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.


  1. Should be spelled " It's " not " Its ", fix it and I'll buy one.

  2. This is one of my favorite posts. Everyone looks so proud in their t-shirts!!

  3. Solvers of intractable problems? No.

    1. Solvers of tractable problems? With more regularity than they often get credit for. No one's saying that a t-shirt campaign is the perfect and ultimate solution to all the challenges Crown Heights faces (that would be ridiculous). I am saying that the folks pictured above have worked very hard to build local institutions that enhance the quality of life for a diverse and changing population, and I think it's cool that they've decided to celebrate those efforts.

  4. Actually, my post was not directed at those pictured, or those involved in constructive efforts.

    It was instead directed at the posters and random mtg attendees who somehow believe that only their cause, and their solution is the only one.

    With help, complex tractable problems can (and are) regularly solved. With enough work and luck, we might even make a contribution to solving the intractable ones.

    After all, most problems were considered intractable at one point....

    Wouldn't it be nice if more people could assume malice isn't present?

  5. P.S. Yes, we get more done than most people realize...