Monday, April 08, 2013

WSJ: "Relatively Affordable" Crown Heights

(Claudio Papapietro for The Wall Street Journal)

- The Wall Street Journal wandered out to Crown Heights over the weekend to declare the neighborhood a "price alternative" to other Brooklyn locales that the WSJ's readership might be more familiar with. The lead read:

Crown Heights, known for its distinctive townhouses, striking diversity and the annual West Indian American Day parade down Eastern Parkway, offers residents a wealth of cultural options and relatively affordable housing within an easy commute into Manhattan.

Other choice quotes included this observation from a developer...

"Franklin Avenue is really very much like Williamsburg was in 1992," says David Maundrell, founder and president of, which has represented several rental and condominium buildings in Crown Heights and hopes to begin selling units in a new condo building, currently under construction at Franklin and Eastern Parkway, late next year. "It's actually happening much quicker than Williamsburg."

... this bit about the drop in crime and the drivers of change...

Crown Heights long battled the stigma of high crime, illegal drug use, closed storefronts and the aftermath of the 1991 riots that erupted amid tensions between Jewish and black residents.
But a drop in crime and some new development and businesses have helped to fuel the turnaround. Last week, Save Our Streets Crown Heights, a group dedicated to ending gun violence in the neighborhood, celebrated more than 30 days without a shooting in its catchment area.

... and this quote from the Crow Hill Community Association:

Stacey Sheffey, vice president of the Crow Hill Community Association, an advocacy group, credited neighborhood involvement and police presence as helping contribute to the improvements. As crime dropped, she says, more businesses have opened.

I imagine readers will have some observations . ILFA's thoughts:

- Glad to see SOS Crown Heights and the CHCA getting some love for their efforts to make Crown Heights safer and happier for everyone (and check out their upcoming community meetings - SOS on Wednesday April 10 at 6pm and CHCA on Tuesday, April 16 at 7pm). These real estate stories too often fall into the trap of suggesting that change only comes from without, and that gentrifying neighborhoods and their longtime residents were just lying around helplessly until the latest wave of change arrived. 

- There's something telling about the observation, from a developer who would know, that "it's actually happening much quicker than Williamsburg." Time was when a sluggish economy meant slower gentrification (in 1992, the city and nation were emerging from a sharp recession, though nothing on the scale of 2008), but that time has passed, largely because successive mayoral administrations have embraced gentrification not as a quirky on-the-margins alternative movement but as city development policy (check out Suleiman Osman's The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, Neil Smith's The New Urban Frontier or Kim Moody's From Welfare State to Real Estate for this story). Quickness can be deadly, at least for democratic participation and community action (both of which are notoriously sluggish) around development policy. As one historian of NYC put it in a conversation a few months back, Park Slope gets a bad rap as the go-to caricature of a gentrified neighborhood, but it was a big zone that changed slowly (relatively speaking), and in the process, organizations including the Fifth Avenue Council took shape and preserved quite a bit of affordable housing. The current pace of change makes local organizing all the more pressing and important.

- "Striking diversity" is an interesting phrase (what, exactly, is striking about it?). At the Town Hall meeting (which ILFA has yet to write a full report on, largely on account of the day job), one person in my small group observed that "diversity" has a way of standing in for "integration" or "equality" in places where both may be in short supply if you look a little deeper. There are places and gatherings in Crown Heights where people from all walks of life come together on an equal footing - where everyone feels welcome - but there sure as heck are places and spaces that are deeply divided and homogeneous, too. Moreover, the very "diversity" (by which people often mean seeing a range of folks on the street and a range of business on the commercial strips catering to them) this article celebrates may well be undermined by the pace of change mentioned above, which real estate reporting certainly contributes to (not pointing fingers here - we bloggers are often just as guilty). This is not to say that diversity isn't desirable or a good thing; rather, it's to point out that such diversity as we have in Crown Heights is hardly static or guaranteed, and preserving it requires substantive commitments of time and effort to building cross-cultural dialog, preserving affordable housing, and seeking equality of opportunity and participation (as much as ever is possible) for everyone who lives in the area. 

Readers, your thoughts?


  1. For Maundrell, it is neither here nor there whether the statement about the change happening on Franklin Avenue being quicker than Williamsburg is true.
    Just having those words printed editorially in the WSJ is priceless in terms of creating awareness among a certain sector of society for the new condo building.
    Interesting comparison however: the growth of a stretch of 8 or so blocks on Franklin Avenue to the entire neighborhood of Williamsburg. If you go to they have virtually no Crown Heights listings, clearly he was not really commenting on changes in Crown Heights but instead was simply hyping Franklin Avenue and Eastern Parkway by insinuating that it will be the next Williamsburg.

    April 16th CHCA Landmark/Rezoning Meeting
    Basement of St Teresas Church: 563 Sterling Place at 7PM. Come get information on two powerful ways to regulate how development proceeds in our community.

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  3. My wife and I moved to the Prospect Heights/Crown Heights area 5 years ago seeking actual diversity. As a mixed race couple of various socioeconomic backgrounds at different points in our lives, we didn't want to be in a racially and socially homogenous area, which would describe much of the upscale areas of NYC, certainly Park Slope. We could have afforded Park Slope; we choose the area around Franklin Ave. I know that's not usual, and most of the professional types would tell you back then they came strictly because it was cheap. They thought we were naive.

    Now, we are thinking of buying, and looking beyond Crown Heights. Although we like this area now, 10 years from now we anticipate that it will be as racially homogenous as any upscale Brooklyn neighborhood. We watched Prospect Heights' transformation over the last 5 years from a diverse community into a neighborhood of mostly white elites. We're thinking about Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, places that at least have some stability post their own wave of gentrification. We've given up on our original quest, and accepted that NYC is as segregated as the Center for Urban Research says. A NYC's neighborhood's apparent diversity is just the time-limited collateral of gentrification.

    We live in what could be the most diverse city in the world, yet New York is also one of America's most segregated cities. What a contradiction!

    Shout out to the CHCA which is truly a diverse organization looking out for our community!