11" glass Celebrity vase
Kale, Double Hydrangea, Roses, Tulips, Lisianthus, and much much more.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

"Brew Like the Pros" Comes to Franklin Park

Who doesn't like free beer? At Franklin Park last night, the purchase of a pint of Smuttynose IPA earned the lucky buyer a free glass of a "clone," brewed right down the street as part of Bitter and Esther's monthly "Brew Like the Pros" home brewing series. The brainchild of Tim Stendahl, a local beer aficionado, homebrewer, and rep for Brooklyn's Union Beer Distributors, Brew Like the Pros offers local amateur brewers a chance to try to replicate one of their favorite microbrews with Stendahl, using recipes and, on occasion, ingredients from the original brewery. After the requisite waiting period, Stendahl then takes the brew on the road to a local bar, most often Washington Commons (though he promises ILFA he'll be frequenting Franklin Park and perhaps the Crown Inn more often), where participants (and lucky patrons and bloggers) get to compare their effort to the real deal. As Stendahl put it, everyone wins - Bitter and Esther's sells home brewing supplies, local home brewers take home knowledge, the brewery and the bar draw attention to their wares and sell beer. The point, as he puts it, is to emphasize that brewing a great beer isn't all that hard - it's brewing that beer consistently that's the challenge. 

If brewing is your thing, "Brew Like the Pros" brews every second Saturday of the Month. This coming Saturday, they'll be replicating Dale's Pale Ale, a canned staple at many a Brooklyn bar, and next month, they'll be trying their hands at a Norwegian porter. If, like ILFA, you're more of a drinker than a brewer, keep an eye on the Bitter and Esther's site for the next comparative tasting. As for the beer itself, the clone was slightly less carbonated and slightly cloudier than the Smuttynose, but the taste was remarkably similar, which is to say, delicious. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Monday Links: Love for The Band Called FUSE, The Renegade Reading Series, and More

- I've seen Brooklyn's own The Band Called FUSE a few times now, and they've always brought the house down, whether as a headliner or an opening act (the lady got me their new album for Xmas, and it rocks, too). Now, they're trying to spread Brooklyn love to the rest of the country by heading out to Austin's South by Southwest in March, with stops in DC and New Orleans along the way. Gas isn't cheap, so they've put together a Kickstarter page to help them make this tour happen. If you've already encountered their fabulous soul-rock-hip-hop sound (or their hardworking MC, Silent Knight), you probably don't need any convincing, but if this is the first you've heard of The Band Called FUSE, check out the video above and, if you like it, make a donation.

- There are a lot of great writers rattling keyboards in Crown Heights, so it's no surprise that another local reading series has been quietly building a presence in the neighborhood for several months now. Started this past summer, the Renegade Reading Series meets every second Thursday of the month from 8-11pm at LaunchPad. The actual readings run for an hour in short, five-minute segments between 9 and 10, with the first and last hour of the events reserved for wine, cupcakes, and socializing (all of which are gloriously free of charge). For more information about the series, or to read some of your own work, give them a shout at  renegadereading@gmail.com. Their next reading is this Thursday, February 9.

- More great photos, and images of the second generation of t-shirts (now with the punctuation fixed for all you grammar sticklers out there), are up on Brooklynian, courtesy of MikeF.

- Nearly a third of the students at PS 161 stayed home today in a boycott to protest the planned phasing-out of the school. Councilwoman James supported the protest. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem has proposed legislation in response to school closings that would end mayoral control of NYC schools. In the article linked above, our assemblyman, Hakeem Jeffries, who has expressed outrage over closings in the past, says he isn't pleased about the current spate of closings, but he isn't ready to give up on mayoral control just yet, not with a mayoral election coming in under two years. 

- Looking ahead to the weekend, the fine folks at Juice Hugger over on Rodgers are planning a Valentine's Day event with some free snacks and a pop-up gift store this Saturday, February 11. Brooklyn Skillshare is hosting an art market and workshops at LaunchPad on Saturday, too. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

It's not what happened here. It's more what's happening here.

As you might have heard, the New York Times ran a story about our corner of Crown Heights on Wednesday. Titled "Unease Lingers Amid a Rebirth in Crown Heights," the article used the 1991 riots as a lens for current changes in the neighborhood, with a bit of help from some poorly-labelled photos of new businesses on Franklin in 2012 juxtaposed with police in riot gear on Utica Avenue from 1991 (the Wall Street Journal used this same photo-comparison strategy back in September). While asking the question "How did a neighborhood famous for its riot become a hotbed of change?" makes editorial sense if you're trying to pique the interest of readers who know nothing else about Crown Heights, the article left many locals feeling "uneasy" about the way it portrayed the community today, and particularly how it gave short shrift to the efforts of local community organizations, businesses, and committed individuals to make a difference in the life of Crown Heights in the here and now. 

Some of us sat down and banged out 1,000-word blog posts, chatted with our neighbors, or got to chattering on Brooklynian's Crown Heights forum. Kevin Phillip, however, wanted to do something more.  The Crown Heights native / local business owner / landlord / electrician / children's advocate / designer / candy impresario / all-around community champion had been interviewed for the piece, and he had the best quote in the article, one that stuck out from the Times' overall narrative of  "unease." Thinking things over on Wednesday as everyone was talking about it, he decided to get in the lab and do what he does best: create something. The result was a t-shirt celebrating Crown Heights and Franklin Avenue, and featuring Kevin's quote: "It's not what happened here. It's more what's happening here." 

Kevin (pictured above wearing one of the new shirts) didn't print these up just to sell some t-shirts, or to crow about being quoted in the Times. With the help of some of the Avenue's most delightful characters, including unofficial Town Crier Mike F, he got these shirts on local merchants, community leaders, and everyday folks up and down Franklin, took their photos, and put them up on Brooklynian. The result is a fabulous photo collage of the faces of our corner of Crown Heights today, one that celebrates the diverse folks who are all contributing, in one way or another, to the effort to make Crown Heights a vibrant, exciting place to live now - a place that has much more to offer than memories of a riot. As a response to the limited narratives imposed on Crown Heights from the outside, I can think of nothing better. If you live along Franklin, pick up a shirt at The Candy Rush or About Time Boutique, or order one online. Then take a photo, post it, and join the effort to push a positive, cooperative image of Crown Heights into the public discussion.

I've reproduced most of the photos from the Brooklynian thread below (I somehow jumbled/deleted some of them when I first tried to post them, so apologies to anyone who got left out)! You'll recognize many faces from Franklin, including yours truly.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Weekend Links: Art Not Arrests, First Saturdays, & More

The first weekend of February is upon us! Updates and links, in no particular order:

- Art Not Arrests from Ground Up Designers has entered its final week of fundraising on Kickstarter, and they still need lots of donations to launch this fantastic community art project. Consider these five great reasons to give, and then ask a friend to help, too!

  • If launched, this project will collect the interests and donations of over a thousand people looking for a better way to tackle the gun violence issues that plague our streets, neighborhoods, neighbors, friends, and families, every day.
  • If launched, this project will build a creative environment within the Crow Hill Community Garden for conversations to grow and children to learn.
  • If launched, this project will host FREE art classes all summer long for local kids and teens. 
  • If launched, this project will help other community organizations working toward safer neighborhoods with the funding they need to launch their youth oriented initiatives.
  • If launched, this project will raise awareness on the many ways to fight gun violence within your community. 

  • - Target First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum returns tomorrow night to kick off Black History Month with a celebration of "Black Males Defying Stereotypes." Head up the parkway for art, presentations, music, and dancing.

    - Parents, with support from Councilwoman Tish James, will boycott PS 161 on Monday in an effort to make the city rethink its plan to remove the school's middle grades.  

    Wednesday, February 01, 2012

    The Times Returns: Franklin Back in the News

    (a study in contrasts: the photos that accompanied pieces about Crown Heights from the NYT's Sunday Real Estate Section, above, and today's Metro Section). 

    Until Sunday, the New York Times hadn't been out to Franklin Avenue since 2009, when they sent a reporter to cover (and help manufacture) the "Franklin Avenue Coffee Wars." As of this week, however, Crown Heights is officially on the Grey Lady's radar. On Sunday, we landed on the front page of the Real Estate section, paired with Carroll Gardens and praised for "a trove of brownstones and row houses" in an article aimed at prospective homeowners entitled "So You're Priced Out. Now What?" Today, we're in the Metro Section, where Liz Robbins paints a more complicated and thorough portrait of the neighborhood in article titled "Unease Lingers Amid a Rebirth in Crown Heights," which comes complete with its own Franklin Avenue slideshow. Robbins's reporting does a nice job of capturing the voices of different residents and business owners (love the quotes and images from the Franklin Avenue Merchants) and gets at many of the challenges and contradictions Crown Heights faces. That won't keep ILFA from nitpicking (Times articles are blogging gold, after all), but I do so in the spirit of furthering an interesting conversation, not tearing the article down.

    The Crown Heights Riots loom large in this piece, which is no surprise - most New Yorkers still free-associate "Crown Heights" with "riot," and we just observed their 20th anniversary this summer. That said, I wonder a bit about Robbins's contention that gentrification on Franklin Avenue is "set on scarred earth" on account of the riots, or that "an undercurrent of unease, suspicion, and resentment from some longtime residents, a legacy of the riots." The photos in the slideshow make this claim as well, but somewhat misleadingly: the 8 photos of Crown Heights today are on Franklin, while the photo from the riots looks to me like Utica Ave, over two  miles east. 

    From what I understand (and to be fair, I wasn't here when they happened), the epicenter of the riots was considerably east of Franklin Avenue. That doesn't mean they weren't a watershed event for residents of Franklin at the time, or that people weren't affected by them. But having spent four years writing about Crown Heights and having watched how the riots were commemorated this summer, outsiders are much more likely than locals to use the "riot" as an explanation or frame for all things Crown Heights, both past sufferings and current changes. 

    Franklin was indeed "scarred earth" in the 1980s and early 1990s, but that wasn't really a result of the riots (things were bad well before rioting began in August of 1991). Rather, the riots, like the drug dealing Robbins mentions, were symptoms of massive, systematic metropolitan disinvestment in neighborhoods like Crown Heights. For decades, Central Brooklyn experienced real-estate and banking redlining, urban deindustrialization, massive unemployment, the reduction of much-needed city services after the collapse of the urban welfare state amid the fiscal crises of the 1970s, and the resulting rising crime, decreasing in educational and economic opportunity, and declining living conditions. Locals fought hard against this onslaught, creating major institutions like the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and Medgar Evers College and working through much smaller community organizations and block clubs like the Crow Hill Community Association to improve streets, schools, and safety. As Robbins notes, they redoubled their efforts after the riots, and their efforts are major reason why Crown Heights is changing today. Insofar as there is "unease, suspicion, and resentment" (and Robbins is absolutely right that these feelings exist, and she does a great job of finding these voices), it's not, in my experience, so much a legacy of the riots as a feeling that after years of fighting without the city's support to improve their neighborhood, longtime residents are now being priced out on account of these improvements (and, in some cases, the sense the city is using services selectively - impact zones, charter schools - to serve new arrivals at the expense of longtime locals). As Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries puts it while discussing his opposition to the re-branding of Crown Heights at the end of Robbins' article: “The collective efforts of the black and Jewish neighbors are what made Crown Heights the destination and the attractive neighborhood it is today.” Attempts to whitewash or ignore these efforts, or the displacement of these people who worked so hard for so long, seem to be very real and very fair sources of resentment.

    One other thing I absolutely must point out, because it's a common mistake that can be completely misleading and drives me up the wall: the white population around Franklin Avenue has absolutely NOT "increased 15% in the past ten years, according to the 2010 census." A 15% increase is a relatively mild thing - adding three people to a group of 20 is a fifteen percent increase. In the four census tracts that border Franklin Avenue between Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue, the percentage of the population that was white in 2010 was between 16-28%, which must be what the article is trying to say. However, as there were very few white residents in these census tracts in 2000, the increase in the white population in these four tracts from 2000 to 2010 was between 350-1,198% (you can see this plain as day on the New York Times census map). Another way to say this would be to say that the white population has quadrupled (in the tract bordered by Franklin, Classon, Park, and Eastern) or has increased twelve-fold (in the next tract over, between Franklin, Rogers, Park, and Eastern). The black population, during the same period, has experienced a nearly-uniform 30% decline, which means that almost a third of the black residents who lived in these four tracts in 2000 don't live here anymore (at least - it could be more than that due to internal turnover within the Black population over the decade, of course). 

    Stats mistakes aside, an interesting article. Thoughts?