The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Fighting Gentrification In All the Wrong Ways

Late '80s in East Village. Were you there? Seems like yesterday...
It's become trendy to be a white renter in central Brooklyn and fight gentrification. Couple that with the current fad where Comp Lit majors try to out-liberal their Facebook friends, and you've got a perfect storm. Take a peek at the crowds, small as they may be, at recent MTOPP and Equality for Flatbush functions and you'll often see a minority of minorities. Is there something sustainable here, a movement wherein the children of haves finally break the stranglehold their parents have held on the inner city poor? Probably...not.

I've been doing my best to learn about the mechanics of gentrification. The Big G may look like a conspiracy, but in some ways it's the fault of neighboring neighborhoods' own NIMBYism, which made the next neighborhood so appealing. And while it's tempting to meet NIMBY with NIMBY, the problems just get kicked down the road to other neighborhoods even less able to sustain some moderate growth. Sometimes it's worth remembering that we are a City, not a collection of warring territories.

Strange bedfellows emerge in times like these. Anti-gentrification forces have curried favor with (in my view) much more salient and convincing political movements like Black Lives Matter, grassroots tenant organizing and calls for corporate come-uppance. That is, the kind of activism that actually aims to hold law enforcement, landlords and the Oligarchy accountable for racist and reactionary behavior. Anti-Gentrification is not the same kind of issue; it's more of a lament. Because try as you might, it is near impossible to legislate away gentrification. The big G has been happening for decades and nothing has proven resilient to capital, except, of course, city housing. Which, btw, has single-handedly kept some modicum of diversity alive in Manhattan. The only things that would stop or slow gentrification are economic downturn or a radical reassessment of a town's desirability (read: terrorism, seismic events, climate change, toxins). Or maybe even a radical dismantling of rent controls entirely (might just work). Massive downturn was what happened after 2007, when housing prices dropped and development ground to a halt, and no one could get a mortgage anyway. THEN, prices truly stabilized or even decreased! Wealthier whiter folks stopped moving to Lefferts, actually to all sorts of "developing" neighborhoods. I (you) witnessed it first hand. There were a few newly constructed buildings that sat vacant or couldn't find tenants. One (on Caton) actually took housing vouchers when they'd expected to hit the jackpot at market rate. That Fedders building at Bedford/Flatbush wanted $800K for each mock-townhouse, but ended up cutting them up to apartments and begging for renters, recent grads by the look of it. So if you want to slow gentrification, maybe an act of terrorism should be on the table?

The fact is, developers would happily build, build, build in tonier neighborhoods, but there's not a lot of legal rights left to tap. Some nabes have already downzoned or landmarked to the point where you can't build much that's profitable. Land values have become prohibitive anyhow. And guess what. That's exactly what happens when you restrict development so tightly. If your goal is to prevent gentrification, you're actually causing the opposite. Folks have less housing to choose from, and bid up the prices. Downzone too much, and its on to the next 'hood, and the pace only quickens on down the line.

Some common sense from Market Urbanism:

Whether you are a class warrior or market urbanist, here are some tips to more effectively fight gentrification:
  • The battlefield is not in the gentrifying neighborhoods.  It is in the more wealthy neighborhoods where empowered residents fight to keep new people out.
  • The enemy is not the gentrifiers or developers trying to serve them.  It is the rich people who use their influence to thwart development in their neighborhoods.  The more they fight to depopulate desirable neighborhoods, the more people are left seeking alternative neighborhoods.
  • The mechanism of gentrification is not development.   It is zoning, and other regulations that thwart development in currently desirable areas.
  • The solution is not to fight development in currently gentrifying areas.  It’s to call for radical liberalization of zoning in already wealthy areas, and to stand up to neighborhood groups who try to abuse zoning to prevent that.
  • The reason people gentrify is not to disrupt ethnic or economically-challenged neighborhoods.  It is most often because they have been priced out of the neighborhood they desire.

I would argue that the conservative NIMBYists currently winning the day in the neighborhood's dialogue about the future, are actually ACCELERATING gentrification with a stubborn unwillingness to create affordable housing alongside the already breakneck pace of market rate. And most important, they are at best imploring the city to pass us over, while the NEXT neighborhood on the gentrification list gets the brunt of whatever we don't achieve to build. The arguments about precious light and air? Had no one challenged such notions we wouldn't have a glorious neighborhood to "protect." Healthy cities grow, and when they have limited land, they grow up. Do it sensibly, and you'll barely notice the difference. Are we really going to equate MY views with YOUR need for a place to live?

Sure it gets my goat that people don't see that MTOPP Inc.'s real goal is not anti-gentrification at all. Alicia Boyd, a very smart con artist, was until quite recently praising the neighborhood's gentrifying aspects online in her Airbnb ads. And most confounding of all, she continues to claim that Lefferts Gardens was until very recently an "all black" neighborhood. Neither the census nor anecdote attest to this fact, particularly in the Historic District. Actually, it irks a lot of longtime white residents quite a lot, since many of them resisted the pervading wisdom to "get out" during the '60s - '90s. If Ms. Boyd and company truly cared about the loss of low income tenants (of all races and groups one would hope) they would be pushing for more, not less, housing for the lower strata, including lots of affordable homes on Dump Empire.

Put it this way. Would she welcome the City buying up Empire Blvd and putting up low income housing? City housing? You know, the kind that we build as tax payers because we believe in egalitarianism and equal opportunity for all, and because we think homelessness in a City of plenty is morally offensive?

When faced with the possibility of an influx of low-income residents, true colors would undoubtedly emerge. Funny, but almost no one talks about building true low-income housing anymore, subsidized to the hilt. Isn't it about time we pivot?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Need Your Help Finding Missing Teen! Needs Meds...

Call 911 immediately if seen.

My Grandson. Oy Vey.

That's me! I always wore the tie...
I came to this great country in 1911. To Ellis Island. Beautiful island, stinky as it was. I never saw a lady look so gorgeous as Lady Liberty. From the old country I had nothing. Others had those big old sturdy trunks. I had a tiny bag for my underwear. There were holes in the underwear. Not where they should be, mind you. My first job I earned 10 cents a day cleaning up after Moishe's Live Poultry. Chicken heads, droppings, blood. I was as grateful as a turkey in December. By the end of the first month I had a bed in a one-room apartment with 8 cousins. Three had the runs from the dysentery. I never laughed so much. By the turn of the decade I apprenticed a hot dog truck! By the start of the Great War I had my own truck! I worked that truck 14 hours a day most days. In the mornings I sold Rachel's knishes. Imagine me, hungry every day since my mother died on my birth bed in Poland. Now I could eat as many knishes and dogs as I could fit in my stomach. But I was wise. One knish, two hots a day. I wanted to save every penny. When I met Ginny I had enough for the biggest ring on the Lower East Side - cost me $100! That's a lot of hot dogs, boy. But she was worth every penny, every hot dog. God rest her. She's sleeping just next door, about four feet away, though I can't see her through all the dirt.

My youngest son, of 9 you know, he worked as hard on his books as I did on the truck. Jack wore glasses, and I paid for the best. He never wanted for anything, and he paid me back by going to college and taking the train down on weekends to help his mother with the chores. Good boy. Good grades! A lawyer! And me, crying like a fountain at his first paycheck. He married late, in his '30s. His mother and I worried maybe he was funny about girls, so we were relieved when he brought home Susan, though she was much too skinny. After a daughter, they had you. Named after me! Ezra, but you preferred Ezzy. Ezzy you were always more the artist. Drawing, writing, daydreaming. We were worried, but they your dad pulled some strings and whoosh you were at Harvard University, greatest in the world! So proud your gramma and me. He's going to be President I said to my friends. Then you get a big fat MBA, and me I'd finished 5th grade. What an accomplishment! From hot dog cart to top of the world in two generations!! You get a job at a bank, one of the biggest in the world, you bought a big house in Westchester. Your kids they're all artists, maybe not so hard-working, but you've got it all Ezzy!

Just one question, Ez, my boy. After all that...why did you give it all up to start your own hot dog cart? Sorry, "artisanal locally sourced grilled cheese." I'll never understand it. I go back to sleep now, after all I'm nearly 120, but still...I just don't get it.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alkaline Shooting Video In Front Of Pepa's

Did you see a fantastic mob dancing along to a short cool looking Jamaican dude in a convertible right in front of Pepa's right about now? Had to ask of course, but that's Alkaline, and his millions of fans love his dancehall stylings. The Q loves all kindsa music, including dancehall, but damned if I can't stand it when rappers use the auto-tune to sing. I was also going to embed a video, but they're all women twerking, and I figure if that's your thang you can go on Youtube and watch for yourself. The whole twerking thing seems kinda silly, but if I'm honest, were it directed specifically at me, I'd probably find it anything but silly. I may be a middle-aged blogger, but that hasn't beat the red-blooded american male out of me.

Here's what it says from his bio, case you're curious. I admit, the grooves are pretty catchy and the lyrics bop and weave, but yorkle, that voice...makes me yearn for Eddie Veder and yarl, and that's saying something.

Twenty year old Dancehall artist Alkaline says his music represents everything that society is afraid of and society represents everything that he is afraid of. Alkaline comes to the fore with a bundle of hardcore rhymes, killer hooks and slick production, and undoubtedly one of the "Baddest” lyricist.

Describing himself as an ‘in di streets yute’, ALKALINE, whose real name is Earlan Bartley, was born in 1993 ‘under the clock’ in Kingston at the Victory Jubilee Hospital.

Alkaline’s first attempt at committing lyrics to paper was age 14, and by 16 he was already recording and producing his own records. Whilst at Ardenne High, where he completed his high school studies, Alkaline balanced school and the groundwork of a solo career by recording music in and around local studios whenever he got the chance. At Ardenne High he copped six Caribbean Secondary Examination Council (CSEC) subjects and currently pursues a first degree in Media and Communication at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus.

Alkaline is a major Martin Luther King enthusiast and in addition to loving “LIFE” and his music he lists fashion, fishing and playing video games among his passions.

His personal style is not that of a typical artist, but one with a sort of urban edgy with a twist hardcore appeal. One he dubs as dancehall meets urban pop rock culture.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Density Illusion

You hear it all the time, in casual conversation or in sloppy comments on the interwet. More people. More density. Long lines, crowded sidewalks, packed subways. And yes, it's true that NYC has added people. All over. But when it comes to explosive growth round these parts, it's all a bunch of hype. Increases of a percent or two are hardly noticeable. The real problem is affordability, but as the Q has documented, time and again local gentry - part of the only 15% of locals owning homes - have used the issue of density to justify antagonism towards new rent-stabilized below-market housing. Density IS the answer to affordability in a finite City. Why is this so hard to comprehend? It needn't be Hong Kong style. But it does need to happen. And it needs to be smart and it needs to accompany planning and study that views the whole City as an organism, not just tiny fiefdoms.

Think about it. If we're going to grow, and we're growing, shouldn't there be a benefit for years to come? Shouldn't every new building come with affordable units? The carrot was dangled, but we didn't chomp.

Fact is, we're not as dense as many livable Manhattan neighborhoods (Upper East or West Side, Central Harlem) We're about on par with other Central Brooklyn neighborhoods, and even Greenwich Village. We have WAY more renters than other nearby neighborhoods, though. I think that is a real difference here than elsewhere. All these stats and more are available in the exhaustive annual Furman housing and neighborhoods report here. For a list of major trends to be found therein about gentrification, just click on the "duh" section here.

Yes, the hue and income of residents has been changing in Central BK. Any numskull can tell you that. When the Q moved here in 2003 I rarely if ever saw white people. And as I've noted many, many times before, that's why I could afford to buy a house here while my middle-middle class sisters and brothers rented small apartments in tonier neighborhoods. I make no illusions about the fact that my family benefited directly from racism, in the sense that housing prices on the eastern side of the park were monstrously less than on the west. We weren't looking to "gentrify." We were looking for a house we could afford in a place we liked. Only now do we look like real estate geniuses. But hey, you gotta have a place to live, right? The house, I'm afraid, belongs to the kids anyway, when you get realistic. Either we sell to pay for our end-of-life care or they get the house and any profit. Oh the indignity of it all! Can't take it with you I suppose. Just a toothbrush and a change of underwear.

Had you taken a guess in, say, 1965 whether Park Slope or Lefferts/Flatbush would become predominantly white or black by 2000, lots of folks would've lost the bet. North Slope was very African-American. If you haven't seen The Landlord, check it out. That's Park Slope baby. My neighbor John had a house there and sold it to an eager white guy 30 years ago. Couldn't believe how good a price he got! Love those anecdotes...

But it's all anecdotes when it comes to density. For every house turned into apartments there are apartments and SROs that became single family homes. And most of the new buildings (626 Flatbush and 33 Lincoln) haven't even populated yet. While it's certainly dense (it's NYC folks) that's actually one of the reasons people WANT to live here. Amenities, the park and garden, and a healthy and lively housing, commercial and social diversity. And most of all, great public transportation. We have LOTS of subways, thus we house many people, quite happily. The Q/B at Church and Prospect Park. The Franklin Shuttle. The (ahem) Q at Parkside. The 2/5 at Winthrop and Sterling. Dollar Vans. Cabs aplenty. The B41, B12, B16, B44 and many, many more, including those slick and efficient SBS buses. (Could use more bike lanes, but hey, I get it, I've seen it. Old timers hate bikes. I've been at the meetings. "Why don't we go back to horse and buggy?!" they shout.)

The proof is in the numbers. Feelings aren't facts, and the facts are these. There has been no major surge in population here. The subway stations have barely nudged up in ridership over the years. Some examples of daily ridership increases 2010-2015 below. And remember there's been a huge boom in employment since then, with many more people commuting to work:

QatParkside: barely budged up in 5 years
Prospect Park Q/B/S: added 318 daily riders to 10,033 a day
Winthrop 2/5: down 179 to 7541
Sterling 2/5: exactly the same for 5 years
Church B&Q: up 338 to 17,811

Year to year increases in ridership in Brooklyn generally have been about 1%, and despite the horror stories on lines like the notorious L, people are getting where they need to go. Improvements WILL come, but only if we continue to let City Planners do their work. Transportation in this City is absolutely key to its continued prosperity. There will be bumps - the bureaucracy and politics involved are headaches. But we can do it. We will do it.

What we HAVE seen, and I've been documenting it on the ol' blog, is a strong uptick in investment of capital into the neighborhood. New commerce, new construction, property changing hands and being renovated. The Lakeside Center and other major improvements to our side of the park. New trees planted, some important improvements to transportation and other infrastructure. Individuals have made tremendous progress as well, like Parkside Plaza and along Ocean Avenue.

And while the changes are by no means all for the better, it's worth remembering that one of the worst things that can happen to a neighborhood, or City, is disinvestment. Folks leaving and no one taking their place. Businesses without shoppers, shuttering. No jobs. Despair. Feeling cutoff from the rest of the City. Can anyone remember where we've been, as a city? There are still plenty of despairing ex-industrial cities awaiting your tourist dollars if you so desire a view of the past. Flint anyone?

Yes, the area will see a net gain in people in the coming years, providing no catastrophic changes. But it will happen somewhat gradually, just as the neighborhood waxes and wanes with the times. Newcomers are taking up more square footage per person. Lots of singles and young couples moving in. These are the signs of health in a neighborhood. People actively WANT to live here. There was a time when the biggest fear for any neighborhood was NEGLECT. Money and commerce and jobs disappearing. No new construction. No rehabilitation of old structures. No upward mobility.

I say the above not to diminish the very real injustices to longterm tenants and to people of color by law enforcement and the seemingly intractable realities of racism. But to keep NYC affordable to working people at all income levels, we need to be clear-headed about how much density is acceptable, as a trade-off to increasing housing stock along crucial mass transit lines.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Gun Buyback - August 27. Do They Work?

It sounds good on the surface. Fewer guns, less chance one will be used in a crime. Do they work? Lately the only thing I've read is "no." And yet they persist. A feel-good gesture, or is something else at play? Good P.R.? A chance to interactive positively with the community? And maybe, just maybe, one of those guns doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Good enough? Here's the Observer citing an NYPD source on their ineffectiveness.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Your British Colonial Not-So-Underground Economy

Well, well! The snoots at The Economist seem to have picked up on the joyous insanity of the Dollar Vans.

Obviously geared towards the "Free Market" crowd, the Economist is British (note the spelling of neighbourhoods), and like the U.S. it's  known for its large number of West Indian citizens and residents. (And the Brits are quite frankly TWICE the Olympians as the U.S. if measured per capita of medals won in Rio.) To gauge just how big the Dollar Van "system" is, check out this excerpt from the piece:

IN PARTS of New York city, if you know what to look for, you will find a vast and quasi-legal transport network operating in plain sight. It is made up of “dollar vans”, private 15-passenger vehicles that serve neighbourhoods lacking robust public transport. With an estimated 125,000 daily riders, they constitute a network larger than the bus systems in some big cities, including Dallas and Phoenix.
 But you, dear reader, are so down with the Dollar Van scene that you might even get a kick, as I did, from our man Sam Star and his hilarious send ups of various Caribbean dollar van drivers accents and attitudes. Warning: newbies might need closed captioning or repeat viewings to comprehend:

 Think that was tough to follow, wrap your head around this one. After a dozen years I'm finally starting to make this stuff out on the first go around.

Long live the legal and licensed Dollar Vans. May the illegal cowboy vans meet their Waterloo, or at least have their horses impounded by the Sheriff.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

America's Historic District and Race

In the quadrant of Flatbush known as Lefferts Gardens there is the Historic District, much of which is known as Lefferts Manor. In the quadrant of the globe known as the United States of America, there is the Historic District, much of which is known as Vermont.

Vermont brings you maple syrup and cheese and disgruntled fairly-left-leaning Senators. It is remarkably white, very rural, with pockets of the sort of granola-toting entrepreneurs who should be familiar to any liberal arts college graduate or Phish phetishist. There are two sorts of extra-long bearded gentlemen here. One is fashion conscious and likes indie, jam and/or roots rock. The other is fashion-averse and likes Skynyrd and ZZ. (I take that back; they both like Skynyrd, though one ironically). Both like to smoke weed. Both would not be out of their element at a bluegrass festival, though the former would head over to the “craft” beer tent and the latter would pull a Coors from his cooler, though both have been known to chug a PBR at the end of the night. The former likes to drive a Subaru; the latter wouldn't be caught dead in anything but pickup, ATV or tractor. I counted three of the former and four of the latter voting at the local Town Hall, where the Democratic Primary was held last Tuesday. My understanding is that 40 to 50 people entered the Hall during the course of the day, and that was considered a pretty good turnout for an early-August primary featuring the first opportunity in many years to fill the Governor's mansion's closets with new brands of workboots and flannel.

Racial politics, so much a part of life in Central Brooklyn, are at first blush irrelevant up in syrup country. The news mentions protests and #BLM as national issues taking place in another reality, though this lefty strong-hold surely finds much to admire in protests over things that truth-be-told might not matter much in folks' daily lives. A terrific front-line BLM protester came on the NPR affiliated radio, outlining the ways that the movement must address the very real class differences between black Americans, the sorts of differences withIN that make it hard perhaps for the “comfortable set” to see the “police state mentality" that rules poor black neighborhoods. And so, in keeping with the speakers suggestion (like Malcolm?) that whites need to look at themselves more closely and focus on what THEY can do, not merely "sign up" and thereby water-down the movement. They need to look at their entitlement and privilege, in order to address centuries of accumulated social, legal and psychological occupation of black America.

So in that spirit, I tried to identify what whites do to other whites when they have no blacks to subjugate. And to be clear, when I take the word “whites” out of context from the term “blacks,” I find myself in foreign thinking. What is that, anyway? When blacks aren't present, do you (white reader) think of yourself as in the company of “whites?” Or do you instantly recognize that you are among a diverse group of people from various backgrounds each with his/her own baggage, finances and challenges? Bingo. I thought so. You read the room as it should be when you see a large group of black folks congregating - diverse as can be - but chances are you've been programmed to see “large group of black folks” first rather than "large group of folks." It's like an optical illusion.

At the town pond I noticed, over the course of several visits, only three black men, each, oddly I thought at first, with a white significant other, with kids in tow. In NYC, one would hardly notice, but in Vermont, people notice, though they're generally too polite to stare. Biracial, or mulato, was a term I heard occasionally growing up, and while it's become completely unremarkable in my life today, here it got me thinking. What sort of expectation of fair treatment might there be for a light-brown-skinned child? What do townies think of the black men in their midst? Are the women who choose black mates frowned upon here like they would have been in an earlier generation? I know, I know, it's “liberal” Vermont. But c'mon, they're still mighty proud of their Norman Rockwell-ness, and I don't recall the Saturday Evening Post front covers featuring mixed family Thanksgivings.

I make small talk with the other families. We're all here on a weekday in August spending time with our kids, and as they splash in the pond I find that I've just made a snap judgment about two of the guys. One, by his comportment, language and accent, I instantly assume to be college educated and middle to upper middle class. This happened so fast I barely had time to register what and how I'd done it. The other guy spoke with a dialect I instantly associated with inner-city black neighborhoods. They both oozed confidence, but of two seemingly different sorts. I was doing my best to appear cool, but I was so busy judging my judging I hardly had time to notice that my girls were screaming at me to “look, Daddy, look!” Parental duties being what they are, I excused myself and “looked, daddy, looked” as if my very happiness depended on it. My mind was still on my mind, though. Did these guys get stopped more often by the (rarely ever seen) local authorities? Crime is so low around here, you'd think it would be completely unnecessary to stop ANYone who wasn't actually in the act of a crime. Pivot...The two most frequent crimes around here are (can you guess?) domestic violence and drunk driving. Not incidentally, alcohol is often involved in each. And that got me thinking (danger, danger!) 

Alcohol. Guns. Guns and alcohol. Domestic abuse, physical and sexual. Guns. Alcohol, and various and sundry other drugs. Alcohol. Guns. Jealousy, anger, violence. Fists. Alcohol. Guns. Sex. Alcohol.

Forget stop and frisk, and profiling for a minute. How much would crime go down if there were no guns? No alcohol? No...domestic, er, families, um. Okay, you can't do without sex or domestic situations. But what if no guns or booze/drugs? I'm not advocating a ban on booze (tried that didn't we) or even guns, totally, because I know that too is impossible to achieve both in practice AND theory. (They're already here in insane numbers, and they don't disappear because we legislate it.)

Alcohol. Thinking on that as the boys from the swim team drank (and snorted?) their way into a heap of trouble. I met a guy who'd spent 25 years in prison for a murder he was too drunk to remember. Hmm.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Machine Chooses Candidate - So You Don't Have To!

What a crock. Will we ever wake up, or do we simply not care that a new "political star" is rising and we have zero say? Our fault, or theirs?

Josh Pierre. A decent guy, a smart guy, maybe even a worthy guy. But just read what the machine rag Kings County Politics has to say. Ed Powell, perfectly nice guy who has done next to nothing for years besides holding the ceremonial position of police liaison (prez) thru the 70th Precinct Community Council, "chooses" the next Kings County Dem Party district leader. Chooses, as in bequeaths.

Josh Pierre - Your District Leader, Want Him Or Not

Emergency Mtg on Gun Violence Nearby Thursday Aug 18

While it's been relatively quiet on the western front (Lefferts) the sounds of gunfire have been constant in the 67th Precinct and SE chunks of the Seven One, where there's been a big uptick in felonious violence. And so your Friends of Wingate Park are calling a meeting to address, redress and undress the issues.


Friends of Wingate Park invites you to an emergency community meeting with  the NYPD to improve relations. “We need to talk about community patrolling and more cultural sensitivity training for police, " said Vivia Morgan, Pres. of  Friends of Wingate Park.  "A healing is needed in our community after weeks of gun violence," Police Officers from the 67th Pct. and 71st Pct. will join the community on building stronger relations with the community residents.
Power of Love Outreach
Thursday, August 18, 2016 
1346 Utica Avenue
 Brooklyn, NY 11203
Best, Shawn Clark