Monday, December 30, 2013

The Lady Looks Back

(a common sight at ILFA's house: Nick going on about something or other while the lady takes it easy)

ILFA is about to end (for real this time), and when the final posts go up tomorrow, they'll include several acknowledgments and thank yous. While this blog has been, in some respects, a solo effort, there's no way it would have gone on for this long or garnered as much interest as it did, once upon a time, without the comments, suggestions, ideas, and support of a great many people. Today, however, I'm passing the keyboard to ILFA's number-one supporter, the lady, ILFA's partner in life, love, and (sometimes with a well-deserved eye roll) blogging.

It was the lady who suggested that I start writing ILFA as an outlet for my various ramblings and rants back in 2008, and she's read every post since, offering copy edits, photography tutorials, devil's advocacy, wisdom, and even the occasional comment. She first appeared in the 16th post as "my girlfriend" (she was glad that I didn't bring home the clock table), and became "the lady" by March of 2009, in the blog's first year. Pursuing her career as an artist has kept her busy, but she's still made time for various fun along Franklin, including a participatory installation at the Candy Rush and volunteering at various community events, including the Kids Day, where we both got merrily soaked in 2012. Despite many a late night of typing, she's also stuck with me, and when we got married back in 2011, we did so with wedding favors from Lily & Fig and fresh tattoos from Brooklyn Inkspot. Our lives, as we've lived them, have become hopelessly tangled up with the blog and the neighborhood, and as it winds down, we've both been doing some reflecting (it's that time of year, after all). So, without further ado, here are the lady's favorites from a half-decade of living with ILFA:

While joking about doing my top 5 ILFA posts, I came up with the following:

1. The arrival of Franklin the Cat, ILFA's tormentor/tormentee.

3. Umm.... excuse me? Is my ILFA maybe hitting on a random dancing lady? [Editor's note: ABSOLUTELY NOT.] 

4. Debating ILFA's hair in the comments... or just hitting on him in the comments. I see you!  

5. The greatest comment EVER (FEB 25TH, 2013 1:27am).

Alternatively, I wanted to take this opportunity to call Nick out for hosting a poetry contest that he forced me to enter without telling me that he wasn't going to consider my entry for the prize. [Editor's note: I SWEAR I mentioned that beforehand. As it happens, the winner never claimed the prize.]

But, as ILFA winds up, I also want to acknowledge the thought and consideration that made this blog great, as well as some of my favorite moments on the avenue. So, in no particular order, my Top Five:

1. One of Nick's first long-form posts

I love ILFA most for writing about things that are hard. Nick doesn't hide behind cynicism or indifference. He does not skirt the issue of his role in the changes in the neighborhood.  It is what I am most proud of about Nick and his blog.  This is one of his first long posts dealing with it - the devil vs angel shoulder conversation is who Nick is through and through (though 90% of the time, he chooses to go to the community meeting).

My favorite day of the year on the Avenue!  The work that the merchants, volunteers, and especially Kevin and Garnett put in was always paid off in full, as the money they raised helped to create the most amazing kid fairs I've ever seen. Kids Day was truly unique, as it felt like it was for everyone in Crown Heights.  Everything was free (popcorn, games, face painting) and everyone had an unforgettable time. Kids Day was Franklin Avenue at its best.

My mind was blown...we'd been thinking about moving, but the shift made me think "we've gotta stay here and see what happens." 

I know this just happened and I know you all probably read it already, but whatever, it's honest. 

5. Weird Discoveries

Okay, these are technically two links, but I think they have the same heart so I am counting them as one. ILFA's need to know all the history and weird quirks of our fair borough has led to some amazing finds, my favorite being Softtee gas/soft serve stations. The idea of pumping up with gas and soft serve seems so efficient and so disgusting all at the same time.

ILFA's interest in the Star of David led to countless "I Spy" games on runs.  Now, despite what I tell him, I find myself seeing the stars and attempt to tell my friends the complicated history.  I eventually give up and tell my friend to go read ILFA (gah!) 

This section could actually go on forever, but you get the idea. 

[Editor's note: Thanks love. You're the best. Couldn't have done any of it without you.]

Year in Review: 2013 Along the Avenue

As ILFA winds down for good (only two or three more posts to go), it seems only appropriate to run one final year-in-review post, something I started two years ago (2011) and also did last year (2012). As usual, it's been a busy year.

(photo by Mo Scarpelli via Narratively)

Vinnie Rotondaro and Mo Ewing kicked off 2013 with a long look at Franklin Avenue in flux. Published by Narratively in January, the piece, titled "The Ins and the Outs: A Look Below the Surface at Gentrifying Crown Heights," generated ample conversation around the neighborhood. Gentrification doc "My Brooklyn" also ran for three weeks in DUMBO, offering another opportunity for those of us with time on our hands and keyboards beneath them to argue it out.  

February was a contentious month in Northwest Crown Heights, with debates heating up around the infamous bike corral and charter school co-location plans and MySpaceNYC issuing a cease-and-desist order to the Crown Heights Assembly in response to the Assembly's tenant organizing (MySpace would follow this up with a $31 million suit in early March). On the side of unity, SOS Crown Heights launched their third annual Arts to End Violence festival. 

In March, ILFA had the privilege of joining with neighbors and friends to put together the Crow Hill Community Association's Town Hall Meeting (recap post here). The meeting brought hundreds of local residents together to discuss issues of neighborhood change, and several working groups were developed in the weeks and months that followed to address issues including politics, housing, youth opportunities, and sanitation, among others. The meeting (and the process of organizing and following up on it) encouraged many folks - longtime residents and new arrivals alike - to become active in the community, and also prompted the CHCA to increase outreach and revise its bylaws, a process that will doubtless continue after Board elections in January. I'd love to tell you we solved everything on March 23rd, but organizing is a never-ending process. The Franklin Park Reading Series also celebrated four great years on the Avenue

Zoning was the number one issue along Franklin in April. Undertaken by the Department of City Planning at the request of CB8, the plan (now approved) downzoned and added height limits to the area's picturesque side streets while upzoning a sizable chunk of Franklin (with some incentives, but no requirements, for affordable housing) and reducing the scale of potential commercial development along Nostrand. The CHCA hosted another big meeting to discuss the plan, as well as their own landmarking efforts (still in the planning stages), and the Crown Heights Assembly and their allies rallied to demand better affordable housing

May brought the third big community meeting in as many months, as residents gathered at Congregation Kol Israel to form working groups and further discuss issues raised in March and April. SOS also hosted the second of their ongoing series of community conversations (begun the previous month as well), offering locals another chance to meet neighbors and discuss ways to constructively respond to the myriad challenges facing Crown Heights. 

In June, the opening of Cent'Anni and temporary closing of Kelso Restaurant prompted me to write a post about the accelerating disappearance of the Panamanian and Caribbean community (and the shops and restaurants where people congregated). While Kelso, happily, has returned with the same great menu and a few shiny new touches, the larger trend continues unabated. 

With election season heating up in July, Rosco's Pizza brought a "Hipsters for de Blasio" fundraiser to Franklin (now we can all say we were into de Blasio before he was cool). Meanwhile, I catalogued a nasty, but not particularly unusual, effort to flip a brownstone on my block in two posts. Around the neighborhood, as these sorts of abuses have become more commonplace, folks have organized to respond, and that included the efforts of the Brooklyn Hi-Art Machine in July on Lincoln Place (where residents have taken to posting messages on the shuttle overpass, including "We Are Still Here" and "Hope Less, Do More")

August brought the opening of The Pulp and the Bean II on Franklin between President and Carroll. As rents rise north of the Parkway, business and residents may increasingly look south. Owl & Thistle General Store announced a move to the block across from Pulp and Bean in the fall, and the Fisher family (which owns both Pulp and Bean locations as well as Bob and Betty's on Franklin and Lincoln) plans to open their next new supermarket in 2014. 

September, as always, witnessed the massive, fantastic, incomparable West Indian Day Carnival on Labor Day, as well as some exciting primarily elections in our own 35th Council District (Laurie Cumbo emerged victorious) and the citywide mayoral race. The newly-elected folks take office in a few short days, and will have their work cut out for them as the new year begins. 

In October, a big chunk of the Nassau Brewery complex on Franklin between Bergen and Dean was sold to Terra CRG, who are listing the property at $18 million. Under the new zoning, a building on the site could rise eight stories, and it'll be right down the street from the 1000 Dean development. A pair of condo developments along Bergen are nearing completion, and along Dean (which is, for the present, still zoned M1), many a former auto body shop is now sporting giant glassy windows. It's safe to say that more than a few people (with more than a few dollars to spend) are watching this particular corner of Crown Heights very closely. Also, in October, ILFA announced plans to wrap up the blog by the end of the month (as it turns out, I meant the end of the year). 

I wrote up my final "Roundup" in November, counting 70 new businesses that had opened and 43 that have closed (some of which closed and were replaced by even-newer businesses) since 2008. Among those that we lost in 2013 was TasteBuds, one of many ventures from Kevin Philip along Franklin, where he's been a businessman, landlord, electrician (just did the lights for the new O&T space), and all-around community builder for decades. Kevin - and Garnett, his partner in awesomeness - organized five great Kids Days in a row for the young people along Franklin, and worked tirelessly on everything from merchant association meetings to holiday decorations for the street to the Town Hall Meeting (which Garnett emceed while pregnant with their second child). While I miss the biscuits at Tastebuds (and didn't do a proper sendoff post for them at the time), it's seeing K&G on the Avenue nearly every day that I miss far more. 

December... well, this is only the seventh post I've done in December, but I must say I was glad to see the Built in Brooklyn Craft Fair return to LaunchPad (who'll also be hosting their usual kickass NYE shindig, btw) after a long hiatus. 

It's impossible to wrap up a whole year of events in a paragraph or two, and this year ILFA trailed off considerably after June, leaving so much left unblogged, from citywide election issues to the whole "knockout game" mess (this article got it very close to right, particularly when the author pointed out the troubling comparison to "wilding," a past panic that destroyed the lives of five young men). Suffice to say, however, that 2013 brought a lot of changes and lot of talk about them. Some of this talk lead to action, and some of this action helped bring people together to address challenges great and small. While different groups will cite different victories related to their own particular campaigns, if there's one thing ILFA hopes will continue in 2014, it's these conversations. It's so, so easy to become isolated and individualized in this town, to become numb to violence, to inequality, to misery. Spending time with neighbors - at a CHCA meeting, a CHA rally, an SOS Community Conversation, a local business, on the damn sidewalk - is the best and strongest medicine for this kind of social atrophy, and it's where political and social organizing begins, too. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Last Minute Holiday Shopping: Built in Brooklyn Craft Fair, Calabar Imports, Barbara Campell NYC, Owl &Thistle, Park Deli, & More

If you're anything like ILFA, you leave your holiday shopping until the last minute. Thankfully, there are loads of great places to stop along the Avenue and nearby to find something unique for everyone on your list (and support some great local merchants in the process). In no particular order:

- The Built in Brooklyn Craft Fair returns to LaunchPad from 12-6pm tomorrow. It's always a great time, and there are a wide range of great things to choose from.

- The good people at Calabar Imports have a great range of things, and their owner even said some nice things about ILFA in DNAInfo's profile. The least I can do is return the shoutout, and it's a great place! Swing by.

- There's not too much distance between Owl & Thistle General Store and Stork, and ILFA relies on both for gifts (they're also both right across the street from Built in Brooklyn, and both stock a wide range of locally-produced stuff).  

- Barbara Campell NYC makes a range of lovely handmade jewelry (she also does hair!) right here on Bergen in Crown Heights. The lady met her the other day and was impressed (came straight home and told me to blog it. Yes ma'am.).

- Park Delicatessen has sent along a range of great photos and ideas. Check 'em out here (and over on Classon, too). 

I'm sure there are places I'm missing. If you're partial to a local business for your holiday shopping, post a link here!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

FiveMyles' Space Program Helps Artists Lift Off

Anyone who lives within the confines of the five boroughs knows that space is always in short supply in this town. The fact that space is scarce and expensive (these things mayyy be related) is a particular challenge for the city's creative classes, who are forever in search of places to ply their trades without breaking the bank.

Enter Crown Heights' very own FiveMyles, a non-profit gallery and performance space that's promoted experimental artwork, under-represented artists, and community engagement since 1999. ILFA's spent more than a little bit of time at their space at 558 St. Johns Place (between Franklin and Classon) over the past five years, for a wide range of great events including films, group shows, and community conversations. In addition to curating their own fantastic lineup, FiveMyles also offers their space to emerging artists and curators FREE OF CHARGE (you read that right) as part of their SpaceProgram, which takes place in between their own shows and during the summer months. 

They're currently accepting applications for their 2014 SpaceProgram in the months of May, June, July, and August. Complete info can be found at their website, and is copied below. If you or someone you know needs space this summer, send in an application.



This program offers our venue, free of charge, to emerging, young artists, musicians and performers for unfunded short-term events and exhibitions, in-between our scheduled exhibition programming and during the summer months, when the gallery would otherwise be empty. Events often take place on the wide sidewalk outside FiveMyles.
The on-going demand for the use of the FiveMyles gallery space through this program is indicative of the need young artists have to expose their work to the public, and of the difficulty of attaining it in New York. Making space available helps the arts retain the vitality and energy of a young generation of artists, and to encourage innovation and experimentation.
Proposals are reviewed by our artistic committee. We favor projects that are risk-taking, require minimal setup, and make effort to connect with the audience. 
For a list of past SpaceProgram events, please click here. 


If you are an artist developing a new performance piece and need a space to show a one-time work in progress or to experiment in front of an audience, please write a short proposal to with the following info:
  • description of the piece
  • link to a video or any other work sample
  • preferred date of performance
We are currently accepting applications for May, June, July and August 2014.
Contact us at 718-783-4438, email us, or come by if you have any questions.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Crow Hill Community Association Meeting TONIGHT at 7:30pm

The final CHCA meeting of the year takes place tonight at 7:30pm at the Gospel Tabernacle Church (725 Franklin, between Sterling and Park). Be there!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Little Personal History and an Appeal for Local History

No, that's not Brooklyn; that's the Museum of Our Industrial Heritage in Greenfield, Massachusetts. What's it doing here? Well, as regular readers will know, ILFA's a grad student in history during the day, and my love of all things historical has shaped more than a few posts on this site. I come by this passion honestly, which is to say that more than a passing interest in history runs in the family. I grew up helping out around the edges at academic conferences and institutes for my dad (some folks who see me at these conferences now remember the pudgy eleven year old who handed out programs) and driving around with my mom as she pointed out the landscapes, buildings, and historical sites of Western Massachusetts. 

It's a truism to say that I wouldn't be here without my folks, but it's also true to say that I probably wouldn't be doing what I do now if they hadn't introduced me to the joys of history. So when dear ol' mom finds herself in charge of social media for the Museum of Our Industrial Heritage as part of Valley Gives Day (a big 24-hour giving spree), it seems only fair that her blogger son should make a public pitch. So, if you've got a moment today, PLEASE like the Museum on Facebook, become a "fan" on their Valley Gives page, and, if you've got a few bucks to spare, consider sending a donation their way. THANKS!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Franklin Park Reading Series Year-End Bash TONIGHT

Penina Roth and the Franklin Park Reading Series close out a great year in style tonight! Complete info from their FB page is copied below:

At our final event of 2013, we're closing out the year with a bang! We'll hear from a wide range of authors, including acclaimed Nigerian novelist and essayist OKEY NDIBE (Foreign Gods, Inc.), renowned Alt Lit poet and prose writer HEIKO JULIEN (I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death), and two of our favorite Brooklyn writers, SEAN H. DOYLE (The Day Walt Disney Died), and LAUREN BELSKI (Whatever Used to Grow Around Here).

Plus: Heiko Julien will be giving a special lit & music performance!

December 9, 8-10pm
Franklin Park
618 St. Johns Place, Between Classon and Franklin Avenues
Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Subway: 2/3/4/5 to Franklin Avenue


AWESOME BOOK RAFFLE: Prizes include a Civil Coping Mechanisms pack with titles by Gabriel Blackwell, Joseph Riippi, Gaby Bess, Heiko Julien, and more!

We're grateful to our podcast partner, Late Night Library, for recording our readings. Learn more at,

Our readers:

OKEY NDIBE is the author of the novels Foreign Gods, Inc. and Arrows of Rain. He is co-editor with Chenjerai Hove of Writers, Writing on Conflicts and Wars in Africa. The founding editor of African Commentary, a magazine which was published by novelist Chinua Achebe, he teaches fiction and African literature at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

HEIKO JULIEN is the author of the poetry and prose collection I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death. A poet, short story writer, and musician, he has published work in n+1, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Thought Catalog, Pop Serial, Shabby Doll House, and other places. He lives in Chicago.

SEAN H. DOYLE is the author of the chapbook The Day Walt Disney Died. His work has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, The Fiddleback, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Monkeybicycle, and other places. A Brooklyn resident, he works hard every day to be a better person and is learning how to love himself more.

LAUREN BELSKI is the author of the short story collection Whatever Used to Grow Around Here. She is a graduate of the Brooklyn College MFA program and a recipient of the 2009 Himan Brown award in Fiction. A former New York City Teaching Fellow and AmeriCorps Volunteer, she is now an instructor of English at Brooklyn College. Her work has appeared in Story Quarterly,, Forte: a magazine of sound, Electric Literature’s blog “The Outlet,” The Rio Grande Review, The Trout Family Almanac, and other places. She lives in Brooklyn.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Weekend Odds and Ends: Photos, Music, and Film

ILFA's been away from the blog this week, but I wanted to get a few weekend events posted:

- High school photographer/prodigy Nahshon Outten has his first solo show, featuring "cinematic portraits of daily life for the often overlooked and underestimated youth of Brooklyn" at Nimba Cafe on Saturday from 6-9pm. 

- Project 2x1, a documentary shot in Crown Heights with Google Glass (in part), premieres at Mister Rogers (Rogers and President) on Sunday. Complete info is copied below.

Project 2x1, a Google Glass documentary, is premiering this Sunday, December 8th in Crown Heights. In hopes of bringing the film's mission of cultural appreciation and inter-community dialogue to life, the evening will include a film screening, Q&A with the filmmakers, ethnic cuisine, live music performances from Crown Heights musicians and a cultural celebration of the film’s subjects: The Caribbean and Hasidic communities of Crown Heights. 

Watch the trailer and learn more about the film on our interactive site:

Gallery opens at 7PM and the film premieres promptly at 8PM

Mister Rogers- 231 Rogers Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11225

- Finally, LaunchPad has their usual great slate of weekend events. 

Friday, December 6th @ 8pm
Taino Ti

Art exhibition of works by chief69 and Friends (artwork will be for sale. HIP HOP and TAINOS Lecture presented by Chief69 and a few special guest in the house. expect to see this:

* cool and beautiful art
* dope Lecture with good insight and not boring AT ALL
* light refreshments

please come support the donations are helping with the community work and various Projects of CHIEF69 and his associates.

Chief69 is a Bronx based Bboy/Writer/Emcee and community organizer involved in the NYC scene since 2008 - he and his friends are always doing positive things from murals , to workshops , to parties and more but always with the touch and dab of consciousness AS KNOWLEDGE IS KEY TO ALL.

721 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn
2/3/4/5/C to Franklin Ave
8pm; $5 suggested donation


Saturday, December 7th @ 3pm - 10pm

A pop-up, temporary expo made with women photographers about women symbolism and lyricism.
Artists in the exhibit are from USA, Mexico, Norway, Israel, Spain, Russia, Finland, Italy and Croatia.

721 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn
2/3/4/5/C to Franklin Ave
3pm-10pm; $5 suggested donation


Sunday, December 8th @ 4pm
Building Simple Musical Instruments

Benjamin Miller's Workshop informs students on the basic principal of sound vibration by building a variety of homemade musical instruments. Using books by Bart Hopkins from, he helps attendees understand and build Rubber-band Guitars, Straw Oboes, Bobby Pin Marimbas, PVC flutes, Tin Can Drum Sets, 6-string Wood Planks, various Percussion and Mallets and much more! Time willing, Miller then discusses Composition, Open-ended Improvisation and Intuitive Listening. Attendees, Musicians and non-Musicians of All Ages, have Fun creating new sounds and recording them for posterity. Miller also shares his active and diverse musical background over the past four decades. 

Admission is $20 and includes materials. RSVP required:

721 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn
2/3/4/5/C to Franklin Ave
4pm-6pm; $20


Sunday, December 8th @ 8pm
Quartet Dali Live Film Score

Quartet Dali is a contemporary improvisation group set up specifically for multi disciplinary performances. The focus of this performance is to present an improvised live score to a series of classic silent films. The performance flows seamlessly between musical performance and incidental music that surrounds the projection of a series of short silent films from Chaplin, Dalí, Duchamp, Méliès and others. Leaning towards avant-garde, Quartet Dali wants to blend musical concert performance with incidental film music allowing both the music and the film to be understood in a different way.

721 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn
2/3/4/5/C to Franklin Ave
8pm; $5 suggested donation

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Holidays, Crown Heights!

ILFA's spending Thanksgiving on the Avenue for the first time since 2008, and on the recommendation of Sonja Sharp at DNAInfo, I took a long, pleasant stroll through the neighborhood today on my way to Gombo's Heimishe Bakery on Kingston and President. The walk was beautiful, and the bakery was packed with people picking up donuts for Hanukkah. ILFA picked out a jelly donut and a cup of coffee to warm me on my stroll down the parkway, as well as a trio to box up and bring home. I also stopped along the way for hard dough bread, which, as I learned back in 2008, makes excellent stuffing. Now it's time to get everything ready, but before I go, happy thanksgiving and happy hanukkah to all!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Local Arts: Writing Workshop, Google Glass Documentary, LaunchPad's Holiday Appeal

Some things from the inbox. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

- Local scribe April Hope (who took part in a writing workshop with ILFA way back when) has launched a pair of local writing workshops on Monday afternoons and Wednesday (that's today) evenings. Complete info below.

Home alone struggling with procrastination?  Join us for inspiration!

The Crown Heights Writing Workshop is accepting members now for two FREE 8-week workshops.
The workshop is open to all genres. Each week we will have writing prompts, and feedback will be given for previously written work.
Join us for one, or both!

Every Monday from 1-3pm LAZY IBIS CAFE, 663 Franklin Ave. (at St. Marks) Brooklyn, (Park Place Shuttle)
Every Wednesday from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm. NIMBA CAFE 619 St. Johns Pl. (at Franklin Ave) Brooklyn (2/3/4/5 Train Franklin Ave./Botanic Garden)

* Workshop is free but be sure to purchase delicious beverages and snacks to support these new businesses!
Space is limited, so contact April Hope at to reserve your place.

- The documentary Project 2x1, shot in part with Google Glass, opens next Sunday, December 8, at Mister Rogers on Rogers and President. Complete info from their press release is below:


Project 2x1, a Google Glass documentary, will premiere in Brooklyn on Sunday, December 8 with a film screening, Q&A with the filmmakers, and a cultural celebration of the film’s subjects: The West Indian and Hasidic communities of Crown Heights.

The event brings to life the film’s mission of cultural appreciation and inter-community dialogue through:
  •     Live music performances
  •     Ethnic cuisine
  •     Interactive photo installation

The audience will include film subjects and members from both the Hassidic and West Indian communities. The event is free and open to the public.

The event will be hosted on Sunday, December 8th, by Mister Rogers 
231 Rogers Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Gallery opens at 7PM
Premiere starts promptly at 8PM


Shot in part with Google Glass, Project 2x1 is a short documentary film exploring the distinct cultures of the Hasidic and West Indian communities living side by side in the 2 mile x 1 mile radius of Crown Heights.

Project 2x1 tests the limits of Google Glass to tell a truly collaborative narrative about one of New York's most diverse neighborhoods. By putting the device on as many community members as possible, the filmmakers capture life through the eyes of Crown Heights’ Caribbean and Hasidic neighbors, documenting their rituals and routines,their parallels and unique differences.


Locally, Project 2x1 strives to increase cultural awareness and inspire inter-community dialogue in the Crown Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood. Universally, the project aims to spark a movement to encourage more people to get to know their neighbors and to tell the stories of their unique neighborhoods.

Visit the film’s site here:

- Finally, the folks from LaunchPad have just sent around their holiday appeal. It's copied below for your consideration.

Dear Artists, Curators, Art Lovers, and Community Members,

This has been an amazing year of growth for LaunchPad; we received 501(c)3 status, we've hosted over 300 events, we've recruited an amazing volunteer staff, and we've launched a grant-writing initiative. We want this growth to continue while we transform LaunchPad into a totally sustainable institution that will serve our community for years to come.

And now you can help us achieve this goal by contributing to our first-ever annual fundraising initiative. This year we are aiming to collect donations from 100 individuals - even donating just $5 will count towards our goal. Help us keep growing, and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you are one of the original funders of this important organization. Please use this link to make a donation today: Donate Now. Or you can mail your donation to the address below.

When I was asked to take over the day-to-day operations of LaunchPad on a volunteer basis, it seemed like a daunting task. But, I felt an obligation to the community to keep this space running. As a musician and curator, I know that often the most difficult part of planning any event is finding a venue. LaunchPad eliminates this headache by booking any public event that is feasible, and by providing a beautiful, well-equipped space.  The friendly LaunchPad staff are an added bonus, they're always passionate about helping in any way they can.  By letting the community dictate our programming, LaunchPad is consistently hosting some of the most unique and exciting events in Brooklyn. Every night that I'm at LaunchPad, I can't help but be blown away by the creativity and talent of this community, and it makes me so proud to be part of this organization and to volunteer so much of my time and energy to the greater goal of community arts.

LaunchPad is a unique space that provides an alternative to the bar scene. Almost any night of the week you can come into LaunchPad, pay $5 (or less), experience something creative and exciting, and interact with all sorts of interesting people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. I like to think of it as a clubhouse for our community where everyone can hang out and share what they've been working on without any pretense. If you're like me, there's been at least a couple times when you came home tired from your day job, walked into LaunchPad, and instantly felt rejuvenated by the energy and creativity within this space. And, if you haven't had a chance to visit, I encourage you to come visit and experience this for yourself.

We've grown a lot in the past year, but we still have a lot of growing to do. Please consider making a donation to help us take the next big step in this journey.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Exit Interviews: Brooklynian's whynot_31

(This is the second in a series of Exit Interviews that ILFA is soliciting. The first can be found here.)

Sonja Sharp over at DNAInfo did a very kind piece about ILFA wrapping up on Tuesday (my own "exit interview" of sorts) and it encouraged me to get back on the horse with this whole "wrap-up" thing. One of the great joys of writing ILFA over the past several years has been the conversations that spilt out across the local blogosphere, from this blog to local sites including Nostrand ParkEpichorus, and Brooklyn Born, and from there into the posts and comment threads of bigger sites like BrownstonerCurbedDNAInfo, and Gothamist. I've enjoyed cross-postings, links, and back-and-forth banter with all of these sites (and others), but in terms of consistency, longevity, and similarity of focus on northwestern Crown Heights, I've most frequently found myself in conversation with  the good people of Brooklynian's Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens Forum

Brooklynian's forum is a message board, of course, and thus isn't the product of a single writer or editorial vision. Nonetheless, since March of 2006, whynot_31 has provided an impressive measure of their content. ILFA's proud to average 4 or 5 posts a week, but whynot has posted over 18,000 times. For those scoring at home, that's north of six postings per day, or more than one post every three hours (if they were posted at regular intervals), for the past seven and a half years. Now that, folks, is commitment. Whynot's dog serves as his avatar, but is also an important content generator, as a good portion of whynot's reporting on the neighborhood is researched while they're out for walks.  

ILFA and whynot (who also holds the title of most-frequent-ILFA-commentor as MikeF) have just enough in common - not-so-new-ish arrivals with experience in non-profits and city services and more than a passing interest in the dynamics of neighborhood change - to engage in robust debate on everything from census statistics to documentaries. We certainly don't always agree, and we differ significantly in our general tone and style, but one of the things I enjoy about inhabiting the local blogsophere, as opposed to the giant comment threads full of trolls and ranters, is that these debates are suffused with a measure of mutual (if occasionally grudging, eye-rolling, there-you-go-again) respect. While there are plenty of people who like to shoot it out online (and we certainly do), whynot and ILFA have also conversed and collaborated in the real world, most recently on the CHCA Town Halls last spring. Thus, it was only appropriate, as I wind this thing down, to sit down and chat with whynot about the past, present, and future of Brooklynian and his take on the ongoing reinvention of Franklin Avenue.

Brooklynian started out as a blog, Daily Heights, in 2003. The readership, cultivated by the founder at Soda, Mooney's (now Sharlene's) and other local watering holes, was centered in North Park Slope and Prospect Heights, comprised of folks in their late 20s and early 30s who were, at that time, renting at the edge of gentrifying Brooklyn in the vicinity of Vanderbilt Avenue. Franklin was a similar place when ILFA started up in 2008, and whynot thinks it was comparable to Kingston Avenue today, ten years on and a mile and a half to the east. 

As Daily Heights evolved into the Brooklynian message board, it acquired a loyal following of regulars who plotted frequent happy hours on its pages. The boards also attracted local businesses: by whynot's estimate, close to 1/3 of the business owners along Vanderbilt were regular readers and commentors by 2007. "They were as nervous as we were" he recalls, and wanted to know "did we make a good decision moving here?" 

Whynot_31 wrote the first of his 18,000 postings in March of 2006, after finding $400 down the block from where someone had been shot. He asked if anyone knew what had happened to the victim; if he had died, whynot felt the money should go toward funeral expenses (the victim lived). The replies he received include personal messages from those with a professional stake in the matter. The exchange captures one element of the Brooklynian message boards that's remained constant over the past decade: discussion about crime, often watched rather carefully by law enforcement professionals (some of whom were also regulars). As whynot remembers, the 77th Precinct (which stretched, until recently, from Flatbush to Ralph Avenue) "had more important things to do" further east in Crown Heights, and "we received no police protection." This didn't so much bother the Brooklynians as galvanize them, and some regular posters served as a sort of informal neighborhood watch. As whynot remembers, "we made it easy for the police to do their job." He recounted some of these efforts recently in this thread, as what had once been a deli known for attracting violence and police raids became Gladys, on the corner of Lincoln and Franklin. 

Through the years, Brooklynian's readership has moved east with gentrification, providing both constant novelty (there's always a new bar opening somewhere) and a certain sort of consistency. When I spun one of the questions I often get (what's the role of a blog, anyway?) off to whynot, he noted that first-time readers and posters on Brooklynian are, for the most part, "starving and scared." Insofar as the Brooklynians have a role, they "make the scared feel safe" (sometimes with heavy doses of get-real sarcasm). They also provide something of a sounding board for local businesses: as whynot put it, "we tell people if they suck, but we'll give them a chance to improve" Unlike Yelpers, whynot and company often pair their online reviews with in-person chats, in an effort to express a measure of sincerity about their comments, and their willingness to come back to a place if it does, indeed, improve.

Whynot will admit that regular Brooklynians have "a bit of an edge" that puts some folks off and has led to plenty of accusations of hard-heartedness and schadenfreude, particularly when neighborhood changes have upset people. The moderators (unlike ILFA, Brooklynian moderates comments) don't tolerate too much racism or nastiness, but if the site's regulars have an angle, it's a pro-change one, for the most part. While they're not surprised that this offends some people, and while they certainly welcome posts from people with rival opinions, they're aggressive in their defense of their right to exercise their preferences as they see fit.

In terms of readership, whynot reports that Brooklynian peaked during 2007 and 2008, amassing around 500 unique visits a day and as many as 50 people actively on the boards at any one time. Today, those numbers have dropped to closer to 150 unique visits with 4 or 5 folks patrolling the comment threads. Some of this can be attributed to longtime, frequent posters moving away or otherwise disengaging, and some to the glut of new coverage of Crown Heights, which has, at this point, been thoroughly discovered by the major blogs and news outlets. It's also part of a generational shift away from the independent world of internet message boards and toward discussions on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While Brooklynian has no plans to shut down, and whynot has no plans to stop posting, the decline prompted me to ask for a pre-emptive postmortem of sorts. What, if anything, could be learned from 18,000+ posts on Brooklynian, about the message board and about the neighborhood?

While whynot is firmly in the camp that changes in Crown Heights are not particularly special or unique (any more so than the gentrification of the Lower East Side or Williamsburg were and are) he did note that Brooklynian had been a regular reminder of the value of "interpersonal capital." The boards have attracted lots of people with particular expertise - lawyers (ADAs and public defenders alike), cops, building inspectors, council members' staff, and others - and the forum has provided an opportunity to share that knowledge and, in certain cases, to make use of it in specific ways. With respect to gentrification at large, whynot note that it's not just the individual class position of the newly-arrived that drives change, but their ability to act collectively, whether to acquire property, demand an impact zone, or support a local business. While he'd agree that some changes are a product of the relative wealth of newcomers and the choices they make as individuals, their access to education (and similar socializing experiences) confers the ability to navigate and negotiate everything from jointly-held leases to the mazes that are municipal agencies. This kind of middle-class collective action affects not just local businesses, but also city policies and service delivery.

This, incidentally, is a point that ILFA and whynot agree on: newcomers often wield great power, not just in the way they move through gentrifying spaces but on account of their ability to leverage education and expertise collectively. Where we differ, as I noted above, has been on the question of style. Both in his local work and his writing, whynot eschews moral questions beyond what is and isn't legal. He'll happily offer guides to paths he knows, and he'll direct people to those who have similar expertise, but what people do with that, or with their own knowledge, is entirely up to them. As any ILFA reader knows, I'm much more the bully-pulpit type; I've got an idea of justice that's, in a way, all my own (though I could go on about where I'm getting it from), and I've used this blog to articulate it and push for it. 

Despite these differences (or perhaps because of them), whynot and ILFA have always had plenty to talk about. One place we'll be doing some of that talking is at the 9th Annual Brooklynian Festivus gathering, which takes place on December 15th. If you'd like to meet some of the characters that haunt your browsers in the flesh, it's as good a place as any.