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. 


  1. What was that about the ConEd bill? Some of them came to my door but I didn't have my bill handy so they left.

  2. Adam-

    It is the IDT energy scam.

  3. There are all sorts of variations of it, too - I had some very pleasant young women at my door with iPads in hand the other day claiming to be from Liberty Green Somethingorother. The long and short of it is NEVER show anybody your ConEd Bill (they'll find your account number and enroll you without your consent), and tell them to scram if they try to bug your neighbors.

  4. Nick,

    Very valiant resolutions! Good luck, sounds like you've got a full plate (and a screening of My Brooklyn that I attended last night) may have inspired me to get out a bit more if I find some extra time on my hands (common this time of year for me) or extra cash in pocket (not so much). Living on Union Street, I find the only time I appear on the north side of Franklin these days is going to Yoga, but with new restaurants and great events and meetings, I really should be more active.

    Slightly related question: There was a CB 8 Meeting the other night about the Dean St project and I was told the minutes would be up on their website, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Anyone have any info on what went down or where I can find the minutes?

  5. Jonah-
    CB8 was to hear a request from the owners of 964 Dean St to convert to residential, despite being in a manufacturing zone. This is on the same block as the big 1000 Dean St project, so lots of folks believe that the entire zone will effectively become residential once/if this variance is granted.

    However, the owners weren't ready, and the issue is tabled until March.

    Please Note, Community Boards are often not a major player in whether a variance is granted; they are restricted to merely advising the Dept of Planning of their opinion.

    ...The real fun goes on behind the scenes.

  6. Hey there! For # 1 - 3, please come on over to Roger That! We are always happening, just got a Love Your Block Grant for spring planting on Park Place between Rogers and Nostrand in June (event news to come!), are organizing better community composting, and need help building a weird shed. It's a great way to meet neighbors and get exercise. email We now update the tumblr more than the kickstarter, but that too will be more active any day now.

    ... don't forget the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is here too :) AND the zoo...

  7. Also, would you want to put our community garden and the Rogers Avenue Block Association on the "get involved" bar?

  8. It is a new year, after all, but either way, we’re gonna have to go to the dentist eventually. Whenever it is, I hope it all goes well for you. How about your old dental appointments? Did they raise any pressing issues about your teeth? I also love the fact that you’re going to involve yourself more with the community. It’s really something isn’t it?

  9. There is a chance you're eligible for a new solar energy program.
    Click here and find out if you qualify now!