Monday, December 30, 2013

Year in Review: 2013 Along the Avenue

As ILFA winds down for good (only two or three more posts to go), it seems only appropriate to run one final year-in-review post, something I started two years ago (2011) and also did last year (2012). As usual, it's been a busy year.

(photo by Mo Scarpelli via Narratively)

Vinnie Rotondaro and Mo Ewing kicked off 2013 with a long look at Franklin Avenue in flux. Published by Narratively in January, the piece, titled "The Ins and the Outs: A Look Below the Surface at Gentrifying Crown Heights," generated ample conversation around the neighborhood. Gentrification doc "My Brooklyn" also ran for three weeks in DUMBO, offering another opportunity for those of us with time on our hands and keyboards beneath them to argue it out.  

February was a contentious month in Northwest Crown Heights, with debates heating up around the infamous bike corral and charter school co-location plans and MySpaceNYC issuing a cease-and-desist order to the Crown Heights Assembly in response to the Assembly's tenant organizing (MySpace would follow this up with a $31 million suit in early March). On the side of unity, SOS Crown Heights launched their third annual Arts to End Violence festival. 

In March, ILFA had the privilege of joining with neighbors and friends to put together the Crow Hill Community Association's Town Hall Meeting (recap post here). The meeting brought hundreds of local residents together to discuss issues of neighborhood change, and several working groups were developed in the weeks and months that followed to address issues including politics, housing, youth opportunities, and sanitation, among others. The meeting (and the process of organizing and following up on it) encouraged many folks - longtime residents and new arrivals alike - to become active in the community, and also prompted the CHCA to increase outreach and revise its bylaws, a process that will doubtless continue after Board elections in January. I'd love to tell you we solved everything on March 23rd, but organizing is a never-ending process. The Franklin Park Reading Series also celebrated four great years on the Avenue

Zoning was the number one issue along Franklin in April. Undertaken by the Department of City Planning at the request of CB8, the plan (now approved) downzoned and added height limits to the area's picturesque side streets while upzoning a sizable chunk of Franklin (with some incentives, but no requirements, for affordable housing) and reducing the scale of potential commercial development along Nostrand. The CHCA hosted another big meeting to discuss the plan, as well as their own landmarking efforts (still in the planning stages), and the Crown Heights Assembly and their allies rallied to demand better affordable housing

May brought the third big community meeting in as many months, as residents gathered at Congregation Kol Israel to form working groups and further discuss issues raised in March and April. SOS also hosted the second of their ongoing series of community conversations (begun the previous month as well), offering locals another chance to meet neighbors and discuss ways to constructively respond to the myriad challenges facing Crown Heights. 

In June, the opening of Cent'Anni and temporary closing of Kelso Restaurant prompted me to write a post about the accelerating disappearance of the Panamanian and Caribbean community (and the shops and restaurants where people congregated). While Kelso, happily, has returned with the same great menu and a few shiny new touches, the larger trend continues unabated. 

With election season heating up in July, Rosco's Pizza brought a "Hipsters for de Blasio" fundraiser to Franklin (now we can all say we were into de Blasio before he was cool). Meanwhile, I catalogued a nasty, but not particularly unusual, effort to flip a brownstone on my block in two posts. Around the neighborhood, as these sorts of abuses have become more commonplace, folks have organized to respond, and that included the efforts of the Brooklyn Hi-Art Machine in July on Lincoln Place (where residents have taken to posting messages on the shuttle overpass, including "We Are Still Here" and "Hope Less, Do More")

August brought the opening of The Pulp and the Bean II on Franklin between President and Carroll. As rents rise north of the Parkway, business and residents may increasingly look south. Owl & Thistle General Store announced a move to the block across from Pulp and Bean in the fall, and the Fisher family (which owns both Pulp and Bean locations as well as Bob and Betty's on Franklin and Lincoln) plans to open their next new supermarket in 2014. 

September, as always, witnessed the massive, fantastic, incomparable West Indian Day Carnival on Labor Day, as well as some exciting primarily elections in our own 35th Council District (Laurie Cumbo emerged victorious) and the citywide mayoral race. The newly-elected folks take office in a few short days, and will have their work cut out for them as the new year begins. 

In October, a big chunk of the Nassau Brewery complex on Franklin between Bergen and Dean was sold to Terra CRG, who are listing the property at $18 million. Under the new zoning, a building on the site could rise eight stories, and it'll be right down the street from the 1000 Dean development. A pair of condo developments along Bergen are nearing completion, and along Dean (which is, for the present, still zoned M1), many a former auto body shop is now sporting giant glassy windows. It's safe to say that more than a few people (with more than a few dollars to spend) are watching this particular corner of Crown Heights very closely. Also, in October, ILFA announced plans to wrap up the blog by the end of the month (as it turns out, I meant the end of the year). 

I wrote up my final "Roundup" in November, counting 70 new businesses that had opened and 43 that have closed (some of which closed and were replaced by even-newer businesses) since 2008. Among those that we lost in 2013 was TasteBuds, one of many ventures from Kevin Philip along Franklin, where he's been a businessman, landlord, electrician (just did the lights for the new O&T space), and all-around community builder for decades. Kevin - and Garnett, his partner in awesomeness - organized five great Kids Days in a row for the young people along Franklin, and worked tirelessly on everything from merchant association meetings to holiday decorations for the street to the Town Hall Meeting (which Garnett emceed while pregnant with their second child). While I miss the biscuits at Tastebuds (and didn't do a proper sendoff post for them at the time), it's seeing K&G on the Avenue nearly every day that I miss far more. 

December... well, this is only the seventh post I've done in December, but I must say I was glad to see the Built in Brooklyn Craft Fair return to LaunchPad (who'll also be hosting their usual kickass NYE shindig, btw) after a long hiatus. 

It's impossible to wrap up a whole year of events in a paragraph or two, and this year ILFA trailed off considerably after June, leaving so much left unblogged, from citywide election issues to the whole "knockout game" mess (this article got it very close to right, particularly when the author pointed out the troubling comparison to "wilding," a past panic that destroyed the lives of five young men). Suffice to say, however, that 2013 brought a lot of changes and lot of talk about them. Some of this talk lead to action, and some of this action helped bring people together to address challenges great and small. While different groups will cite different victories related to their own particular campaigns, if there's one thing ILFA hopes will continue in 2014, it's these conversations. It's so, so easy to become isolated and individualized in this town, to become numb to violence, to inequality, to misery. Spending time with neighbors - at a CHCA meeting, a CHA rally, an SOS Community Conversation, a local business, on the damn sidewalk - is the best and strongest medicine for this kind of social atrophy, and it's where political and social organizing begins, too. 


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