Is the Q Stop a G Spot? That is, is North Central Flatbush really a comer?
As of about 20 minutes ago, I decided to call the plethora of Brooklyn neighborhoods giddy with gentrification G-SPOTS. After 20 years of 'hood-hopping, I've seen my share of radical transformations. Little pockets of change turned into radical redefinitions in a matter of a few short years. Bedford Avenue. Manhattan Avenue. Smith Street. South Slope. Ft. Greene. And to me, the king of them all: DUMBO. I mean there was NUTHIN there. NUTHIN AT ALL. I'd take dates down there because it was so romantically desolate, maybe a Lincoln Town Car parked suspiciously with its engine running. I'm talking dead body stuff here. Did I mention there was NUTHIN going on? NUTHIN. A few people living in mammoth lofts, cheap giant rehearsal spaces for rock bands (like BIOHAZARD, who's door had a sign that said "No Girlfriends Allowed." But now I'm waxing nostalgic...)
If you're lucky enough to own your place in one of these G-SPOTS, your self-interest assures that no matter how much you pine for the old days, there will be plenty of dancing dollar signs to help ameliorate your grief. But if you're one of the 90% of residents who don't own or don't have rent regulated apartments, you start to smell the vapors when the NY Times starts appearing on doorsteps.
The days of staying in a single rental apartment your whole life are over. If your pay doesn't keep pace with your neighborhood's sex appeal, it's time to find a less hip address. Dems just the breaks, the price of living in the Big Apple, City of Dreams, the Boroughs of Bagels, the Town So Nice They Named It Twice, The Capital of the World, The Melting Pot, The Nippy City, The Cultural Capital of America, The Frog and Toe, The City of Superlatives, Father Knickerbocker, Immigrant City, Gotham, The City That Never Sleeps, Baghdad on the Hudson, The City of Broad Broads...the list goes on and on, and yes, I made a couple of those up. Though "The Frog and Toe" is for real.
The City, nay, the Country, has no love for renters. Even though NYC has strong tenant protections by American standards, most folks quietly resign to moving when the writing's on the wall. I did it myself half a dozen times before losing my mind (quite literally) and (unrelated to said breakdown) dropping a $50,000 down payment on a slumlorded, sewage-soaked, unheated boarding house on a treeless street on a bus route so my lady and I could play out the American dream on a 100'x20' parcel just a couple blocks from the undisputed best side of the second best urban park in North America and within sniffin' distance of the best dang jerk chicken north of the Mason-Dominican line. (Did I mention the Gem? I should have.)
For seven years we've lived here, getting to know our neighbors bit by bit, learning the rhythms of a cranny of Brooklyn that defies expectations placed on it by outsiders. Even people FROM here for decades have a hard time defining the neighborhood as this or that. The dilapidated clock-towered Fat Albert's and the roughed-up green Flatbush Trees sign at the Wendy's Parking Lot/Brooklyn Botanic Gardens corner of Empire Boulevard tell the story: abandon reason...you're entering a special Twilight Zone where old-timers and newcomers alike can't quite put their finger on the what and why of it all.
Here at the end of my first year of bloggedy blog, I thought I'd try to capture some thoughts about this neighborhood, and why after all is said and done, I don't think we're going to see the kind of widespread bourgeoisization of our hometrain nabe like so many other G SPOTS. I've got reasons, and I may of course be completely wrong. I notoriously once guessed that Wesley Clark would become the next President of the United States.
First, the bad news. Rent Is Too Damn High. Houses Cost Too Damn Much. That's right, I'm going on record as saying landlords and owners want too friggin' much cash for the privilege of living and/or running a business here. Everybody seems to think real estate in PLG+ should be about half of prime Park Slope, but let's get real. Park Slope has 40 years of being THE gentrified neighborhood - they practically invented the concept. It deserves to be overpriced and overhyped and overdissed, and closer to 3 times what we pay. $1,000 should get you a decent sized one-bedroom apartment in this part of town, and at that price, landlords could count on their tenants staying put for more than a year or two. Hey Mr. Slumlord, wouldn't that be a better longterm strategy? But hey, if longterm strategy was your game, you wouldn't be a slumlord would you?
Aside from the cost, I'm telling youse - the 'hood has barely changed a bit. Yeah, I know, there's more white faces - some freshly scrubbed and recently baccalaureated even. And people whisper things like "the area's really changed" and "things are really happening here" and I'm like, huh? what? changed? I mean that cute little block of stores on Bedford between Clarkson and Parkside still looks like this:
And don't try to tell me an Indian restaurant with decent takeout qualifies as upscale!
Parkside across from the train has NEVER LOOKED DUMPIER. Don't get me started about 225. And Woodruff - still Woodruff. St. Paul's? Same. Caledonian hospital? Sinking deeper into ruin. Section 8 is still coin of the realm in most buildings. People are still wacking their kids in public and throwing refuse on the ground. No pricey bistros or artisanal cheese shops have opened. There's still the occasional gang flare-up, stinky bags of dead fish on the Flatbush sidewalks, loud Dancehall parties, drunks hanging outside the liquor store near Caton at 8:30 AM, 18-wheelers barreling down truck routes at 3 in the morning, frost-bit vendors selling cheap hats and gloves and incense and hair care products...I mean, yeah there's a coffee shop, a dive bar and a half-assed Mexican restaurant up north, but I guarantee ain't no Michelin Man going to be taking the S train out to Lincoln Road.
The fact is, I really don't see ANY evidence that the neighborhood is going through some sort of renaissance AT ALL. All I see is Rents that are TOO DAMN HIGH and the occasional midwestern looking dude and his girlfriend walking down the street with a couple of Trader Joe's bags. And still...
There are little things that brighten my walk to and from the train or stores. As CeeLeeDee points out, there are Asian faces and burkhas and young Latino families along Ocean. New people ARE moving in, and it's not just whitey. People are finally recognizing the value of the park and the convenience of the Q at Parkside. Dan, who owns the hardware store on Flatbush south of Parkside, has been in that location since the mid-90s. I used to come in their twice a day when I was madly trying to fix up our house (having no clue) and he said I was among the first of a string of new neighborhood homeowners. Now people come in there all the time asking about boilers and plaster and plumbing - people who clearly aren't renting because renters don't worry about stuff like that. He's noticed, too, that it's a more diverse crowd.
So what if what's happening is actually different from what's being loudly trumpeted by the Ditmas Park Blog as progress on Cortelyou? Maybe with a little effort and some eyes on the real bad guys - the three big D's (Dealers, unscrupulous Developers and Dumbass politicians) - we might be able to hang onto all that makes our neighborhood unique without losing that diversity. Idealistic, I know, but we're actually at a point where we could DO something, rather than talk about it in hindsight.
There's lots you can do. Best places to start? Block associations, PLeGNA, Community Board meetings, Precinct Council meetings, even blogs if you're so inclined! Reach out, and most important, smile. I can't tell you how much it brightens my day to see someone flash a sweet grin for no damn good reason at all.
Nothing's really changed in a BIG way. But what happened for me was that I changed. I simply stopped watching like an observer and actually started LIVING here. Do you know what I mean? That difference is HUGE.
These days what I notice most is that there are lots and lots of people doing their best to get by, treating each other decently (for the most part) and saying sweet things to my little girl when we walk down the street. The other day I was so entranced by the love on my block I half expected Big Bird to pop (his?) head out from the African Braiding place down 10 doors down...that's how nice it felt just to be in a place that was just being itself, like Sesame Street, or Wisconsin Dells. If you've ever been to the Dells, you'll know what I mean. The Dells can't help being the Dells.
This is NYC. Just like I pictured it; just why I moved here; and just why I intend to stick around.
I could do without the poop on my shoes, though.
The Q at Parkside
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.