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.

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

Another Episode Of "This Old House" - Bites the Dust Edition

The corner of Bedford and Lenox made the Q's list of houses that are "Only A Matter of Time" last winter and sure enough, it's coming down, making room for the sorts of tiny overpriced units favored by current market conditions. Thx to Rebecca Baird-Remba and the ever-busy YIMBY team for noting the permits.

If Lenox and Bedford is your idea of ideal location-location-location, you'll have plenty of new buildings to choose from within spitting distance.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

KRAZY Developments Keep Coming Out of CB9

Even on vacay, the Q can't avoid peeking into the emails and listening to the messages from the absurd fi despite his generally strong political posture, it's safe to say that BP Eric Adams and longtime lieutenant Ingrid Martin-Lewis have managed to aide their nemesis, the egomaniacal "activist" Alicia Boyd, by helping to dismantle and discourage the board to the point of deep cynicism. The latest lawsuits and countersuits and accusations are completely avoidable, but have ensured that CB9 remains embroiled in acrimony and mistrust well into the coming fiscal year.

not the Rolling Stone, but I'll take it!
For some background that's not mine, there's always the incredibly detailed resource known as Crown Heights Info, the popular news rag for worldwide adherents of the Chabad Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism favored by those living (mostly) in southern Crown  Heights. The Q's become friendly with quite a few influential Chabad members and to a number I've found them to be smart, savvy and politically adept, not to mention hilarious. They too are dismayed and befuddled - what the hell is going on? When longtime CB9 chair Jake Goldstein was canned by a coup from Borough Hall, I was hopeful that the (wholly unnecessary) outside agitation from Adams (quite undemocratic, but then so are CBs by nature) would lead to a new openness and frankness of dialogue. Instead, I now know why Jake and longtime District Manager Pearl Miles (also canned this last year) had become so cynical about the machinations of Brooklyn politics. To read the whole sordid story of the Q's disillusionment with the Kings County machine, read on. Still kicking myself how long it took me to connect the dots. They don't offer a playbook...though some of my good friends at MTOPP did offer a Playbill! It has become one of my most cherished mementos...

NOW...after engineering (with a great deal of difficulty) the foregone conclusion to hire Board member and longtime ally of the Brooklyn political machine - Carmen Martinez - an injunction brought by Boyd & company has BLOCKED HER HIRING while a lawsuit proceeds claiming that Martinez was hired illegally, without proper processes, and given a whopping $120,000 starting salary to boot. Read more from Rachel at DNA Info.

Meanwhile Pearl Miles' lawsuit for millions of bucks and her old job back keeps inching forward, and Jake Goldstein's suit has a docket number, and Demetrius Lawrence (current chair of CB9) has endured more suits than a Brooks Brother. (Actually, DL has a lot of actual suits of the clothing variety too, so perhaps I should clarify when I mean lawsuits. Dapper guy that Demetrius, though as a fellow sweaty man, I'd go with short sleeves in summer. But a good suit can hide unsightly bulges, it's true. Comfort counts too, though I tend to agree we men often err on the side of underdressed these days.

I think I might just shave today, come to think of it. And put on some pants...ANY pants.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Remarkable Reality

New respect for the Daily News, given their admission they were wrong about the potential negative effects of ending Stop & Frisk, the notoriously anti-constitutional policy that was supposed to have reduced crime dramatically through the years. With a 97% reduction of S&Fs, there has been no uptick in crime. Quite the opposite.

So let's reflect for a moment, shall we? That's thousands, no hundreds of thousands, no millions, of demeaning and wholly unnecessary infringements on civil rights over the years. How do we reconcile that with the justice and equality we Americans supposedly strive for? It's outrageous, nearly inconceivable, and as clear a sign that racism thrives in NYC - perhaps the greatest working, breathing social experiment in human history. What legacy are we leaving now?

See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. If it's not happening to me, it's not happening.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Garrison Keillurrghhhspyatpfooyuck

Spitting Image
Since the Q is currently out of cell and wi-fi distance, he thought he'd reminisce a bit, but not before telling you some dude named Daniel was climbing trees up on Lincoln Road and giving the cops a chance to flex a new muscle. Tip of the Tongue closed, not so much because of the landlord Rong Ge, but because sometimes things in life just don't work out, business-wise and personally, and a coffee joint, no matter how well-located or beloved, becomes an albatross around one's, or in this case two's, necks. Gratitude Cafe changed its name but not its fabulousness. Some dogs got lost, others found, and alley cats remain goddesses to some and rats to others. It's a cruel world, and tree-huggers and cat-lovers CAN be friends, no matter what Rodgers and Hammerstein had to sing about the issue. Oh, and a pic of the serial spitter came thru on the Effbook. He's the guy spitting on moms and kids and occasionally fellows smaller than himself. And yes, he's not well in the 'noggin. Cops know him well, but there's apparently little to be done about spitters other than tell their parents and wear protective garb. Out in the sticks you've got Lyme disease; in Flatbush, it's this.

But here's what I really came up to the Town Hall to steal some internet to tell you:

Garrison Keillor makes me want to vomit. And I mean that quite literally. Let me explain.

Steve McCall and I had a plan to get drunk, back in the early fall of 1980, just as Ronnie Reagan was delivering his snake-oil pitch that would strike-out the labor movement, cut taxes, create a gleaming new oligarchy and turn America back into a beacon on a hill or make it great again or somesuch and start a war on drugs, a covert war against Contras, and help fuel the inner-city crack epidemic. But Steve and I were blithely unaware of all that, we were just two American kids growing up in the heartland, and maybe even supporters of John B. Anderson. If you remember THAT guy then you really ARE old and a bit sad, because he may be the reason you looked on at the Bernie Sanders with a twinge of melancholy, recognizing that political revolution is not as easy to achieve as a bunch of rallies and a good slogan.

We had a 1/5 of Jack Daniels stolen from a boy whose dad was a serious drunk. Never miss it, said Brian Gardner, though as many years later as a drinker myself I always knew exactly how many bottles I had stowed away, even if I couldn't tell you what day of the week it was. No matter. Brian sold it to us for a hot lunch ticket at Ames Junior High. Did I ever tell you that if you were still hungry after lunch you could go up and beg for butter sandwiches? Probably margarine between Wonder bread, but delicious nonetheless.

We had until 10 pm to get home after a night out on the old festive college town, it being VEISHA, a celebration that years on would inspire riots as drunken frat boys lit fires and looted liquor stores in mad mayhem fired by a seemingly reasonable want - to rock and roll all night, and party ev-e-ry day. VEISHA stood for the various colleges at the university...let's see, veterinary, engineering, industrial something, science, home economics and agriculture. That's right, home economics. It was Iowa, and it was the 1970s, and it was a land grant college, the kind that prepares farm boys to stay put.

Oh wait. It was homecoming actually. But VEISHA is a better story, so VEISHA (pronounced vee-shah) it is.

We bought cokes, in cans, though for me booze would later be associated with Big Gulps of Mountain Dew from the Kum 'n' Go. (Not kidding, that's what it was called. Another was known as the Git 'n' Go, then there was Quik Trip and Kwik Shop, but when you needed to satisfy a need, ANY need, and FAST, the Kum 'n' Go was the obvious choice.) The coke can was, and is, 12 ounces of sugar water. Dump the sugar water, you have 12 empty ounces of can. Fill it with Jack Daniels and you now have ONE SERVING of Jack Daniels. Right? Neither Steve nor I knew any different. The idea of an “ounce of liquor” would come many years later, it being a unit of measure against a never-ending imagined or occasionally very real war with a breathalizer.

After an hour of pure exhilarating buzz and spin, and a trip to our town's very first ATM, we found ourselves in a church parking lot, existential and laughing. I sucked the coke can dry and tossed it; Steve looked at me like he'd seen a black widow spider crawling up my neck. “You drank that whole can?” My answer, and the next 12 hours, will never reside in my memory banks. The cops were called as I wretched upon my ripped jean jacket while resting, I'm told, uncomfortably on my back. I guess I didn't know, or rather didn't care, that charismatic band members were known to die this way. And I hadn't even composed my first rock opera! At home my mother was, so I'm told, horrified, and asked the police “what is he on?” “It's only booze ma'am.” Wiser words never spoken. What harm can a little nip now and then do a fella? No hearts or lives have ever been broken due to hairs on dogs, now have they?

The next morning I awoke on a plastic tarp, covered in puke, wisely laid out by my biochemist father to prevent undo stains on the carpet. He stood over me and insisted in ungentle terms that I must do my paper route. It must have been six or so in the morning on a Saturday, and that was the hardest half hour of my life. When I returned the tarp had been rinsed, and I lay back down to another few hours of coma.

When I came to, my head felt like it had been smashed like an Oscar Meyer wiener into Oscar Meyer bologna. That's when I noticed, perhaps for the first time, the extraordinarily vomilodious voice talking about above average children and buttermilk biscuits and a lake with a pun for a name. Woe-be-gone. Hah hah. Hah hah. Hah aaaaereerggggghhhhyuhhhhhgggpyuuuuppp all over myself for the next 59 minutes or so as my mother prepared a horrible smelling version of Hamburger Strogonoff and seemed to inch the volume up on the wireless ever-so-slightly with every puke.

Never again would I hear the voice of Garrison Keilor without a wee bit of phlegm coming up in my throat and at least half a spin. Til that day only Carl Sagan's voice had affected me so adversely. And don't get me started about Ira Glass...