(the Art Not Arrests installation at the Crow Hill Community Garden, on the move, and in its new home at the Walt L. Shamel - Dean North Community Garden on Dean between Franklin and Bedford)
ILFA just had a blog post published for HuffPo's New York page, which features opinion and analysis from local journalists, bloggers, activists, and the like. It's a fairly straightforward, if typically long-winded, look at some recent changes in the area, using the abrupt end of the Crow Hill Community Garden as a jumping-off point to think about where neighborhood change goes from here. I confess there's nothing too original about it - DNAInfo's Sonja Sharp posed similar questions far more succinctly in two pieces last week (here and here) - but after recent conversations with friends and neighbors, these questions were on my mind.
So what are the questions? The usual ones, of course: How have local residents organized to direct the pace and direction of neighborhood changes, to what degree have these efforts made an impact on the community, and will such efforts continue (and continue to be effective) in the future? Some variation of these queries were on the minds of a lot of people up and down Franklin over the past week or so. Maybe it's just summer and people are feeling chatty. Maybe it's the five big projects coming down the pipe (the Brownstoner-Goldman Sachs one on Dean Street, the hole at Eastern and Franklin, the one across from the hospital, the Nassau Brewery, and the one on Bedford and St. Johns) and concerns about what the imperatives of big capital mean for little neighborhoods. Maybe it was something about the garden being replaced by condos, in particular - so visible and sudden a manifestation of the ways that best-laid plans can sow the seeds of their own destruction - that seemed to bring these out.
So what were people saying? They were ambivalent (I keep coming back to this word in the HuffPo piece, which is an admittedly terrible position to take in an opinion piece, but that's the vibe lately). One the one hand, it's not hard to point to all sorts of ways in which local residents, newly-arrived and forty-year-veterans, are working together now more than ever. Art Not Arrests. SOS Crown Heights & the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center (and the internship program that the Brooklynians are working very hard to promote). Seeds in the Middle. The CHCA. The Franklin Avenue Merchants and their truly spectacular Kids Day (now in its 5th year). Tish James (a rare politician with wide appeal who doesn't skimp on knowing her district inside and out). The Seen from this angle, there's an ever-growing group of people and organizations who are committed to making change work for the largest possible group of residents in Crown Heights. These folks sit on Community Board 8, go to 77th Precinct Council Meetings, and work closely with some local politicians, making every effort to implement this vision. It's not perfect, of course, but it's worth acknowledging, and it's something to build on.
What's the other hand? All sorts of things (maybe the "hands" phrasing isn't a good one). It's tweeting a post about a new upscale restaurant coming to Crown Heights, and tweeting about a shooting response from SOS Crown Heights a few hours later. It's reports from the Daily News about how Northern Crown Heights lost 10,000 black residents in the most recent census, coupled with an OWS-led protest outside of a local real estate office after accusations that said local realtor has been pounding on doors at midnight in an effort to displace low-income tenants. It's seeing others nod grimly at such reports, and yet hearing them express deep misgivings about the motives and potential of the Occupiers who showed up to make a scene about it, primarily because they, too, feel like alien invaders. It's stop-and-frisk. It's murmurs that new residents don't patronize local establishments if they don't see someone who looks like them behind the counter. It's facing draconian budget cuts that will hit the neediest communities the hardest. It's the creeping concern that the best efforts of local folks to improve a neighborhood have a way of displacing people, sometimes those very same people.
None of this is meant as an indictment, nor an exercise in finger-pointing, nor even as fatalism. It's primarily an attempt to provoke conversation, because to me, and to a lot of others I've been talking with, "change" (gentrification/revitalization/whateveryouwanttocallit) seems to be changing, or shifting gears, or turning a corner (pick your metaphor). With apologies to the late William F. Buckley, Jr., we can't stand athwart history yelling "stop," but we can think critically and creatively about how these new changes might affect the community and what avenues are available to impact them.