Monday, March 11, 2013

Changing Crown Heights In The News

(The New York Times peers down on Crown Heights)

A pair of articles caught my eye over the weekend, both passed along by readers. The first ran in the New York Times Real Estate Section (perhaps the most read, and most influential, section of the Grey Lady when it comes to the city itself), and was titled "Brooklyn's New Gentrification Frontiers: Moving Deeper Into Brooklyn for Lower Home Prices." The second was a report in the Brooklyn Paper on the ongoing debate over the effort to convert 964 Dean Street, an industrial building in an M-1 zone, into a live-work space. To summarize, the artists who own the building are seeking support for a zoning variance from Community Board 8, where opponents, many of whom are fond of the artists and respect their longtime commitment to the neighborhood, argue that granting such a variance will lead to the elimination of the light-industrial area and the jobs it provides between (roughly) Bergen and Atlantic and Franklin and Washington. They also fear that piecemeal development will proceed without attention to area-wide needs like affordable housing and jobs, which could perhaps be guaranteed if a deal regarding the whole area was made (though these deals are hard to make and often even harder to enforce). The housing committee approved the variance 13-2, asking the artists to consider renting one or two units below market rate, and now the full board will weigh in.

It's worth comparing the perspectives of the actors in each story. In the Brooklyn Paper's report, creative-class folks are trying to carve out a space for themselves in an increasingly pricey neighborhood - both for studio space and living space - while local leaders worry that even their modest plan might launch a feeding frenzy (one that's likely already on the way when 1000 Dean opens) and drive off what few working-class jobs and affordable units there are left in the area. Meanwhile, the prospective buyers the Times describes see Crown Heights as a frontier (always a problematic concept), and consider the median real estate sale price of $425,440 (up a whopping 13.5% from last year) a relative bargain. Theirs is a very different perspective (and as long as the NYT is writing up the neighborhood in the Real Estate section, it's one to keep an eye on, whether you're an artist or a local leader trying to preserve some measure of affordability). 

The Times describes Crown Heights as follows:

Buyers will find an area still very much in transition away from a turbulent past. In August 1991, to take a notable example, a Hasidic man in Crown Heights lost control of his car and killed a black child, sparking three days of riots that saddled the neighborhood with a reputation not easily shaken off. Community relations have vastly improved since then, thanks in part to residents’ efforts.

I'm glad they've finally gotten around to acknowledging the efforts of community members to preserve, improve, and rebuild the neighborhood - not just after the riot but also from years of systematic disinvestment and inadequate municipal attention - but in whose eyes is the area still in transition from that moment? It's not that we should forget the riot, but explaining turbulence and transition in Crown Heights as the product of an event more than twenty years past ignores everything that's happened in between, and all that's happening right now. As a wise man once said, "its not what happened here, it's more what's happening here."

A few other links from the weekend:

- Jabbar Campbell of Crown Heights is seeking justice in a January incident in which he reports NYPD officers raided his gay pride party and assaulted him. 

- Speaking of history in Crown Heights, Brownstoner's Montrose Morris wrote an interesting post about the history of the Brooklyn Home for Consumptives in Crown Heights.

- Last but not least, the Times wasn't just out in Crown Heights to scout housing for its readership - they also stopped by Mayfield, and were very much impressed


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  2. The NY Times Real Estate section covering our section of Crown Heights has become blase. I still remember the first time it happened though (and the rash of comments to ILFA). Interesting point about the use of the word "frontier". CH is not a frontier to those artists trying to preserve their affordable housing (just as the Plains were not the frontier to the natives in the 19th century).