Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Old News But Good News: SOS Crown Heights Proving Effective at Preventing Gun Violence

This should have gone up last week, but ILFA's day job kicked into gear (apologies as well to Secondary Sound, whose Jam Night at the Breukelen Coffee House screened live for the first time tonight). Nonetheless, it's something to celebrate - the folks over at SOS Crown Heights just got a review back from their parent organization (the Center for Court Innovation) that suggests that rates of gun violence are 20% lower in their catchment area than in comparable areas of Brooklyn (most areas saw a 20% increase over the past 29 months, while SOS's zone did not). While CCI obviously wants to see their programs succeed, the review appears to have been conducted with rigor and substance, so congrats are in order for SOS. 

Save Our Streets Crown Heights is delighted to share with you an evaluation of S.O.S. that reports that shooting rates have decreased as a result of our efforts. 

The report, "Testing a Public Health Approach to Gun Violence," conducted by the Center for Court Innovation, took place over 29 months and shows that comparison neighborhoods had 20% higher rates of gun violence than our neighborhood did.  

To learn more about S.O.S., check out the "About Us" or "Videos" tab above. If you want to get involved, check out the "How You Can Help" tab.

To download the study, click here.
To read the press release, click here.
To listen to a podcast interview with the authors, click here.
To read a Q&A with the authors, click here.
To read a recent New York Times article profiling one of the Violence Interrupters, click here
To listen to a recent CNN radio piece on the S.O.S. team, click here.

One thing to add - SOS is based on the Cure Violence model (also known as CEASEfire) developed in Chicago and profiled (remarkably and hauntingly) in "The Interrupters." For an in-depth look at how this model works, watch it here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Help the CHCA Host a Town Hall Meeting

From the Crow Hill Community Association (CHCA):

CHCA is excited to be planning a community-wide Town Hall meeting in March. We see this as a visioning opportunity for the future of our community and we want everyone’s voice to be heard.

We are looking for people who can give 5-20 hours over the next 7 weeks. We will be putting together mailings, distributing fliers, and placing posters to get the word out.

In addition we will need help with the event itself. This will include preparing materials to present and distribute, serving food, and providing daycare.

We need many hands to pull this off.

Please email us at chca@crowhillcommunity.org if you are able to give some time to make this important and exciting project a success. Let us know if you have any special skills: power point, design, writing, child care, etc.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Zombi" on Franklin - Haiti Cultural Exchange Showing "Les Amours D'un Zombie" at Five Myles on Saturday

The Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX) will be screening the award-winning Haitian satirical film "Les Amours D'un Zombi" at Five Myles this Saturday from 3-5pm. The film, in which a zombie (in the Haitian sense) emerges into modern-day Haiti to declare his love for a woman, only to discover that the absurdity of the story makes him so popular a group of cynical politicians decide to run him for president, will be screened for free, with donations accepted for HCX's upcoming Film Festival. Popcorn will be provided. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Transportation Meeting Tonight at CNR on Classon (Updated - Reporting Back)

Meant to get the word out on this earlier but forgot - for those who've been following the bike corral controversy, the Community Board 8 Transportation Committee meets tonight at 7pm at the CNR Light Healthcare Center (727 Classon Ave). The corral is on the agenda.

Updated: ILFA tagged along, and will post some thoughts soon. Prospect Heights Patch has an accurate blow-by-blow of the meeting posted here. The board voted unanimously to approve their previous decision to recommend the placement of the bike corral, with three additional stipulations for the Department of Transportation: they asked them to consider turning the now-defunct meters along Franklin between St. Johns and Eastern Parkway into bike racks, to install metered parking north of St. Johns so as to free up parking for those with cars visiting local merchants and churches, and to report back on the usage and progress of the bike corral in the spring, either at their May or June meeting. While this last point was somewhat lost in the shuffle, one can't help but wonder whether such a "let's give it a shot and see if it works" formulation, more fully communicated and discussed, might have averted much of the polarization around this issue. 

The full Community Board will hear comment and vote on the transit committee's recommendation at their February meeting, which takes place on Thursday, February 14th at the Calvary Community Church on St. John's and Buffalo (it's worth noting that these votes are purely advisory - the DOT makes the final decision regarding their streets). In addition the Crow Hill Community Association will devote a portion of their February meeting (Thursday, February 19, at 7:30pm at 725 Franklin Avenue) to discussion of this issue, in the interest of giving the diversity of opinions about this issue another local hearing (after the fact, but not for nothing, either). 

Tuesday Morning Maps

More maps! Property Shark posted a "Brooklyn Gentrification Map" that charts changes in prices per square foot in Brooklyn neighborhoods from 2004 - 2012. While it's not an exact match, it's very interesting to compare this map with the NYTimes Census Maps, which chart population growth and decline, racial and ethnic changes, and patterns of housing development. ILFA made some noise about census data in the area when the Times got it wrong last year, so I'll refrain from additional analysis at the moment. Readers, thoughts?

In other news, word on the street is that the Breukelen Coffee House's beer and wine license was approved. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Monday Morning - Day of Service on Franklin (Updated - Thanks!)

It's become something of an informal tradition to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by taking a "day on" (as opposed to a day off) and spending the holiday in service to a cause or community. If you don't have plans tomorrow, come out and help clean up Franklin Avenue with the Crow Hill Community Association. Meet at 10am at 737 Franklin.

UPDATE: A big thanks to everyone who came out for this. Dozens of bags of trash were collected, and the Avenue looks great. Thanks as well to the Crow Hill Community Association for organizing,  Had Associates for sending volunteers off with trash bags and plastic gloves, and to Pulp & Bean and MySpace for providing coffee. 

One final thought: we definitely need more (and bigger) trash cans on Franklin. It was particularly apparent because today's holiday made for a long weekend without pickup, but increased foot traffic makes for a lot of overflow, particularly on the corners with only one can (St. John's and Franklin). 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Around the Avenue: Weekend Happenings

There are some interesting goings-on around Crown Heights this weekend, but first, a little local history:

One of my favorite things about being on the Brooklyn Historical Society's mailing list is their map of the month (complete archive here). Old maps are catnip for urban historians - a professional-association mailing list ILFA's on routinely sees emails asking for historical maps - and this month's map, a plan of Prospect Park's Parade Ground was particularly fun for me, because if you look at the road that runs between the park and the Parade Ground, you'll see that it's called "Franklin Avenue."

Wait, what? Franklin Avenue? Was there another Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn? Was our Franklin Avenue called something else in 1860? A look at the 1859 Dripps Map of the New York Area (pictured below, click the link to zoom) shows that this wasn't the case, and also reveals that Prospect Park, of course, had not yet been built, and existed only on maps like the one above. Brooklyn's Franklin Avenue still ran its present course through Crown Heights, but the area south of the present-day park was part of the Town of Flatbush in 1860, and the road that today is Parkside Avenue was then called Franklin (you can see it, unnamed, following roughly its present route on the map below). 

And now, on to some weekend happenings:

- Local singer-songwriter Tea Leigh performs tonight at Little Zelda at 8pm. The pint-sized cafe is also rolling out a new wine, beer, cheese, and charcuterie menu, and will now be open until 1am on weekends. 

- Across the street at LaunchPad, you can check out a performance of "Synthesizers and Bullsh*t," also at 8pm (gotta love the self-aware description of an experimental electronic musician). 

- On Saturday, "Sign of the Tides" opens at Five Myles from 6-8pm. From their site:


Helmut Dick, Karni Dorell,
Jennifer Protas, Roel van Timmeren
Organized by Jennifer Protas
The second of two exhibitions at FiveMyles on the notion of Landscape shows the work of four artists who collaborated on presenting their interpretation of the urban landscape in a global world. The artists have taken their inspiration from John Brinckerhoff Jackson and Zygmunt Baumann's theory that we have moved from a solid to a fluid phase of modernity in which nothing keeps its shape and nothing is secured.

- On Saturday morning, TasteBuds rolls out their new jalapeño biscuits. ILFA plans to try them with some eggs and cheddar. Mmm. 

- Finally, don't forget the MLK Day of Service on Franklin, hosted by the CHCA, on Monday at 10am. 

Park Place Coffee Opens

Park Place Coffee, the latest addition to Franklin's burgeoning coffee scene (remember when having two coffee shops in the area was such a big deal that the New York Times ran a story about it?) opened yesterday. Located in the former Muslim Bookstore space on Park Place just west of Franklin (and across from the entrance to the Park Place shuttle stop), the shop offers self-serve drip coffee, barista-made espresso drinks, pastries, donuts, and a whole case of small-batch organic chocolates, including truffles, chocolate-covered Oreos, and full-size chocolate bars. 

The indoor space is small and cozy, with seating for somewhere between 10-15 folks along one wall. Though it won't get much use until the spring, they've also got a ton of outdoor space, as they can use both their shaded back garden and the area in front of the store up to the fence (which is their property, not city sidewalk, and thus cheaper/requires fewer permits to use). They'll be open coffee shop hours (early-ish - early-evening-ish), but as the owners are Jewish, they'll be observing the Saturday sabbath (closing early on Friday, closed all day Saturday). While they had a soft opening yesterday and are open today, they're planning a grand opening next week.

It's a crowded environment for coffee shops along the Avenue, but I'm thinking their proximity to the shuttle stop, as well as their great outdoor space once summer rolls around, will give Park Place Coffee a slice of the market (and the case full of chocolate can't hurt). Readers, thoughts? 

Requiem for Ice Cream: The Candy Rush's Last Day

(Denny of The Candy Rush shares some love)

While the store hasn't been open in several weeks, The Candy Rush pulled up its gate one final time this afternoon to clear out the last of its wares, and ILFA stopped by to bid it farewell. For over a year and a half since they first opened in June of 2011, owners and community leaders Kevin and Garnet Phillip built the Candy Rush into a place where folks came together on Franklin Avenue. They hired neighborhood teens, sold locally-sourced ice cream, cupcakes, and donuts, and made everyone who came through the door feel welcome. They hosted classes for kids and get-togethers for parents, musical afternoons and movie nights, Batman-themed birthday parties, and one heckuva wedding anniversary. The shop served as the nerve center for the Franklin Avenue Kids Day, a meeting place for the Franklin Avenue Merchants, and the site of more than one impromptu Pac-Man tournament. And did we mention they served sweet, wonderful, delicious ice cream? Mmm. Ice Cream. Nothing's ever all that simple on the Avenue - and nobody knows that better than Kevin and Garnet - but sitting out front on a warm summer's night with a cone in your hand and people all around, you could be forgiven for thinking that all was right with the world. 

So why must we say goodbye to the Candy Rush, at least for now (as one patron who popped in declared today, "I am SO sad")? Ice cream is a seasonal business (even the lady, who gets about 2/3 of her calories from ice cream, reduces her intake in January) and the host of the Batman birthdays is only getting busier as he gets older. The good news is that we don't have to say goodbye to Kevin and Garnet, who will still be serving up delicious goodies across the street at TasteBuds (stop in this weekend for their latest variation on their popular breakfast biscuits) and still leading the charge organizing Kids Day (if you're interested in volunteering or donating, it's never too early to stop in and offer your services) and other merchant-sponsored activities up and down the Avenue. No word as of yet as to what will fill the space, but since they own the building, they can (and plan to) be discerning about whom they rent to. 

True to form, they closed out the day by bringing bags full of candy up and down Franklin to other merchants and longtime customers (see the photo above). The Candy Rush went out like it came in - spreading a little sugar on Franklin. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CHCA Meeting: MLK Day of Service and More

The Crow Hill Community Association (CHCA) met last night, and meets every third Tuesday of the month (this one snuck up on many people as the first day of the month was a Tuesday). If you've never been to a CHCA meeting, come by in February - the organization has been working to improve the neighborhood and build community for nearly 30 years, and their meetings are a great way to meet neighbors, get involved, and learn about the long history of community activism and change on Franklin Avenue. 

Among the announcements, the most pressing was their annual Franklin Avenue Clean Up as part of MLK Day, which takes place this coming Monday. Meet at 737 Franklin Avenue (Had Associates) at 10am if you want to participate. Other topics that came up included the return of the B48 bus (which the CHCA worked very hard for), updates from local politicians, and debate regarding the bike corral.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reporting on Franklin: The Ins and the Outs

(image via Mo Scarpelli, from "The Ins and the Outs")

There's a great story about the late Brooklyn activist and community leader Elsie Richardson. When Robert F. Kennedy, touring Bedford-Stuyvesant as a freshman senator, declared that he would assign his staff to study the neighborhood's problems, Ms. Richardson, whose Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council had invited RFK to Bed-Stuy, decided she'd heard enough. "Mr. Senator," she replied, "we've been studied to death." Demanding more than curiosity, Richardson led the charge for "substance not studies" that helped build the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation into the city's largest neighborhood-based antipoverty organization in the late 1960s. 

These days, more than a few Franklin residents and merchants will tell you that they've been "studied to death." So it comes as a very pleasant surprise to have sat down this morning to several messages, all insisting I read and post the same article about Crown Heights. Amid a surplus of seemingly endless chatter about the neighborhood (this blog is as guilty as they come), Narratively's "The Ins and the Outs: A look below the surface in gentrifying Crown Heights" by Vinnie Rotondaro and Maura Ewing (with great photos from Mo Scarpelli) stands out for its depth of research, multiplicity of perspectives, and smart, sharp writing. If you read one thing about Crown Heights this month, take the time to read this piece. It's a study with substance. 

Some other odds and ends:

- Last week, our newly-elected congressman, Hakeem Jeffries, formally joined the House of Representatives Budget Committee, chaired by none other than Paul Ryan. In case you haven't heard, there's a budget fight looming. Mr. Jeffries has promised to "go Brooklyn" on Paul Ryan if he acts up, but in all seriousness, he's going to be at the center of some very important negotiations over the next few months. 

- Tickets are still available for this weekend's MLK Day Event at the Brooklyn Museum, sponsored by WNYC. If you're looking for thoughtful commentary on Dr. King and his legacy, I've always found these events to be excellent.

"My Brooklyn" Returns to ReRun Theater January 25 - February 3

After selling out all of their screenings at ReRun Theater in DUMBO last week, the filmmakers of "My Brooklyn: Unmasking the Takeover of American's Hippest City" will be back for a second run from January 25 - February 3. If you're interested in questions of neighborhood change and city policy, and particularly if you're one of the folks who've been discussing and debating the recent changes in Crown Heights (or on ILFA or Brooklynian), go see this film. The New York Times, Slant MagazineVariety, and Bloomberg all recommend it, and you can hear the filmmakers interviewed on WNYC here. Tickets go on sale very soon at EventBrite.

"My Brooklyn" examines the redevelopment of the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn. Though it begins with director Kelly Anderson's personal introduction, as a self-identified gentrifier who came to question the process she was a part of, the film focuses not on the personal guilt or personal choices of individual gentrifiers like Anderson (as some readers suggested it might), but on the political processes and policy decisions that drive gentrification. If the film has a single purpose, it is to demolish the false but popular notion that gentrification is part of a "natural" and "inevitable" process of change driven by individual choice. Through extensive original research from producer Allison Lirish Dean, interviews with historians and urban planning experts including MIT's Craig Wilder and Hunter College's Tom Angotti, and a fruitful partnership with Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), "My Brooklyn" skillfully explores the ways in which developers and their partners in city government devise and implement plans for redevelopment that rely on government support, from massive tax breaks to major rezoning to sales of city-owned land (see also: Yards, Atlantic).  Along the Fulton Mall, the films argues, such state interventions have served to further stratify Brooklyn by class and race, destroying a profitable and thriving retail strip (according to the film, Fulton Mall ranked 3rd in the city in profit, behind only 5th and Madison Avenues, when redevelompent planning began in 2002) that catered to low and middle-income (and largely nonwhite) Brooklynites, as well as significant units of affordable housing, in favor of luxury condo developments (job-creating offices were originally promised, but this film is a reminder that such promises are rarely worth the paper they're printed on, if indeed they're committed to writing at all) in which residents of glittering penthouses pay no property taxes for ten years. 

To be clear, this is not a film that opposes or rejects change or development. What it opposes is the narrow politics that make such a disclaimer necessary, the limited vision that believes plans proposed by developers and made possible through massive outlays of city resources are the only option, and that those who oppose them are clueless relics, fools who stand athwart history yelling "stop!" The question is not whether "change" should take place, but who has the right to give imaginative shape to that change. If taxpayer dollars, public land, and city codes are involved, it seems reasonable to expect that transparent, democratic public debate should precede such interventions, and equally reasonable to demand that the city spend public money and dole out favors in ways that benefit more than the very wealthiest of its citizens. 

Brooklyn native Craig Wilder, the film's lead historian, adds much-needed perspective. Several decades ago, a pernicious collaboration of government and private real-estate capital devised a system for urban and suburban development that "redlined" inner-city neighborhoods (including any neighborhood where African-American or Latino residents comprised more than 5% of the population). Their subsequent decline was blamed on the very people whom these policies had systematically marginalized and impoverished, while those who built the towers and Levittowns that comprised postwar suburbanization and "urban renewal" made money hand over fist. Today, such policies are rightfully (if too infrequently) remembered as unjust, and their legacy should make us wary of any assertion that policies promoting a new flavor of stratification and segregation are the best (or only) course of action. As Wilder puts it, the suggestion that the city government is powerless to influence the nature and direction of change "is obscene."

Watching a much lower-rise, less overtly corporate version of gentrification play out in Crown Heights, a reader could be forgiven for asking how this film pertains to our own corner of Brooklyn. The first answer is that these places are not so very far apart, policy-wise: at least one of the neighborhood's most talked-about new developments will benefit from tax credits similar to those discussed in the movie, while discussions of new zoning regimes for local blocks, including an upzoning of Franklin Avenue and a rezoning of the area ILFA likes to call "four corners," have been floated before and will doubtless be discussed again. Many of the credits and benefits that new homebuyers in Crown Heights enjoy are products of earlier policy struggles, as well (Suleiman Osman's  The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn has a good overview of many of them). The larger answer is that even the choices that seem to be "private" - the new homeowner buying their brownstone, the landlord raising rents, the business owner upscaling their operation - take place in a world structured by public money, state law (and its enforcement) and government decisions. The "free" market is a product of everything from tax code to transit policy, and these policies are the product of decisions made by (putatively) public servants. 

You don't have to read far on this blog or many other local message boards or comment threads to find frustration (to say the least) about gentrification, even among its supposed beneficiaries. "My Brooklyn" is a reminder that the ever-changing urban fabric is the product of specific decisions made by specific actors - including our elected officials - and not a natural phenomenon. If these changes are felt to be negative, the response need not be one of individual choice or guilt, but of collective action. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

At Franklin Park: Reading Series Tomorrow, Brooklyn Unplugged Tuesday

Franklin Park hosts a pair of great events over the next two nights. Tomorrow at 8, swing by for the ever-popular Franklin Park Reading Series (go early if you want a seat), which kicks off 2013 with its  Annual Short Fiction Night (complete info below). Congrats to Penina and the FPRS for going national, bringing writers to Crown Heights from Portland, OR and Washington, DC, along with some local literary talent. On Tuesday, Secondary Sounds kicks off their programming for the year with Brooklyn Unplugged, starting at 7pm and featuring Casey Hackmeyer and Chris Buckley. 

From the Reading Series:

Each January, we launch the new year with a reading devoted to short fiction. In their wildly diverse work, our award-winning 2013 authors -- SAID SAYRAFIEZADEH, AMBER SPARKS, GABRIEL BLACKWELL, HUGH SHEEHY, and KASHANA CAULEY – showcase the range of the contemporary short story. Pushing boundaries of form (a story told in mathematical equations) and content (like the yearnings of an anthropomorphic city or the voyage of a miscarried fetus), they’re published on indie and major presses and in a wide range of outlets, from innovative online journals to well-established print magazines. Some of the writers live around the NYC lit hub and others in cities with vibrant arts communities across the country.

We're very grateful to our sponsors -- the literary indexing site SMALL DEMONS (smalldemons.com) and one of today's most acclaimed and revolutionary journals, THE COFFIN FACTORY (thecoffinfactory.com).

We're celebrating short fiction with cheap booze, giveaways, and a raffle for books and subscriptions and magazines from The Coffin Factory.

Great appreciation to BOMB Magazine for recording podcasts.

Hope you can join us!


618 St. Johns Place, between Classon and Franklin Avenues
Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Subway: 2/3/4/5 trains to Franklin Avenue


DRINK SPECIALS: $4 pints, plus $1 off the first 100 drinks, courtesy of Small Demons.


SAÏD SAYRAFIEZADEH is an award-winning fiction writer, memoirist and playwright. He is the recipient of a 2012-2013 Cullman Center fellowship from the New York Public Library and a Whiting Writers’ Award. His memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free was selected as one of the ten best books of 2009 by Dwight Garner of The New York Times. His short stories and personal essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s, The New York Times Magazine, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, among other publications. His debut story collection, Brief Encounters with the Enemy, will be published by The Dial Press in August 2013. He lives in New York City.

AMBER SPARKS is the author of the story collection May We Shed These Human Bodies, which was named the Best Small-Press Debut of 2012 by The Atlantic Wire. Her fiction has been widely published in journals and anthologies, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Barrelhouse, Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, and The Collagist. Her chapbook, "A Long Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World," is included in the anthology Shut Up/Look Pretty, published by Tiny Hardcore Press. She lives in Washington, D.C.

GABRIEL BLACKWELL is the author of the novel Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer (CCM, 2012), the short fiction and essay collection Critique of Pure Reason (Noemi, 2013), and Neverland, a chapbook with video/audio/illustrations. His work has been published in Conjunctions, Tin House, Puerto del Sol, DIAGRAM, American Book Review, and other places, and he is the reviews editor of The Collagist and a contributor to Big Other. He lives in Portland, Oregon and teaches creative writing at Willamette University.

HUGH SHEEHY is the author of the debut story collection The Invisibles, which won the 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. He is a lecturer at Yeshiva College and has previously taught at Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University. He received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama. His stories have appeared in publications including Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review, and Best American Mystery Stories. He lives in Brooklyn.

KASHANA CAULEY lives in New York City. She is a former music lawyer. Her short fiction has been or will be published by Esquire and Tin House. She is the winner of the 2012 Esquire/Aspen Writers' Foundation Short Short Fiction Contest.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Photo Friday: Franklin in 1920

(click on the photo for a larger image)

This image of Franklin Avenue in 1920, looking north from President Street toward Eastern Parkway, comes to ILFA from Tony Fisher of Bob & Betty's and Pulp & Bean. Tony keeps a great photo of the corner of Franklin and Eastern in his shops on the north side of the Avenue - perhaps this one will hang in the second Pulp & Bean, slated to open on the corner where it was taken later this year

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Around the Avenue: Gentrification and Globalization (Tonight), Free Cancer Screenings, Education, and Homelessness


- If you're bummed because My Brooklyn's run at ReRun in DUMBO sold out days in advance, never fear - you can still get your urban studies fix at the Brooklyn Museum's Gentrification and Globalization conversation, tonight at 7pm. 

- The Crown Heights Community Mediation Center (which launched SOS Crown Heights a few years back) is hosting free mammograms and screenings for women over 40 who haven't been screened in the past year. Complete information is above - please share it widely!

- In the "weekend events" file, Five Myles hosts a reception for painter James Cavanagh from 5:30-7:30pm tomorrow. On the other side of the weekend, Franklin Park hosts the Reading Series on Monday night and Secondary Sound's Brooklyn Unplugged on Tuesday. 

- In local education news, DNAInfo ran an interesting piece about the New American Academy and its principal, Shimon Waronker, earlier in the week. At the nearby Exceed Charter School, a teacher in their F.I.R.S.T. program is seeking donations to help fund an arts program.

- Finally, the Crown Heights synagogue where the NYPD infamously beat up a homeless man last October is trying to turn the horrific incident into something positive. No longer allowed to let the homeless sleep in their facilities (which they had been using on and off as a makeshift shelter without permits for nearly a decade), the Aliya Institute has started a campaign to purchase a nearby building and convert it to a shelter and dormitory for young men, according to the Daily News. The project is named "Ehud's Room" (the victim of the beating was Ehud Halevy) and donations are being accepted here.

More Franklin Restaurant News: 742 Franklin to Serve Italian Cuisine

(742 Franklin - photo via BK to the Fullest)

There's been a lot of chatter about this storefront since it was converted from a residential to a commercial space by MySpaceNYC last year (rent: $7000/month). Reports and suggestions of possible tenants have included everything from a Starbucks to a high-end salon to a cocktail bar, but a resident of the building tells ILFA that the folks who rented the space and asked for a liquor license came around to inform them that they plan to open an Italian restaurant. The place will be "Sicilian style," feature homemade pasta, and be open weeknights until 11pm (back patio until 10pm) and weekends until 2am (serving "light fare" for the last two hours). As of right now, they aim to open May 1st. 

Between this spot, Docklands, Glady's, and the pizza and hummus places, it looks like the three blocks on Franklin between Eastern and Sterling will be getting five new restaurants in the next six months or so, ranging from grab-and-go to date-night (but leaning more toward the latter). 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Changes Coming to Stop and Frisk?

Today, in a big day for civil liberties in New York City, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in Manhattan's Federal District Court that portions of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program are violations of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unwarranted searches and seizures. The ruling in the case of Lignon v. City of New York, the most narrow of three stop-and-frisk related lawsuits that Judge Scheindlin is hearing, asserts that officers must have sufficient cause to stop residents outside of buildings enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP, sometimes referred to as FTAP) in the Bronx, and that many current stops do not meet this standard. "Furtive movements" commonly cited by officers are insufficient, as is a "hunch" or witnessing a person entering and exiting the building. The judge also took issue with the NYPD's training procedures (not the first time the NYPD has had a problem like this), noting incorrect and misleading statements made by uniformed officers on film regarding appropriate standards of cause and suspicion. You can read the complete decision here

What does this mean on the ground? It's too early to tell, as there are more rulings to come from Judge Scheindlin and the NYPD is already taking issue with the findings (police departments in general and the NYPD in particular are notoriously resistant to change, even court-ordered change). Those working to end/reform stop and frisk as it is currently implemented (it won't surprise readers that I count myself among them) consider this a victory, but the challenge remains to hold the NYPD accountable on a day-to-day basis (Zachary Goelman over at Epichorus had an excellent post about how this works last year). If rulings and activism do push Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg to begin reforming the practice, it will have a big impact on policing, particularly in impact zones like the one in which Franklin Avenue is currently located. Hopefully, this ruling starts a process of reforming NYPD training (as ILFA's written before, these problems are systemic, not the fault of the vast majority of the rank-and-file who serve and protect our city) so as to ensure that stops are professional and patrols in and around TAP buildings limit stops to reasonable suspicion (readers will remember some heated discussion of rooftop patrols on this blog and Brooklynian as a part of TAP a year or so ago).

Any post critical of policing in Crown Heights will draw inevitable accusations of ingratitude and cluelessness, the suggestion that we who criticize do not take seriously the contribution the NYPD has made to reducing crime in the area (this is, of course, substantial) or are simply too newly-arrived to remember (and thus appreciate) it. The only reply I can offer is that it is never too much to ask that our public servants respect our Constitutional rights, and I'm confident that New York's finest can keep the city safe while doing so if those who lead them have the courage to implement proper training and oversight. 

Monday, January 07, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

I've got an early January birthday, so the week or so around New Year's always provides a double-whammy of reckoning, reminiscences, and resolutions. There are the perennial ones (run more, eat less, write more, drink less), the specific-to-last-year's-errors ones (don't let a "green energy representative" look at a ConEd Bill, don't order the in-flight fish), the oh-crap-I'm-getting-older-ones (remember that you have nephews and said nephews have birthdays, go to the darn dentist) and the existential ones (spend more time with family, never get involved in a land war in Asia). This year, in the spirit of making good on at least a fraction of these bold proclamations, I've decided to add a new category, one that can be publicly declared (and thus publicly accounted for, thus hopefully adding some social pressure): blog resolutions. 

Over the last few months, ILFA's slipped a bit (for reasons that mercifully will nevermore be spoken of), but in the interest of recommitting for 2013, the lady and I slapped this Top Five list together on the train. It's posted here in the hope that ILFA readers, who provide the bulk of the blog's content at this point through tips, emails, photos, and comments (over 2,500 at last count, though MikeF and I going back and forth may or may not account for half of these) will help hold me to these, and perhaps even contribute some content to fulfill them. Without further ado, and in no particular order...

1. See and Learn More of Crown Heights

After four-plus years of blogging, ILFA occasionally gets cited or even interviewed as a source with privileged knowledge of Crown Heights. While this is flattering, in the clear light of day, the truth of the matter is that ILFA is remarkably ignorant of MOST of Crown Heights. Nor am I alone in this - with Nostrand Park on seemingly permanent hiatus (moment of silence), lots of the writing and thinking about Crown Heights faces west from Franklin (or perhaps a point just to the east, with Franklin looming as the first major landmark), and Franklin stands in for all of Crown Heights (the most egregious example of this was Liz Robbins' NYT piece last February). In a clumsy, overwritten post for HuffPo NY last year, I tried to point toward this, making mention of the vibrant and active West Indian and Chabad Lubavitch communities to the east, but I'm sad to say I've hardly taken my own advice in the last year.

This year, ILFA hopes to spend more time beyond Franklin Avenue, not just on Nostrand (a burgeoning strip in its own right that's asking many of the same questions about change and continuity that we do two or three blocks over), but on Kingston, Eastern Parkway, Utica, and many other thoroughfares. In addition to pounding pavement, all of this will require a bit of history, whether that's reading Douglas Century's Street Kingdom or the Crown Heights chapter of Carol Becker's Thinking in Place, listening to the work of the young interviewers of the Crown Heights Oral History Project (available at both LaunchPad and the Brooklyn Public Library), or talking to the folks who actually lived it. But as Crown Heights enters the citywide imagination as a neighborhood distinct from the western edge of Prospect Heights (or Pro-Cro), it deserves serious attention beyond Franklin Avenue. 

2. Get Out More

Time was when a young blogger could catch the Franklin Park Reading Series once a month, drop by a Five Myles opening or two, and feel he was on top of the local scene. This was always untrue, but today, it's ludicrous. Literary (FP Reading Series, Renegade Reading Series), musical (Secondary Sound's Jam Nights and Brooklyn Unplugged, to say nothing of the frequent offerings at LaunchPad), film (Filmwax at Franklin Park, the Crown Heights Film Festival, 739 Franklin, and the Candy Rush offer screenings) and visual (Five Myles and LaunchPad, with Breukelen Coffee House hosting openings as well) offerings abound, and that's just on Franklin. Around Crown Heights, major institutions like the Brooklyn Children's Museum and Brooklyn Museum offer great programming beyond their day-to-day collections (both will be hosting excellent MLK Day celebrations later this month, for instance), Medgar Evers College hosts a wide range of events, and festivals from the SOS Crown Heights Week of Peace to the West Indian Day Parade bring fabulous events to the neighborhood. If you're connected with an event like anything mention above, feel free to keep ILFA posted about when it's happening and how it's going.

3. Get Involved

ILFA gets to Crow Hill Community Association Meetings regularly (I'm a member, after all), but that's really just scratching the surface. Crown Heights has a plethora of institutions (now listed on the right side of the blog) that work to benefit the neighborhood in one way or another, whether that's doing anti-violence work like SOS Crown Heights, reviewing local development decisions as Community Board 8 does, or working with youth. ILFA is a lot of talk (what is a blog if not a lot of talk?) but these orgs, in their many ways, are trying to walk the walk and take action on issues that they see as vital to the future of the neighborhood. Besides, I write every year that volunteering at the Franklin Avenue Kids' Day is one of my favorite days of the year, so it can only improve my quality of life. 2013 also offers its own special way to get involved, namely, the city elections (more to come on these in many future posts).

4. Think Bigger

When the topic does turn to change, as it often does, ILFA's been hamstrung by myopia on more than one occasion. While Franklin Avenue is a fascinating and unique microcosm of revitalization/gentrification, the changes happening along the Avenue can't be understood with examining much larger city, state, and national processes. Insofar as ILFA continues to address these changes, they could use a lot more context, and to that end, a lot of resolutions 1-3 should help, as should seeking out events like this week's screenings of "My Brooklyn" at ReRun (running through Thursday). Change, it is often said, is the only constant in a city like NYC, but that's no excuse for treating it as some sort of natural phenomenon that arises from either the great wheel of history or the inevitable sum of a million perfectly free choices, or for examining a tiny piece of it without seeking to understand the way in which one neighborhood is connected to the world around it. 

5. Be Part of the Conversation

When ILFA started up four-ish years ago, the blog benefited from being on the edge of things and having the opportunity to break a few stories here and there. Today, however, there are lots of people writing about Crown Heights, from the stalwarts at Brooklynian (here long before I was, will be here long after I'm gone) to more recent (but no less excellent) reportage from Sonja at DNAInfo, Amy and her gang at Patch, or Emily at Brownstoner. These writers are now linked on the right, and as the blog gets older, ILFA's hoping to be less of an island and more of a node in a network of folks working in the neighborhood (CH is also a popular haunt for journalism students, many of whom have put together excellent projects over the years). 

If ILFA is more than a vanity project (no promises), it's meant to be a source of information and a site for dialogue. Both of these goals will benefit from increased interaction with other writers, as well as through attempts to fulfill the first four resolutions laid out above. Readers, I'm gonna need a lot of help - if you've got great ideas or are involved with great projects or organizations, keep ILFA posted. 

Coming in 2013: Docklands

Work has been going strong at 789 Franklin (formerly home to Fatima Restaurant) for some time, but became more noticeable recently as the facade began getting a makeover. ILFA stopped by today and spoke with the owner, who plans to open a bar and restaurant serving New American fare with his wife sometime in the next few months. 

Dubbed "Docklands," (they spent a few years working in the London neighborhood of the same name), the place will have a gastropub feel, with 8-12 beers on tap and a menu ranging from "a really good burger" to pasta and other dishes, "a little bit of everything." They plan to open at 11am daily (serving brunch on the weekends) and to close, at the request of Community Board 8, at 11:30pm on weeknights at midnight on the weekends. They're hoping to make both the menu and the beer selection Brooklyn-focused, sourcing as much as they can from the borough. The space itself is also an interesting one - photos to come, hopefully, as they get closer to opening.

Theirs isn't the only bar and restaurant coming soon: Brooklynian reports that 742 Franklin (once rumored to be the site of a new Starbucks) has applied for a full liquor license as well. Looks like Maya Lau (who wrote the review of Catfish, below) is going to have a busy 2013 checking out new places in Crown Heights. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Catfish Bar and Restaurant Opens on Bedford

Another one of ILFA's New Year's Resolutions is to get out more in Crown Heights, not just along the Avenue but all around the neighborhood. This weekend, local journalist Maya Lau visited Catfish Bar and Restaurant on Bedford Avenue, a new spot just a block of east of many of the best-known restaurants on Franklin, and liked what she saw. Read on for her review.

Catfish Bar and Restaurant Opens on Bedford Ave.

Bedford Avenue might be the longest street in Brooklyn, but it's a relatively quiet one when it rolls through Crown Heights -- Franklin Avenue always seems the more obvious choice for dinner and drinks (see: Barboncino and Franklin Park). 

But the owners of the new restaurant Catfish (1433 Bedford Ave. between Park Pl. and Prospect Pl.) want you to venture one block over from the area's main commercial strip to try their gumbo, oysters, vegan ratatouille, and cocktails.

The cajun-inspired bar and restaurant opened this weekend. Two screens, against a brick wall aglow with little lights and liquor bottles, broadcast a football game. I drank an impressive Creole Bloody Mary followed by sips of my friend's Hurricane and a French 75. Over the course of the evening, I found myself leaning in closer and enunciating more to keep pace with the escalating volume.

When I first visited the space in October, it was all sawdust and wooden planks. Maxx Colson, one of the owners, showed me around, telling me about how the restaurant started out as "a secret plan" back in 2011. He and his partners, Luke Wheeler and Aaron Giroux, met each other bartending at reBar in Dumbo. Wheeler, who had started in the restaurant industry 16 years ago as a dishwasher and worked his way up to general manager, didn't want his boss at reBar to know he had ambitions of owning a restaurant. Colson, who had been in business school and was somewhat of an investment geek outside of bartending, also had small-business dreams. 

Then one night, after a particularly "bad day," Colson recalls, Wheeler said to the other two, "we need to do this." By the spring of 2012, the three put in notice at their jobs and dedicated themselves to Catfish. Wheeler is the head chef, Giroux manages the bar and Colson works as the floor manager and accountant.

What sets Catfish apart from other Brooklyn bar/restaurants, Colson says, is better service, solid cocktails, an extensive whiskey and scotch menu, and a community-oriented vibe. "We want this to be a neighborhood spot," Colson, who has been the restaurant's main voice within the community, told me. "We want our neighbors to feel welcome and have a reason to come in." The three owners live in nearby Bed-Stuy. 

Colson acknowledges that some locals had been fearful that with the arrival of the restaurant, the neighborhood was going to change for the worse. Noise was the neighbors' main concern. Colson says his team did "an extensive job" of soundproofing, including using double-paned windows and dropping the ceiling by 8 in. and filling the gap with paper particles to absorb noise. 

In the end, even if noise does become an issue, Colson wants to hear about it. "The last thing we want is for a neighbor to have a problem with noise and not feel comfortable telling us about it."

The music playing on a recent night had a New Orleans feel. The gumbo I tried was comforting. Deep wooden tables and a backyard seemed to anchor the place as a Brooklyn joint -- in fact, once the place got crowded it was hard to distinguish it from other packed Brooklyn bars. But the cocktails were what stayed in my mind -- perhaps evidence of the owners' bartending prowess. 

"A good bartender can have a lot of influence in people's lives," Colson told me. "They can build community, give advice, or be an intermediary between two parties." Colson says that even though he, Giroux, and Wheeler have a whole restaurant to manage, you will still find them working in the kitchen and serving drinks behind the bar.

Catfish, 1433 Bedford Ave. between Park Pl. and Prospect Pl., open every day. 11am-12am Sun-Thu; 11am-1am Fri-Sat. Happy hour 4-7pm Mon-Fri. Backyard closes at 9pm. Raw bar and brunch menu to come.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Gentrification Documentary "My Brooklyn" At ReRun Theater This Weekend

ILFA's got a whole pile of New Year's Resolutions (who doesn't) that will probably make it into a larger post in that vein this weekend, but one of them is to think a little bigger and broader about some of the issues that appear so frequently on this blog. To that end, I'm going to check out "My Brooklyn: Unmasking the Takeover of American's Hippest City," a film from documentarian Kelly Anderson that investigates the redevelopment of the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn. It's showing at the ReRun Theater in DUMBO starting this evening with two showings (at 7:30 and 10:15) and running through  next Thursday, January 10 (the folks from Filmwax, who screen films to Franklin Park with some regularity, are co-sponsoring). In addition to being a fascinating topic, the filmmakers have put together a great slate of speakers, short films, and discussants throughout this run, including MIT historian Craig S. Wilder tonight (his A Covenant with Color is a fabulous history of Brooklyn) and MoCADA and Soul of Brooklyn founder Laurie Cumbo tomorrow (who brought a Block Party to Crown Heights last September). Get your tickets here, and if you do go see it and want to contribute a review, let ILFA know. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

How We Got to 2013: 2012 in Review on Franklin

Happy New Year, everybody! Last year, when the world was young and I wasn't staggering to the finishing line at the end of the year, I actually got the year in review post up before the clock struck 12 on New Year's, but hey, better late than never. Without further ado, a year of news and notes from around the Avenue as we plunge headlong into 2013. 

January kicked off with theater workshops from Safe in This Place and a nod to Crown Heights North in the New York Times Real Estate section comparing our neighborhood with Cobble Hill (and suggesting that those who can't afford the latter should consider moving themselves and their dollars to the former). Attention from the real estate world, and discussions about this attention, were an ubiquitous feature of this year's local news (no surprise there). 

The Grey Lady returned to Crown Heights on the first day of February, with a big piece from Liz Robbins titled "Unease Lingers Amid a Rebirth in Crown Heights." While it featured some interesting interviews and raised some worthwhile questions, the report frustrated a lot of local residents with its outsize focus on the Crown Heights Riots and relative lack of attention to the efforts of locals to drive the "rebirth." In response, local leader Kevin Philip fired up his screen printing press and decked the neighborhood out in shirts that read "It's not what happened here. It's more what's happening here." The message was a welcome reminder that while much of Times' readership knows nothing more about Crown Heights than "there was a riot there," those who live in the neighborhood spend far more of their time talking about neighborhood change (and their place and role in it) than the events of twenty years ago. 

March saw the openings of Stork and Little Zelda, as well as the public launch of the Crown Heights Assembly (who asked "What does a just Crown Heights look like to you?") and the final gathering and performance from Safe in This Place, which ILFA attended. The night started with the breaking of bread (fantastic food, all pot-luck, provided by those who came), featured a series of performances from the group that took part in the workshops during the first quarter of the year, and then moved into a challenging and memorable interactive segment. Among questions discussed and debated (phrased as propositions) by the diverse group assembled were: a) gentrification makes this neighborhood safer, b) the police make this neighborhood safer, c) I am an agent of gentrification. These kinds of questions can often provoke knee-jerk reactions and broad, defensive statements, but in the capable hands of the coordinators of this event, we had a frank and open discussion that entertained many perspectives. May these continue in 2013. 

Big development news - projects we'll all be watching in 2013 - hit the streets in April with the sale of 341 Eastern Parkway (the giant hole) for a cool $8,265,000 and the announcement that Brownstoner and Brooklyn Flea owner Jonathan Butler had corralled $30 million (including $25 million from Goldman Sachs) for the development of a business incubation center and massive food and beer hall at 1000 Dean Street (the food and drink will actually be accessed from 893 Bergen). Both projects are now well under way and slated to open this year, and it's safe to say their impact on the Avenue will be significant. 

May was a bittersweet month on Franklin, one that saw new businesses open (Tastebuds among them) but also witnessed the end of the Crow Hill Community Garden, a lovely spot that housed many a great event and was meant to house Art Not Arrests over the summer (thankfully, they found a home at the Walt L. Shamel Garden on Dean Street). SOS Crown Heights (whose work to prevent gun violence is as important as ever) also held a spectacular Arts to End Violence Festival that featured films, mural painting, youth outreach, and many great public events. 

In June, SOS was right back at it with their Third Annual March to End Gun Violence. In local politics, voters chose Hakeem Jeffries to represent them in Congress (replacing the retiring Ed Towns) in the Democratic primary (essentially the election in Brooklyn, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1), and the Walt L. Shamel garden launched their local farmer's market (a source of many delicious summer peaches for ILFA and the lady) on the last day of the month. 

July brought the Fifth Annual Franklin Avenue Kids Day, a free day of activities for local children and their families sponsored by Avenue merchants and staffed by dozens of volunteers. If you want to see Franklin at its best, come out on Kids Day (they're already planning the next one - it's never too early to volunteer and donate). 

In August, the city issued an RFP for the Bedford-Atlantic Armory, home to one of the Department of Homeless Services three men's assessment centers and source of much debate in years past as to the future of its now-empty drill hall. No word yet on what sort of plans were received. ILFA also nabbed this shot of a Bergen Street sunset, one of my favorite photos to make its way onto the blog this year. 

The incomparable West Indian American Carnival rocked Crown Heights on Labor Day to kick off September. One week later, the neighborhood put on a great show for the Brooklyn Museum's first GO Festival  (putting two artists into the final show at the museum itself, to boot!). In the second round of primaries, voters elected Walter Mosley to succeed Hakeem Jeffries in the State Assembly as part of a wave of new Democrats who are bringing reform to machine politics in the Brooklyn Democratic Party. Finally, on September 28, after years of public battles over the use of eminent domain, undelivered promises of jobs and affordable housing, and endless back-and-forth over the merits of an arena at the crossroads of the borough the Barclays Center finally opened

The Built in Brooklyn Craft Fair, which gathers local artisans and craftspeople to sell their wares at LaunchPad, went strong all year long (many of their goodies are now available across the street at Owl & Thistle every day), including in October, when they timed their fair to coincide with Panama Day. Franklin has a long and fascinating Panamanian heritage, which persists at Kelso Restaurant and several other local establishments. Later in the month, Barboncino celebrated their one-year anniversary with a FREE community-appreciation brunch (lines stretched around the block) and Franklin foodies got a big boost when Mayfield opened up (ILFA's short little announcement post became the most-commented post of the year, with 48 replies in a debate about the meaning of the name that quickly became a proxy for different perspectives on gentrification, even earning mention in the New York Observer's recent review). At the end of the month, Hurricane Sandy hit, and while Crown Heights stayed dry, locals led by Crow Hill Community Association secretary Julie Whitaker donated and delivered thousands of dollars worth of supplies to the Rockaways. 

November was a month of changes and contention on Franklin. Locals celebrated Obama's re-election up and down the Avenue, but the question of local power relations came to the fore with a protest outside of the local office of realtors MySpaceNYC regarding their role in residential displacement. MySpace, a major supporter of community groups and events including the Franklin Avenue Kids Day, hosted an event offering free meals for the homeless at the Armory (and others) a few weeks later. As ILFA's Third Annual Roundup detailed, changes are continuing at a breakneck pace along the Avenue, and questions of what roles local businesses have have in this context (as well as what rights and responsibilities people would like to see imposed on them) will likely continue to be hot topics - and remain unsettled - in 2013. Finally, Mike Perry's Wondering Around Wandering went out with a bang, and all the proceeds went to Hurricane Sandy relief.

The year wound up the way it started, with Crown Heights getting citywide real estate attention, this time as an entrant in CurbedNY's annual December neighborhood-off. Announcements of new starts, including a new restaurant for Lincoln and Franklin and a Crown Heights Animal Hospital, were coupled with Grand Openings (Pearl India) and gazing ahead to the big developments of 2013 on Brooklynian (the local message board, providing far faster reporting than ILFA can provide, and more chatter, to boot). In a different vein, SOS Crown Heights earned a much-deserved laudatory mention in a New York Times City Room blog post chronicling the work of one of their "violence interrupters," Rudy Suggs (an absolute must-read). As the nation searched for answers in the wake of the Newtown attack, I had SOS on my mind, as theirs is a model that doesn't just go back and forth about the specifics of gun control (these are, of course, important debates) but seeks to respond to the structural conditions and habits of mind that incubate violence. It's why I chose to close 2012's posting with their holiday message (see below). 

It goes without saying that it was quite a year in this little corner of New York City, and 2013 should be just as active. Many thanks to all those who sent tips, wrote comments, or just plain read the blog in 2012 - it wouldn't be a worthwhile project without you. ILFA (1000+ posts and counting, much to my surprise) is just written by one guy (me, Nick, email at the bottom of the page), and I rely on my readers for most of what makes this blog worth reading. If you've got an idea, are hosting an event, want to write a guest post, or have a question or comment, send it along. Happy New Year.