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.


  1. Thanks Nick! It is always surprising to see a recap of the year. So much happened. I am so grateful to have you diligently trying to track it all and provide some commentary. Excellent job once again. - St. Marks Arch

  2. Me too! Makes me - or should I say, reminds me, of how proud and happy I am to live here - HD

  3. We love you Nick! Thanks for all the hard work in 2012.