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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Meals For Moms Delivers. Literally.

With my mouth full, let me relate some thoughts on the Meals For Moms program, started by Parkside Avenue's Nicole Fabri,
pictured here in the shot that came up on a Google Images search, since I really don't get out much to take pictures these days since child #2 arrived. Truth be told, it was a homebirth, so the baby didn't so much arrive as burst forth. (FYI, I'm happy to engage in lighthearted banter about what I witnessed that day, but let me assure you that the nearly 2ft 11lb butterball did not come into the world easy, and I highly recommend, fellas and SigOths, that you eat your Wheaties too on that blessed day, since you may be required to provide ballast to your woman, who may very well be 10 times stronger, fiercer and more determined than you have ever seen her before, and that includes your wedding day AND the first time you said anything sideways about her mother.)

We, or rather Mrs. FlatBed, joined Meals for Moms around month 6, when it still seemed unlikely that we would ever be truly in need of twice weekly feedings at the hands of our neighbors. Turns out this chain-letter for stomachs, chronicled here by the Hawthorne Street blog, is unbelievably helpful, and if you have a bun in the oven I can't recommend the Ponzi-like rewards of MforMs highly enough. We've had six INCREDIBLE homecooked meals delivered to our door so far, and every single friggin' time it's been on a day when we simply couldn't imagine how we were going to pull off another mealtime without accidentally eating one of our wee ones (by mistake!) from the exhaustion. Talk about a life saver!

Basically we've been eating like royalty at least twice a week, and I gotta say it's good to be the King. Heck, I'm not even a mom! Come to think of it...I didn't ASK whether dad could eat it too, but the portions have suggested it was not verboten (German for hey, I know the German word for "forbidden.") It's been amazing dish after amazing dish; tonight we got the ultimate in comfort food - a killer meat loaf with just-right mashed potatoes, "comfort food" being a term I believe that suggests you don't have to chew too hard. This picture might look more like a plate of brains due to my substandard photo skills, but I assure you this is the best damn meatloaf I've ever had, and I've downed a few flesh loaves in my day. Outstanding.

It would probably sully the simple humility of the program if I listed all the epicurean lady-heroes here by name. A big thanks to everyone - turns out our 2 1/2 year-old DOES like food after all...just not ours. And y'all out there, if you'd like to be part of the small-town it-takes-a-village vibe, just send an email to Tell her a fat and happy Q sent you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What 12 Million Bucks Can Buy You On The Flabenue

This view of 757-767 Flatbush - roughly Mango Seed to that giant Beauty Supply store - looks like the Main Street of some Western town, probably due to that pickup being the only vehicle in the shot. It's an unusual stretch for Flatbush Avenue for having no height - i.e. no apartment rentals. But it's not unusual for our neck of the Flabenue to have such remarkably diverse, and even downright wacky, mercantilean offerings. Mango Seed is awesome, btw soaking up the killer Yelp reviews (please go - don't tell me there's nowhere to eat out if you haven't given the Seed a shot). Then there's the Christian knick-knack shoppe Lilly of the Valley, that Chinese run Tex Mex Fresco joint, a shoe place, the oddly named Aroma nail salon, and that over-lit wig etc. superstore with the wooden decky seating thing out front. Actually, you're not meant to walk on it or sit on it, but the owner does squat and smoke on it. So maybe it's a "smoke deck" or a "squat 'n' smoker," neither item actually existing in the Pier I catalog, though both ought to, and I'm happy to share my patent if they come a courtin'. Speaking of Pier I, I absolutely love the old film Wicker Man, and if you haven't seen it, I guarantee a good night's viewing.

The whole strip of these stores can't bring in more than 15K a month. And yet they've hit the market for $12 million for the lot of them. Here's the NY Times ad. They call it an "8 Store Taxpayer," and for the life of me I can't fathom what that means. Taxpayer? Well I'd bloody well hope so! It's bad enough we've got corporations paying $0 in income Chinese Mexican joints too? Is there no justice? Occupy Flatbush!!!!

It's just more zaniness to add to our special stew called home sweet home. And yet, you can't help wondering whether some enterprising slob might come along, buy the whole bunch and build one of those new fangled "luxury" apartment buildings. The prices around here are finally getting to the point where developers might take the plunge.

Still...$12 million? Is that a typo?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Very Caledonian Christmas

The FlatBed family hasn't been in the neighborhood on Christmas Day before. For nearly a decade, we've been doing a strange Xmas-New Years dance between Birmingham, AL and Tallahassee, FL - usually involving a very strange but illuminating drive through rural Alabam. Stopping off at a Chick-Fil-A along the way is de rigeur, and often it's a culinary highlight of the trip - and that's saying something, cuz we get fed well everywhere we go. The Chick-Fil-A secret? Definitely the pickles. A chicken sandwich with pickles is a treat not to be missed, the pickle being a much misunderstood sandwich accessory, often mistaken for a condiment. Apparently there's a Chick-Fil-A at NYU, and many a Southern ex-pat can be seen there, often coupled, proving that chicken and pickles, known collectively as chickles, are in fact confirmed aphrodesiacs.

With two little ones at home, and my folks in town, we did the holiday with all the trimmings. We had the tree, augmented by bling from the Gem. I cued up the seasonal favorites, though the Mrs. called a moratorium on Vince Guaraldi this year. Burl Ives seemed a better bet, and it payed off handsomely.

The "snowman" himself has the most lovely tenor, and we've been playing lots of Burl around the house anyway since Little Miss Clarkson Flatbed Jr. was born, Little White Duck and all. If you're looking for a good name to name your next child, I suggest Burl if it's a boy, and Ives if it's a girl. Or the other way around. The whole name thing is so topsy-turvy anyway. I fully expect our generation to be laughed at heartily for its reliance on olde fashioned names, so why not ride the trend while the poker's hot? (metaphor lovingly botched)

Anywhere else in the country but here, if you step out on Christmas morning you're greeted by the eerie silence of commerce interuptus, traffic is nearly non-existent, and one tends to feel a bit anxious that no, if one needed to, one couldn't just go out and purchase, say, a frisbee, or a bottle of bourbon. The country basically shuts down for baby Jesus's birthday, bookended of course by the mad rush to buy last second food and gifts on the Eve, then the mad rush to make up for a day of not buying stuff on Boxing Day. But C-mas itself always stands in stark contrast to business as usual, if but for a few hours. Not so along the Flatbush Corridor, and this year I found that fact to be oddly relaxing and reassuring. Bargainland, Gem, Duane Reade, Closeout Heaven, the pawn shop, the knick-knacks and patty wax sellers...bustling like it was no thang. And best of all, in a pinch, like the one I found myself this Christmas Day, Suzie Farm was open as always, selling every manner of thing you could possibly need to support the celebration of the birth of the King of the Jews. (not my term, btw. It's in the bible. The latter part. Look it up.)

Suzie Farm doesn't get the props it deserves for a) being open 24/7 with no time off for holidays or Acts of God and b) carrying PG Tips. They've got half-gallons of organic milk, "real" Mexican and Jamaican sodas like, say, Coke made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn sweetener in those cute 12 oz bottles; some delicious crazy-ass butter from New Zealand; cookies from Italy and Sri Lanka; vats of stuff I'm too much of a weenie to try; halfway decent fruits and veggies from Hunts Point (buy local!); an eye-popping array of Chinese and Korean remedies; and even some half-decent extra-virgin olive oil, which is what I needed on this particular Noël. By day, two really pretty ladies work the registers with a frenzied precision that will surely astound you. Both have excellent posture. By night, the duties are handled by a couple of cranky-looking dudes who won't respond to even my most charismatic or quirky entreaties. There are no days off in Suzie-land, and I've noted that the Suzie-work is often done in bitter, bitter cold. Today I asked whether any of the Suzie employees owned the joint; they responded with a chortle and a most definite nuh-uh. Also, none of the workers there are related. So if you had some kind of romantic notion of Suzie as a family operated biz with a few Mexican immigrant laborers, you'd be right only about the last half of that sentence. The Mexican guys often get to play their Ranchera music outside in front, but the soundtrack of indoor Suzie is 100% soft rock. I've often caught the ladies singing along with Hall or Oates, and sometimes both, though I'm not convinced that Oates did much singing, and I suspect he was more of a songwriting force than presence on the vocal tracks. I could be wrong, or I could Wikipedia that, but I'm throwing caution to the wind and leading with my gut, which these days is necessarily how I lead anywhere I go, unless I'm crawling on all fours.

The bottom line is: I hope you had a good Christmas Day regardless of your celebratory preferences, and I think we could all agree that for the most part, it was just another day on the Avenue, the 'Bush, or as I've lately come to call it - the Flabenue.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lefferts Ave Crime Scene

Some of you may have noticed a "Crime Scene" lab van parked outside of 25 Lefferts Ave this afternoon. Turns out it wasn't parked their "off-duty." Neighbor Melvin Vargas was found stabbed to death inside his apartment, possibly falling victim to the crazed hands of a known assailant. More from NY's WCBS.

I don't think I'd ever noticed how conspicuous those vans are...when I saw it my gut sank to my shoes. I don't even know why I feel compelled to tell you about it...I don't know, perhaps you were wondering...anyhow, condolences all around, on this most tragic day for many.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Erasmus Hall Head Stabber Nabbed

It should shock no one that violence has once again erupted at a local high school. Given the portrayal of inner city schools in the Hollymediawood, I'm surprised we don't hear these stories all the time. And yet, every so often, a story captures one's attention, if only because it's so damn bizarre.

Local legend Erasmus Hall played host to a bizarre scene on Tuesday, when a b-ball game turned real ugly:

According to The Daily News, “Chevoy Nelson, 16, was mad because victim Alfredo Allen stole the ball from him during a lunchtime pickup game at the Prospect Park South school.” The News wrote:
The two teens were playing basketball in the third floor gym during lunch when Allen took the ball and wouldn’t give it to the increasingly angry Nelson. The furious teen punched Allen in the face then ran out to look for a weapon, witnesses said.
“He goes running around, asking everyone for a weapon,” said a police source. “He goes into a classroom and asks a teacher for acid. She obviously says no, but then she get distracted he grabs a pair of scissors and runs back to the gym. He chases (Allen) around, stabbing him.”

Wayne Morgan, an 18-year-old senior, said, “He stabbed the guy in the head like seven times. The teacher was there, but it’s not like he let it happen — the whole thing happened in like 5 seconds.”
Then this, the chilling clincher:

Police said after the attack Nelson went to a school office and sat quietly, his hands covered in blood.

So I'm thinking, in my armchair psychologist sorta way, that whatever lizard-brained urge this kid had to destroy his nemesis was calmed by his actions. In other words, according to his teenager DNA, he totally did the right thing.

I remember high school. Some days were definitely like that...

Glad to the victim is recovering well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Say It Ain't True, Q!

This is devastating news, and I really don't want to talk about it right now:

Shuttle buses will replace all Q subway service between Pacific Street and Prospect Park during the weekends of Jan. 7-9, Jan. 14-16, Jan. 21-23, Jan. 28-30, Feb.  11-13, Feb. 18-20 and Feb. 25-27.
Southbound Q trains operate express between Kings Highway and Brighton Beach during the weekend of March 17-19.

Caledonian Construction Commences Cacophonically

Caledonian Hospital may yet have its second act. Riding by today I was struck by the sheer mess involved in turning real estate lead into gold. Joe Chetrit and company have a lot a lot a lot of work to do to turn this shell of a commercial building - the yet-to-be-niftily-named 100 Parkside Ave - into the luxury condos of their vision. Pictures like these below show that the multi-year sitting-on-your-investment stage is officially over...cranes and trucks are carnivorously tearing at the old hospital's flesh.

This afternoon there were many decibels to be detected, and I'm feeling sorry for my neighbors - many hundreds of neighbors - who will be inconvenienced for god-knows how long. Let's hope the dilly dallying and lollygagging are kept to a bare minimum.

You know, it's frankly a bit hard to imagine the changes that will come to Caledonian Flatbush when quite suddenly dozens of market-rate apartments go for sale all at once along the forgotten southern border of Brooklyn's Shangri-la. I can almost see the tag lines to the adverts: "steps to Tennis! a soccer moms dream! ancient Greek architecture views! ducks, geese and swans a-plenty!"

But you gotta wonder...where are those folks gonna drop their bourgie duckets?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Delroy's - Panini w/ Panache

Not to be outdone by Yelp or Urbanspoon, the Q gets to the 'Net first with a local omnivore's well-written and heartfelt review of the new sit-down joint next to the wine store at 65 Fenimore. The cafe is called Delroy's, and though the Q himself is in no position to luxuriate with such European-length meals, I'm glad to present the below review from a trusted source. This from the field:

Well, we had a very sweet evening at Delroy's, and we heartily recommend that everyone in the neighborhood who has a date to take immediately take their date to panini.

The lady had the (tomatoey!) tomato soup and salad panini; I had the chicken soup and (scruncheous) grilled cheese panini: total tab, twenty-five bucks. And Ashanti, the impressario or impressaria behind the panini press is about the friendliest woman in the world. She's formerly of Lincoln Tavern, and she makes a delicious meal. On the way out, we told her, "Brunch, coffee, waffles, crepes, further hot pressed foods!" But, frankly, even as is, Delroy's is something the neighbord has needed for a long, long time. A place with a simple soundtrack, simple decor, a simple menu ... you leave your apartment, and an hour and a half later you're back home, never having left the neighborhood, well fed, happily socialized, and feeling like the world is spinning properly on its axis.
Then some pics to seal the deal:

So don't be a weanie; try the panini, and let us know what you think in the comments below! Babs? I'm waiting Babs!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shocker: Dollar Van & Bus Collide on Flatbush

Update (12/17) No less an authority than the Old Red Rat (to the Times' Old Gray Lady) a/k/a The New York Post confirmed the crash involved three teens trying to rob the Dollar Van at knife point. Apparently 10 people were injured; four seriously.

Who'da thunk? A dollar van and B41 crashed in front of the Dunkin' Donuts on Flatbush near Parkside late this aft. The below picture is from some completely random unreliable source is purportedly of the bus 'n' van post crash. I'm shocked that the daily game of chicken played between MTA and DV Nation could ever end badly. Not sure about injuries, but some were taken to hospital. There's a crazy rumor going around the Twitter about the van driver getting stabbed, or stabbing somebody, but let's not trust the T-verse without corroboration.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brooklyn Finest Replaces Gran Bwa

If you've been to the Gem for a tree skirt, or Flatbush Fashion for a skirt skirt, you've undoubtedly seen the well-lit new boutique known as Brooklyn Finest. It crazily quickly replaced longtime fixture Gran Bwa, the Haitian knick-knacks joint. I still miss the Vodou drumming and incense burning in the abandoned phone booth that made a passage along west Flatbush such a mind-twist. The above picture shows the Grand Opening, where Brooklyn Finest had the brilliant scheme of GIVING AWAY a limited number of shirts 'n' hats 'n' stuff to draw attention to their wares. Never underestimate the power of "free."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Breaking News: Busted on Bedford

A tipster informs the Q that major police action shuttered the bodega on Bedford 'tween Parkside and Winthrop. Anybody got more info? According to the source, a few folks were cuffed and hauled off at the joint known to insiders, and to anyone who can read the sign, as "Puerto Plata."

I've been by it a couple hundred times, stopped in occasionally, and I never noticed any shenanigans. Always seemed pretty mellow actually. What's your take?

A picture of a plantains, not unlike the ones frequently available at Puerto Plata, must suffice in lieu of actual photo-journalism. I'll see if the 71st has anything to say about it; the bust, not the picture.

Kash for Kalashnikovs

Following up on the recent study by the Brookings Institution showing that 78% of blog readers own or traffic in illegal guns, the Q implores you all to take advantage of the upcoming cash for guns program. Now's the perfect time, especially heading into the holiday season, when bloggers and egg-noggers typically butt heads, leading to an alarming rise in drunken crimes of passion. Last year, half of all Brownstoner commenters ate or served lead.

In all seriousness, these things really do work, according to the NYPD, which keeps on doing them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Playground Should Be Ready By Dead o' Winter

If you haven't been down Winthrop tween Bed & Rog you've missed a remarkable transformation taking place almost daily. The new playground looks to be lovely - landscaping, lots of seating, tons of chess tables (maybe the guys on Woodruff will shift locations?) The Q is super happy about this one. PS 92 gets much needed recreation space, teens get nice basketball courts, and parents have another option besides trekking all the way to the park, which might not seem like a long way to the childless, but trust me, every block can be an adventure with a wee one. Nice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ramagi on Rogers

Check out this here fancy-schmancy sign for a brick-oven pizza joint soon to open on Rogers near Hawthorne:

Now, I gotta say. Just cuz you use bricks doesn't make it good. Nor does the current fad for $20 personal pan pizzas seem to me to have legs beyond the artisanal cheese crowd. BUT...if Ramagi's is a proper sit-down joint, my guess is they're going to do very well, regardless of the quality of their bricks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

BP Stands For Beware Pedestrians

The recent attention paid to troubled corner Parkside/Ocean has stirred up a mighty sandstorm of sentiment. I recall early in the discussion about that corner people were saying "hey, if you deal with that crossing you better deal with Parkside/Flatbush too." True enough that corner has stratospheric accident numbers too, and then came the recent pedestrain death to nail home what we all know well...traffic's a bitch around here, whether you're walking, biking, driving, swimming...but I do feel the need to point out a major difference between the two - Parkside/Flatbush suffers primarily from intense scofflawism. Speeding, running red lights, not waiting your turn to turn, crazy lane shifting...add to this (and this might not make me very popular) some really boneheaded pedestrian jaywalking, and you've got a hot mess. BUT...the intersection itself is pretty typical four-corner stoplight stuff. Parkside/Ocean suffers from serious problems of design as well - a huge unmarked space and five roads - though I'm sure improvements could be made at P/F too. The fact is, speed kills when you're in a wreck. The motorcycle accident touches a nerve, I think, because all of us suspend a bit of disbelief every time we venture out near our beloved main street. Another case in point...

A reader sent me some pictures yesterday (below) that show what we all know to be yet another local traffic cat-and-mouse game. The triangular BP station just below Lefferts has struck many of us [sic] as insanity-with-three-sides. There are "driveways" everywhere, parked cars at every-which-angle, and motorists speeding in and out all willy-nilly. Upon hearing that I was going to write about it, my good law-abiding friend informed me that he too on occasion "created" his own egress after gorging on gas. A scary fact is, and the below pictures prove, that the curb cuts intended for wheelchair access are used more often than the actual driveways when drivers exit certain "corners." Hey, it can save a few seconds, especially if the traffic light is not in your favor! Chaos, thy name is spelt BP.

So...what can be done? One, never walk, bike or drive in the neighborhood. And if number one does not seem reasonable, then bring your concerns before the Community Board. The transportation committee chair is Ed Fanning. Ed's a great guy and super-knowledgeable about all things City. But he and the other chairs of committees need residents to bring their concerns before the Board so that City agencies hear about our complaints through "official" channels. It's either that, or we can get elected officials to get involved, who will or won't respond depending on any number of factors. What I'm going to say next may sound antithetical given our recent success in getting Mathieu Eugene on board for the traffic calming's fine to tell electeds about your issues, but it's not always gonna work, especially if your issue doesn't coincide with their electoral objectives (i.e. getting another four years in office). I absolutely think that we should use the CB committees to get the ball rolling...once something leaves committee, it goes straight to the appropriate agency with an official looking letter coming from the District Manager. Believe it or not, it GETS RESULTS. That's not to say you shouldn't call Yvette Clarke, or Tish James, or Eric Adams or Barak Obama or Dr.'s just that there is a legitimate community-led forum for concerns (the CB) and it has been massively underutilized in this neighborhood. I'm on a crusade to get people to realize that STUFF DOESN'T JUST HAPPEN to make things better - PEOPLE make things better by getting involved. I do hope you'll send me an email with your transportation concerns, and I'll forward it to Ed directly. Then again, if everything is hunky dory, don't bother squawking...the CB won't come knockin'

And Mathieu - please DO add the BP cruster-fruck to the growing number of complaints I send your way! I'm making a list, checkin' it twice, and gonna find out...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pedestrian Struck at Flatbush and Parkside - Looks Serious

We're trying to get more info on a pedestrian who was struck at the infamous corner Flatbush/Parkside (next up D.O.T.!) during this morning's commute...this is just too sad, and the timing too weird for words. It looks serious, and the walker was apparently unconscious on the scene. Anyone have more info? Prayers welcome. UPDATE: The woman was hit by a motorcycle and has since died.

Flatbush is a four-lane menace. Between buses and dollar vans, double-parkers and extreme motorcyclists, plus livery cabs and the run of the mill idiot NY drivers, it's a disaster. Rogers Ave is also in our district, and recently won the distinction of most sped. Want to test your skills of agility? Try walking across Ocean at Woodruff. Have working ears? Try ignoring the constant honking along Clarkson. The whole sector is a bloody disaster, if you ask the Q. Exciting, but deadly. Wasn't it just a couple months ago a lady was killed on Flatbush at Lincoln?

For those who want to see the plan to change the intersection down the block, the plan is at the DOT website. A key point from the presentation is that this intersection ranks in the top 2% of most dangerous intersections city-wide, as does Parkside/Flatbush. Further proof of that is not needed. Here's a couple pics I just scanned for the click-o-phobic, but I suggest looking at the nicer pdf copies with all the bells and whistles:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the Q's Art Gone From Plaza - New Day Rising?

It's gone y'all. They said they were gonna take it down, and they did. And the timing was auspicious, since last night the DOT unveiled its big plan to change the name of the intersection from Death Corner to Half-As-Many-Deaths Corner. This must be the Bureaucracy Gods way of telling us it's time to think about how we want this ginormous unused public space to look - now and into the future. It's ours. Let's make it the envy of the City.

Ideas? I know the Community Board's Parks Committee is open...we just need to unite behind a plan and stay focused til it happens. I really hope that momentum is on our side, because what with the park's massive new Lakeside project, and the closing of this corner's entrance for traffic...we have a real opportunity to say something positive about our home through the magic of public design. Again...don't leave it to me. My latest idea is a giant human chess game taking place 24-7, giving employment to out-of-work actors and out-of-work costume makers. Then every Saturday you do sort of a Renaissance Fair, with jousting and wenches and lots of artisanal mead. Like I said, don't let me have anything to do with but cheer leading.

And by the way, last night was awesome. Take a peek at all of your neighbors who trudged through the rain to check out the plan to improve safety at Parkside and Ocean:

The presentation was strong, the ideas were good, and our questions were both passionate and astute. I mean...what's going on here? It was practically...dare I say it...productive. Great input from Ed Fanning of CB9's Transportation Committee, crucial input from Annie Williams of the Woodruff Block Association (I'm with you Annie - Woodruff traffic's a mess, and I blame my own Clarkson Avenue for feeding you the cars!). Celeste Lacy Davis from the Ocean on the Park Historic District made good points about the need for traffic calming along Ocean. All the high profile cats and dogs were in attendance, from the Democratic District Leader to Lefferts Manor Association prez to reps from the two most affected community boards (14 and 9), both precinct community councils (70th and 71st), a guy whose name I missed who said he was the head of the East 21st Block Association (Woodruff to Church), and lots of concerned citizens from 353 Ocean Avenue, a/k/a Prospect Park East. Plus Carrie from Hawthorne Street who got the whole ball rolling with her video nigh on three years ago, and her plan created in conjunction with Transportation Alternatives. And of course, the lady who got us all there, Maddie Fix-Hansen, who spoke eloquently of the need for drivers to get ticketed up the wazoo. All in all, a nice bunch of neighbors, and I felt proud of us all.

It's a good plan. With minor tweaks, let's make it happen, and show that when we put our minds and hearts to something, we can make shite happen. We may not be Pork Slip, and we don't wanna be, but the Man better be on notice - there's some fire in the Caledonian belly! (Or is that post-jerk indigestion?)

The plan itself? I'll post a diagram as soon as I get a good copy. In the meantime, here's my layman's description:

In addition to closing the park to vehicle entrance, they will extend the curb into the intersection, making the entire box smaller. The crosswalks will be tighter too - for instance, you'll go from the current corner in front of the Q station ON A DIAGONAL to the Park corner. Visibility will be improved greatly, for both pedestrians and drivers. Buses will no longer be allowed to idle on Ocean - this change will be affected by removing parking meters on the McDonalds side of Parkside and having the buses wait there. New, better markings will reduce driver confusion. And in all likelihood they will add some sort of enhanced traffic signal, like a left-turn only and head-starts for pedestrians.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Date w Destiny - Tuesday

Not six months since we all made a big stink, the DOT plans an unveiling of its new traffic design for Parkside at Ocean. Please come tomorrow night at 6:30 to the Calvary Pentecostal Church on Woodruff tween Flat and Ocean, to express your opinion. Note: I've been warned that a pro-car crowd might be out to shout down any proposed changes, even though from what I've seen of the plan it should make life easier on automobiles - right now it's total chaos, buses parking willy-nilly creating visibility hazards, and drivers not knowing where or when to turn. Kudos to Maddie Fix-Hansen for staying on top of the issue.

See you there! (poster pic above taken by our western correspondent).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stray Cats and Old Man Winter

Mrs. FlatBed and I have managed to help keep our feral (i.e. wild) cats warm for winter nigh on 8 years. After spaying and neutering a baker's dozen of cats through the Trap Neuter & Return program, we found ourselves caring for the felines too wild to be adopted (we found homes for four). Cats are hardy, and can handle almost any weather thrown at them...but the extreme cold can be deadly. And although they're incredibly cunning at finding crevices into basements and sponging heat coming up from grates, every winter we've lost at least one during the frostiest weeks. If you want to read more about our experience with this ever-so-ingenius method of dealing with out-of-control cat populations, you can read this old Q post here.

Reader Eagle Eye M.S. sent me this link that gives some options for how to build or buy a simple but effective shelter to keep your lovelies warm on the worst nights. He's a cat fancier as well, and I applaud his efforts and those of countless protectors of street cats all over our fair city.  By the way if you're interested in becoming a colony's guardian angel, that there link takes you to the site of Neighborhood Cats, an org started in 1999 that can walk you through the procedure of securing the safe future for your clan. It's incredibly rewarding, and the cat's - and your neighbors - will thank you for it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

205 Parkside Gets Ready For Its Closeup

Those of you who commute by walking down Parkside to the Q already know the remarkable transformation that has taken place to 205, the Moses Fried owned building that has been the bane of the block for more than two decades. Here you can see that new windows, removed graffiti and new glass to the lobby have done wonders, though the scaffolding continues to thwart passers-by:

Just one year ago, it looked like this:

People have said I'm obsessed with the progress, but the look of the building is not my primary issue with Fried and his grandson David Tepper's development project. It's the "use" of the building, which is described as a long-stay hotel. The Community Board refused is other plan to change the Certificate of Occupancy, so he changed the plan to conform with a well-worn business model of his. Other Prince Hotel projects have yielded hooker/drug joints - no way to candy coat it. They've become hourly places "under the table."

I worked for the Doe Fund, a creative program for homeless men that involved the Ready, Willing and Able work and sobriety program, and I know well that there's a need for single-occupancy room (SRO) housing, especially given the state of homeless shelters in 2011. So the fact that Fried took a perfectly nice apartment building and turned it into a shelter-esque joint is not my beef. It's that as a landlord and developer, Fried has shown little interest in people beyond profit. Though in fairness, he leased a building of his to a pretty decent non-profit on Woodruff serving a deserving population of homeless women and kids. Let's be clear though - the price was right; Fried's no do-gooder. Given two such rather large buildings on Woodruff, another huge shelter-building at across Ocean on Woodruff, a real big one at 60 Clarkson, and it would be fair to say we've got a high percentage of "transient" folks in a fairly tight radius. I don't want to speculate about what that means for the neighborhood...though I've certainly heard plenty of opinions through the years. A building in northern PLG cause a major brouhaha over just this sort of business plan (read about Providence House here). I found the argument a bit overwrought, given that we live in a way more heavily "social-serviced" neighborhood down here, largely without too much trouble. Though I'm not impressed with how most landlord's assume their responsibility in maintaining these buildings, and in particular, the comings and goings of non-residents. Ambulances and police cars are frequent visitors to the four buildings I mentioned, and some of the stories I've heard of goings-on give me pause. And yet, this is part of the grand experiment of NYC, rich and poor, privileged and troubled, that hopefully still exists as an ideal in the hearts of many. The reality on the ground? Often less than ideal. Just ask the tenants.

More to come on 205 Parkside. I hope for the best, though the fact that squatters have been living there throughout the demo and construction makes me think Fried has little true caring for the people he claims to want to serve. One "resident" whom I queried says he's been paying rent for years. Wow. In an abandoned building without utilities. That's bold. "I'm a deeply religious man" is Fried's favorite refrain. I hope he lives up to the words of his faith.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cortelyou Road? Not so surprising, considering...

In the spirited discussion that followed my recent post about past efforts to attract new bourgie businesses to Flatbush Avenue, I jumped into the fray and suggested that if people are serious about changing the tenor of the ave, they should organize along the lines of the star-crossed Prospect Lefferts United for Services (PLUS). And someone, I think it was Alexis, brought up Cortelyou Road. Well...funny thing. That was one of the things I was researching as a sidebar to the story, and I came across a somewhat illuminating article by Idil Abshir in The Brooklyn Ink that described exactly the kind of scenario that Mark Dicus et al were trying to make happen here. Though etiquette suggests you click the link above, some just can't be bothered to click, so I excerpt a bit here, hopefully with the author's indulgence:

Jan Rosenberg, who has lived here [ditmas park] since 1986, says that the neighborhood was drastically different when she moved in. “The houses were more deteriorated and in need of repairs,” she said. “The main difference was that it was much more dangerous.”  Rosenberg was a sociology professor at Long Island University in downtown Brooklyn before she ventured in to the real estate business. She is currently a partner at Brooklyn Hearth Realty. In 2001, Rosenberg founded Friends of Cortelyou- a group that sought to attract business to Cortelyou Road. [theQ's ed. note - the acronym would therefore have been FoC, with a hard consonant "c," but somehow it never became common parlance in polite company. ]
There were no new businesses drawn to the area. Friends of Cortelyou tried to attract merchants, convinced that this could redefine the neighborhood. “Our commercial strip is so short. I strongly felt, after looking at other neighborhoods, that three or four new businesses would make an impact, ” said Rosenberg. “We had nice houses and nice apartments but no businesses.” Rosenberg clarified that while useful stores existed, like the delis and dollar stores, nothing was in place that neighborhood residents were drawn to. Rosenberg went on to say that her work developing Cortelyou Road, and her current job as a realtor was never a far departure from sociology. “I got into real estate as a function of what I was doing with Friends of Cortelyou- trying to change Cortelyou Road,” Rosenberg said. “It was kind of applied sociology.”

So yes, an economic development group is often a catalyst to get folks thinking about attraction, and it leads to things that lead to things that lead to things. Then, there's further, and ultimately odd, chunk of the story:

Susan Siegel, the creator of the farmer’s market at Cortelyou, and later the executive director of the Flatbush Development Corporation said the changes to Cortelyou Road were absolutely necessary, because the area was experiencing ‘economic leakage.’ Nobody was investing or spending in the neighborhood. “We liked that it’s not Park Slope, but at the same time there was so much missing. We spent more money outside the neighborhood than in it,” Siegel said. “If I needed to cook something with broccoli or arugula I had to leave the neighborhood.” [emphasis theQ's]

Siegel says that the farmer’s market is at the core of the neighborhood. “The farmer’s market is like the town square,” Siegel said. “It was a way that all diverse neighbors could come together for the first time ever. It was a real community builder.”
The challenges Siegel faced involved getting people to come to the market, and proving to existing businesses that the market wasn’t going to take away their business: something that was easily achieved since the market provided goods that resident had to leave Flatbush to find. Business owners faced different challenges. One of the current owners of Picket Fence, one of the first restaurants to open during Cortelyou Road’s renaissance, said that it was a huge risk for the original owner of the place. “He took the gamble and didn’t know if there would be a payoff,” said Roma Agarwal a joint owner since 2007. “But he saw the incentive, he saw the market here.”
So Siegel took the "friends of" group one step further to become a "corporation," which by all accounts is a major player down there. But here's the irony to the foodie bit...there was always good raw food in the neighborhood - the Flatbush Food Coop has been around on Cortelyou since 1985, albeit in a smaller storefront than the minor behemoth of today.  Heck I remember wandering into that Coop in the early 90's, a bit grunged-around-the-collar, and laughing at the ridiculously named vegetables, fresh herbs and hippie leaning brands. I find it odd that the Coop isn't even mentioned by Siegel, who claims she had to leave the neighborhood for coop staples as arugula or broccoli. And by the way, you don't have to WORK at this Coop to enjoy the food...though it can be a bit pricey by Park Slope Food Coop standards. Curious. Personally, I think the farmer's market is cute, but there ain't much to it, and I can't imagine it trumped the bourgie places like Picket Fence and Farm on Adderly as catalysts. Still, some enterprising fool could start a farmer's market at the mall of the Q at Parkside, and I suspect it'd be a sleeper hit. There was talk recently of a group coming in to do an "artisan" market as well. Me, I'm still thinking fountain, but I just so love a good water feature!

So to the question at hand I pose this: yes, it takes the neighborhood cleaning up its act. Yes it helps to have a couple of strong civic groups pushing the agenda, even a B.I.D., or at the very least an actually functioning merchant's association. And most importantly it takes even just one or two intrepid entrepreneurs (Play Kids?) to start a landslide.

But here's the real difference: Cortelyou was a no man's land, hurting even for foot traffic. Flatbush is a thriving, if salon-heavy, avenue with tons and tons and tons of traffic, foot and otherwise. What we have here is no Franklin, or Cortelyou, or even Dekalb or Smith. We have the tri-state epicenter for wigs, styling, braiding and weaves and nails, with a massive contingent of West Indian cuisine and curios. (editor's note: I changed the next sentence to better reflect what I wanted to say, since I got wacked for my last sentence!) This is why so many come from all over to spend money here, and we should work WITH that powerful starting place rather than clean slate approach elsewhere. I favor a cleanup approach - drugs, gangs, garbage - that needless hold back the positive existing businesses and keep others from starting. Each block could and should deliver services to a wide range of folks, and then our main street could become the envy of diversity and local ingenuity.

I'm still annoyed by that arugula and broccoli quote though.

Latest FlatBed Demands More "Amenities" on Flatbush

A hearty welcome to Little Miss Clarkson FlatBed Jr. the II, who joined Caledonian society today at 11AM, weighing in at a bruising 10 lbs 13 ounces and just shy of 2 feet. Her first words were "maybe a modest sit-down middle eastern place on parkside avenue? i dunno. just sayin'. wah-wah-wah-wah"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Cautionary Tale That Bears Rehashing - Part I 1/2 of What's Really Going On

I've met a lot of great folks in my year-and-a-half of blogging. I've gotten to know my hometown a lot better. I've watched and listened to people, old and new, with big ideas and enormous passion for civic issues. There's tons of energy 'round here, and no shortage of brains either. But something happened a few years back that I just got to share, because in researching the "story" I found myself wondering if there is some sort of strange curse pulsing through the sewers of northeastern Flatbush, that ensures that the kind of pollyanna chutzpah affecting other parts of Brooklyn will never happen here. Maybe it SHOULDN'T happen here, and that's what the good Lord's trying to tell us! So relax, and let me tell you the tale of an effort towards economic development some years ago that went horribly awry.

I recently sat down with Mark Dicus, whose name was once almost synonymous with post-millenial "change" in PLG. Half a dozen years ago Mark, w/his budding family in tow, took a look around the 'hood and wondered why it seemed stuck in time - as in the late '80s early '90s time - and so few "amenities" were taking hold like in other parts of the borough. theQ's memory of the time was that NYC was regaining that pre-9/11 swagger, and new businesses were sprouting up, along with a renewed vigor in the real estate market all over town. People were buying and flipping houses again, and banks were lending with quite a bit of, how did Alan Greenspan put it? Froth. (Yes, the stodgy Chairman of the Federal Reserve used the word "froth." Turns out, froth fairly understated the circumstances, but the fall of Lehman was a couple years off, so the nation's expert money guy could be forgiven for missing the meaning of a few leading indicators. Like froth.)

So our neighbor Mark says hey, other neighborhoods are creating environments favorable to business, and its working, so why not here? They're cleaning up their streets, making them safer, strengthening retail corridors, changing the ethos for business and hoping that all boats rise. He founded PLUS (Prospect Lefferts United for Services), a name he almost instantly regretted, but it's so hard changing a name after it sticks, and to my ear PLUS sounds pretty good, even if the phrase behind the acronym is pretty odd. PLUS quickly distinguished itself by cleaning up around Lincoln Road, encouraging places like K-Dog and Enduro to open up, finding some money to help businesses put up new gates and awnings (ever wondered why Papa & Sons and that deli on Lincoln near Ocean look so relatively upscale? Thank PLUS!), helping get the ArtMart thing off the ground w/PLG Arts...PLUS was cooking with gas and seemed headed for greater things. It had a seven-or-so member Board, and in researching this true story, the Q poured over the public listserve of PLUS (it's still up there on the Yahoo), and I must say there is ample evidence of a lively and upbeat and diverse group, meeting regularly, getting pumped and doing some pretty great work, especially for a bunch of volunteers receiving no remuneration. So...what happened?

The downfall started when Dicus found a grant opportunity too good to pass up...and so PLUS wrote what I can only imagine was a great proposal to a City economic development group for money to create a "real" organization, with a "real" budget, and a chance to make a more deliberate and sustained difference in the neighborhood. Given Mark's effective leadership of the group to that point, it made sense to him (and to anyone with an ounce of common sense) that he would be the person to lead the group once the money became available. Given that a "real" organization needs full-time administration and accountability, a salary would be involved. And in fact, the grant in question pretty much necessitated it. Someone would have to be held responsible for administering the money, and accountable to the Board for his/her actions. All of this should have been pretty easy to sort out. At the very least, the Board could have given the guy the gig and re-assessed when the grant money ran out.

I've worked in non-profits for years, in fundraising in fact, and what happened next is really quite shocking. Rather than the Board asking Dicus to step down as board chair to take the Executive Director position, with modest compensation to come from the grant - which they won HURRAY! - the board completely imploded and couldn't even get it together enough to accept the first trickle of money from a six-figure multi-year grant. That's right...after months and years of fantastic well-oiled work, and with some real money now finally after another of the board members quit til there was nothing left.

Back then there was a lively blogging community that predates yours truly, Hawthorne Street, PLOG and the like. Son of PLG and Across the Park both wondered aloud what-the-hell-happened, and the many people counting on PLUS to forge ahead were left confused and angry. I've talked to various people involved in PLUS's demise, but the general consensus is that it's well past time to move on, even if there's still a bit of disappointment and even bitterness lingering. The only pivot point that is incontestable is this: just after the big grant application went in, Dicus wrote a note on the listserve intended for the Board only that went to the general readership. I'm not quite sure what the mechanics of that were, but regardless many people unfamiliar with the board's plans to expand suddenly were given access to that information, and a lot of unsophisticated rumors began to circulate about how the money was going to destroy, rather than help, the cause. Some people wondered in public whether Dicus should even be considered for the gig - this after basically proving himself over two years of unpaid volunteer work. Once Dicus himself left the board in disgust, the great irony is that he was subsequently hired by the Church Avenue B.I.D. to do basically the SAME job, but for the folks immediately to the south of us.

And so ends our cautionary tale. What lessons are learned? First, be very careful about who you put on the board of your budding non-profit. It may all seem like fun and all-for-one and one-for-all until things get serious, and then people's true colors come through. Make sure your agenda is clear to your board AND to the general public at all times. Make sure not to press "send" on the listserve til you're sure you know who you're sending to. Don't assume that everyone sees eye to eye with you on how best to move the neighborhood forward.

Between the resurgent PLGNA,  Parkside Prize, PLG Civic, LinRoFORMA, PLG Arts and more...there's definitely plenty of catalysts to spark change. Let's hope they're more successful in navigating the waters of growth. (waters of growth - is that a lame metaphor or what? I gotta go to work now...)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cobu Post Struck a Nerve

The internet, with its many tentacles, managed to draw a number of comments to theQ's post on the Church of Bible Understanding's domicile on Woodruff. The original post on COBU yielded many comments from ex-cult-members who probably found the post through a link I made to an ex-member's fascinating blog. Normally I wouldn't rehash an old post, but I found the comments attached to my original post terribly enlightening, particularly the most recent that accuses COBU (also known by its commercial enterprise - Olde Good Things) of misrepresenting donations made to Haitians, where COBU has a presence in the form of a "mission" to young people. And by misrepresenting I mean, of course, stealing.

Just the other day while biking by, I saw a very sad and lonely looking dude walking out of the building. Thinking back to the emancipated commenters, I almost wanted to throw my arms around the guy and say "you can always start again, out here in the free world." But I chickened out, and probably would have scared him. Maybe ex-members will stop by and do some reverse evangelizing?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Trouble's A-Brewin' Over Medgar Evers Greenspace Project

Many of you may never venture north of Empire Blvd. Brooklyn's funny that way, particular if you don't bike or own a car. If you live in Flatbush though, it's worth a journey to the north and east of the Botanic Garden. Technically, this is Crown Heights. It's home to some truly beautiful blocks, some hideously scarred post-industrial wasteland blocks, some beautifully scarred post-industrial blocks (check out the "Spice Factory" on Franklin) and a few humble retail corridors. The area is also home to Medgar Evers College, a community-based extension of the CUNY system that has grown quite a bit over the last decade. In recent year's, it built a new state-of-the-art Health and Science building which is quite striking, rising as it does above Bedford Avenue at Crown Street. Not long ago, this important bedrock institution of the neighborhood announced a nearly $20 million plan to create an actual campus where none existed. The plan involves closing Crown Street to traffic, and making a hangout-able landscaped greenspace that looks something like this:

Pretty cool, right? This 4-year college serves predominantly low-income "minority" students, is geared towards providing a leg-up to those wishing to reverse misfortune, was created without precedent BY community groups and leaders during the tumultuous '60s, and has thrived through the many crazy years since. The new space is intended to provide a campus-feel to its thousands of students for generations to come. No brainer! Win-Win! Hurray for our team!!!

But wait, there's more...and it ain't pretty.

Thursday night I had the good fortune to attend the latest meeting of Community Board 9, which for those who don't know covers much of the area east of Prospect Park and north from Clarkson. The way these meetings work: various issues come before the CB as agenda items, placed by the various committees of the Board. Sometimes, as was the case this night, public opinion is requested on a proposal that was made to the City's land use, or ULURP, division of the department of planning. Folks sign up to speak to the agenda. I had been told to brace for a fire-storm on the Crown Street closing idea, and sure enough the place became electric with anger in fairly short order.

It strikes this blogger that something MORE than just the proposed closing of Crown street is at play, judging from the near unanimous vitriol blasted at the project, mostly from longtime residents of Crown street one block to the east. If you haven't been down that block, you really should treat yourself! It's gorgeous, amazing terraced landscaping, beautifully maintained historic houses, olde fashioned lightposts, the whole nine. One would think, and one would be wrong, that residents of this street and other beauties near it, would welcome the addition of well-maintained public greenspace just to their west. One would also think that by closing down that street to traffic, fewer cars from outside would use Crown as a thoroughfare. If you look at a map, or if you drive or bike it yourself, you can see that residents might be inconvenienced by the closing, since they'll now have to take a right or left on Bedford to continue their trip from their homes, where before they could drive all the way through to Washington. However, residents don't see this as a mere inconvenience, and they apparently near-unanimously hate the plan. Most of the speakers said the street closure would cause severe hardship, even suggesting that the intense street-clogging would create toxic conditions for area youth. Although one might assume that street parking would be a concern to these nearby neighbors, one speaker made a point of saying that parking was not the issue at all, and that she and many neighbors had garages or driveways rendering street parking irrelevant. Others refuted the notion that the area needs "greenspace" at all, given the proximity to the Park and Garden. Though I don't think I need to point out that the Garden is not free, so that one's kinda apples to oranges.

What gives? Apparently, various local block associations came together over the summer for a forum to discuss the plan. It wasn't organized by the Community Board or the City or DOT or Medgar Evers - it was put together by some really smart, caring, and apparently pissed-off homeowners who wanted a place to vent their frustration over the plan. Elected officials were invited to witness the furor, and some - like Councilperson Tish James - vowed to block the plan at every opportunity, seemingly in the spirit of her valiant star-crossed vendetta against the Nets Arena. Many of the speakers at the CB meeting cited this earlier community meeting that was held at a local church, where there were (anecdotally) a couple hundred people, as proof that nobody wants a $17 million project that closes the street, and even mentioned that President Pollard of the College said that maybe he'd have to go back and revisit the idea of closing the street. Attendees felt they had scored a victory at that meeting, and were outraged that the Community Board would even be talking about it.

You know, they might be right about the traffic snarls; it could be Carmageddon in Crown Heights if they close that street, and it would be good to know that DOT has a plan to combat it. BUT...there was absolutely nothing wrong with talking about it, and the way these various civic leaders lashed out at District Manager Pearl Miles and the committee chair (who gave the report that led to the discussion), was incredibly disrespectful and unnecessarily angry. I can appreciate that people experience NIMBY outrage - god knows I have a time or two! But really...we're your neighbors, guys. We want to hear your opinion, not your shouting and vein-bulging. Save it for people who ACTUALLY want to do you harm, rather than people who are there to listen.

Tish James had a good procedural point though...apparently Medgar Evers withdrew this plan in order to conduct a more thorough study of the project's effect on traffic. So this whole conversation at the CB level was premature. However, if a Community Board is to have any role to play in advising matters of City planning, it must have informational discussion sessions like the one last Tuesday. All of the rhetoric about how "this conversation shouldn't even be happening" was ludicrous. How else are we going to find out how people feel? And I'm sorry, but people can meet and jabber in churches all they want, but that doesn't supplant actually convened meetings of the community board, which supposedly is representative of more than just a couple of blocks.

In my limited dealings with CB9's committees however, I agree with Jesse Hamilton, the Democratic District Leader, when he complains of poor organization. It's a problem generally, and I'm pretty sure had the committee meetings been better run and articulated, we wouldn't have had such a wild scene from the pulpit. All that said, democracy was generally well-served by all the venting, and free speech flowed freely. All for the good I think.

Please comment, for or against, or provide more info, in the comments. I'm trying to remain neutral, though I'll admit I find most of the car-centric concerns to be self-serving, ignoring the longterm benefits to students and the neighborhood at large. I live on a congested block myself, though, and I would hope that a good survey of the plan's effect on traffic will be properly used when the REAL decisions get made.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Parkside Prize - Your Submission Please

It's time. You've considered every manner of idea to revamp Caledonia's humble main street. Now it's time to commit your vision to paper and send in your submissions. I'm sure you're tired of hearing me trumpet the awesomely optimistic Parkside Prize, $1,000 just for envisioning a new look for a tired block. As usual, Rudy says it best, so I'll leave it to him:

"Don't forget:  There is just one week left to register for the contest to redesign Parkside Avenue. 

We all know how shabby that block can be at its worst ... how maddening it is to see all that concrete after a walk through Prospect Park, how sad it is to see all that crumbling plaster and peeling paint after arriving home on the Q.  We all know how much better it could be, if the traffic were milder, if the sidewalks were cleaner, if the city cared for our block the way its cares for Columbus Circle, or Grand Army Plaza, or the Brooklyn waterfront.  This is your chance to remake your neighborhood.

The deadline to register is December 1.  The deadline to send in your design is December 15.  The grand prize is $1000.  All of the information you need is right here:

So!  All you designers, all you architects.  All you hackers and artists and freelancers.  All you who ride the subway and think of old Walt Whitman.  All you who, in your most private ambitions, see a city more open than Olmsted's, more modern than Moses's, more surreal than Julius Knipl's ...!  Yes, you ...!  All of you ...!  This is your hour ...!  Do not delay ...!  One thousand dollars ...!  Register today ...!" - Rudy on W

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's REALLY Going On, In Our Little Bit of Brooklyn, NYC, USA: Part I

An opinionated man, on caffeine, having just read two books on a single subject - now there's a dangerous combination. Throw in the fact that theQ has also logged dozens of hours this year at community meetings and interviews and civic blah-blah-blahs, and you've got a recipe for some big honking pronouncements. As's the State of the 'Hood from one blogger's perspective. Get your comment fingers ready!

So much of what gets said and thunk about our neighborhood centers on real estate, economic development, race and gentrification - that I felt it was time I collected my own thoughts, lest I become just another mindless jokester and civic-booster, forgetting my original reason to blog,  which was basically to make "sense" of my home of these many years (and presumably for many years to come). My experience with ACTUAL people on my block and environs lies in stark contrast to the usual "us against them" nonsense perpetuated by people who seem to have nothing better to write about Flatbush than conflict and outrage. Most people are just living their life, within their means, and are much too busy living, loving, birthing and dying to care much for these esoteric arguments anyway. But I'm a fan of dialectic, and frankly sometimes people say stuff that really heats up my bullshit meter, so maybe that meter is as good a place to start as any.

First, I don't buy that our area - NE Flatbush Q at Parkside PLG Caledonian Prospect Park E - is a neighborhood "in transition." Saying that a NYC neighborhood is going through change is like saying that butter melts on a's only a matter of how fast due to how hot the heat. The book "The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn," by Park Slope native Suleiman Osman, shows just how long is this story of change - certainly the modern "brownstoning" or "back to the City" movement in Brooklyn goes back to the early years of the Baby Boom (early '50s) as Brooklyn Heights saw a resurgence in its home values and an uptick in private single-family ownership, notably, even then, by head-strong white professionals. Such de-densifying of real estate is always a big cause of concern to housing advocates, though for many years it was slightly offset by the building of City housing and private, reasonably priced new buildings.

I could use my own house-story as example, with variation of course, of something playing out dozens of times each year on our side of the park. When my wife and I bought our place nearly a decade ago, 6-10 people were living here in various degrees of squalor. There was no heat, a backed-up sewer flooded the basement, electricity was being pulled "pro bono" off the street, and mounds of trash filled the backyard. No one living here was particularly fond of the house...they were probably fond only of the $100/wk rent. At the time of purchase, ours was basically a run-of-the-mill shithole boarding house - unsafe, unsavory and as a result, relatively cheap to buy, even for the era. Cheap is always relative of course - it cost WAY more than we'd ever imagined spending in one fell swoop, but we could make it work with "creative" financing (you could do that back then), a familial loan, and our middle-classy salaries. The transaction was so dull that were race or class not involved, the story of a couple buying a house formerly illegally diced into multiple fire-trap apartments by a greedy and dishonest slumlord would not provoke any interest or concern. In fact, our next door neighbors on either side were pretty relieved, and we were ecstatic to have found an actual townhouse that we could afford. A whole house. In the greatest city in the country. Wow. Dream? You bet. So in the actual on-the-ground world of man-needs-house, man-searches-for-house, man-buys-house...not much is going on. EXCEPT, and this is a big except...this man is a white man, moving into a neighborhood predominantly not-white, and he doesn't seem to think that's any big deal. In fact, he quite likes not being part of the oppressive sickly-precious majority for once, and so yes, in a certain sense, he DID choose to live in a non-white neighborhood, certainly over areas full of people afraid of true diversity. Maybe he's a little smug, but mostly he likes living close to the park, the train, having exciting neighbors from all over the place, and cheap shopping a-plenty, plus having a basement man-cave to play the loud rock 'n' roll music in, replete with drum kit.

Gentrifier? Who, me? No Way! I've lived all over this town, I'm not a richy-rich, and hell, I've always had to move because the rents started to rise around me and...wait. Wait a second. I was DISPLACED!!! That's IT!! Now I get it...I too have been gentrified, and no, it didn't always feel very good. Plus, I was probably part of the chain that led to the really big money moving in to my ex-hoods - Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, Gowanus, South Slope. Oh, it's so sinister! And yet, completely obvious and practically dictated by a free market. In fast-moving big-money cities like New York, it's buy or get out, so I'd heard, and then one day we finally had the down payment and the nerve, and we took the plunge. I don't recall hearing a complaint or protest at the time of the closing...though maybe that's because we live on a bus route. It's really noisy on Clarkson sometimes.

And speaking of displacement, I've recently been having conversations with renters who are feeling the heat as values rise...and the kicker here is that some of these priced-outers are people of the very sorts most closely identified with gentrification. It's a process, in other words, and it pretty much all comes back to people living where they can afford to live. Sometimes people suggest that this was not always so...but there's no evidence that it was ever any different. For a little while, it seemed that the political winds were blowing socialist, and NY really started to think progressively about how to keep people in neighborhoods even after rents shot up. But then the City and State went broke, and lots of the promises fell short, leaving rent controlled apartments in the hands of a lucky few, sometimes to millionaires. I know that huge swaths of our neighborhood are still rent stabilized, but even some of those buildings are either going coop or pulling out entirely, or unit by unit shooting up in rent as people get pushed out, brought in, then those new folks pushed's all pretty obscene really. Same as it ever was. When didn't a landlord with the upper hand take advantage? Almost never, of course.

Everything comes down to price after all.

Most people "gentrify" a neighborhood not as "pioneers" (offensive word, that) or urban idealists, but as realists. They do the math. They make lists of desirable and undesirable characteristics. They make lists of their fears and prejudices. They make lists and lists and lists. And their reasons for moving vary too - but the most-cited that I hear are "needed more space" and "got priced out." In other words, unless you're so well-off you can literally choose your house-size and neighborhood, you must do what so many of us do - you must compromise. Hopefully you end up somewhere cool, but few New Yorkers searching for a home are so lucky as to end up exactly where they wanted in exactly the kind of domicile they hoped for. But most, thankfully, learn to love and respect wherever they end up. That's why many neighborhoods become ever-more desirable, I suppose. People put down roots, become involved, and actively care for and about their neighbors. Word gets out, through mainstream outlets, and voila: Brooklyn Heights! Park Slope! Williamsburg! Ft. Greene! Old story, but when it comes right down to it, the previous generation saw the creation of dangerous and deeply impoverished urban ghettos, and that had an awful lot to do with the fact that the old guard simply up-and-moved, PDQ, often due to ignorance and racism of course, leaving behind a civic vacuum and lack of investment. Throw in redlining by banks and a few drug epidemics, and you could probably literally here the sound of civility getting sucked out of whole swaths of the City. All obvious enough, I suppose, but some people are blithely ignorant of our borough's history. Myself included, though I'm working on it.
The most recent part of Kings County history poses an unforeseen wrinkle: whiter and wealthier people moving back to the neighborhoods once left for blighted. (A lot of areas, like over in the Manor, never really suffered as much as outsiders believed, but the damage to central Brooklyn's reputation reached the status of conventional wisdom by, say, 1980). If you want to blame one factor above all for the flight back to the ghetto, I'd say it was the failure of the suburbs to live up to their promise. Whole generations of suburban kids grew up with a bad taste of cut sod in their noses. Add a dash of counter-cultural zeitgeist, and the whole brownstoning phenomenon makes perfect sense. As a good be-bopper, beatnick or hippie, you had two choices: head for the hills, or head for the hood. A surprising number chose the latter, and the process picked up steam, gradually at first, but eventually the tea water boiled. Herbal tea, certainly.

Inside the gentrifier there is often an idealistic streak, but for the purposes of this essay (not a blog post! an ESSAY!!) I would say it boils down to this: "the best I can afford." That's right. That's often the real, hideous truth. People in PLG, or Caton Park, or on Cortelyou, or Bed-Stuy or East New York or right here on good ol' Clarkson Avenue - they buy or rent the best they can afford. And they've ALWAYS done that. And ALWAYS will. The one thing that could possibly stand in the way of that axiom is legislated price controls - like rent stabilization, or subsidies or public housing or vouchers. Otherwise, houses and apartments are like any other currency - floating with the whims of the market. And by the way, I, like many others, checked out the whole stabilized/subsidy thing and found that I really didn't qualify and had no "leads" on a rent control pad. Such fickle policy is what happens when entitlements don't get dealt fairly, but don't get me least SOME people benefit from progressive policies, and I suppose that's something. (Though plenty of smart people think that letting the market float fully would actually create more affordable houses and prices. I'm a skeptic on that one, but who really knows? We may find out soon enough if Republicans and Landlords get their way in Albany.)

When house prices recently reached over $1.5 million on Midwood Street in Lefferts Manor, some mused that the idle rich had finally arrived in our neck of Flatbush. (Isn't it funny that people complain about both the idle rich AND the idle poor?) Sort of, without the "idle." There's still a great likelihood that our newest neighbors also made their lists of wants and needs and "settled" on a neighborhood that had a mixture of pluses and minuses. It's hard for some to imagine, but if you DO happen to have $1.5 million in cash or financing, that might not be because your income is massive - you may simply have been super fortunate to have bought years ago in an up-and-coming neighborhood elsewhere, and now you're simply trading "up in size" but not necessarily laying out oodles of annual cash, via income. It's not unusual for someone to be land-rich but cash-poor. If you really want to know whether your neighbor is "rich" by the way, a more interesting number than how much a house cost is how large was the mortgage. That's a better indicator of a family's income, but then, it's really none of my or your goddam business anyway! I still have my doubts that seriously wealthy people - one-percenter or even five-percenter types of any ethnicity - would choose to live on this side of the park, even now, but hey, some people are quirky that way.

Now I'm blabbering. I'm not cut out for this essay nonsense. But I'm not finished. yet Next post, after some public service announcements, I think I'll dig into the whole issue of what it means when a neighborhood changes it's racial mix. I still suspect it's a red herring though, masking the more marked change in the "class" makeup. Much to my pleasant surprise, many newcomers here are youngish couples or families, and many of them would get called "mixed race" by the census. Anecdotally, many brown/pink couples seem more comfortable in our hood than in whiter areas like Windsor Terrace, even when they could have afforded that side of the park. Actually, the terrace is scarily white for Brooklyn, likely the result of its never being hospitable to black folks EVER. Even when I moved near there in 1989 you rarely saw a dark hued person. I guess that may be some evidence for the class-trumps-race aspect of gentrification, because that neighborhood has gone through wholesale change in "culture" while retaining its solidly white demographic. Curiouser and curiouser!

Oh, and the other book? Great stuff from Lance Freeman called "There Goes the 'Hood," that concentrates more on what longtime residents think and say about gentrification. I love the stuff he reveals about black gentry and their role in the process. On the community board, I get to hang out and kibbitz with real gentry, not just the new kind, the old timers that held this community together through every manner of plague. And that, my friends, is something that I will sorely miss if the heat on the skillet shoots up too high, too fast.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Boutique Florist Hits Scene

Laying rest to that old cliche "real estate agents know nuthin' bout bouquets," Bette Cunningham, intrepid real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens and booster of PLG that she's been, has started a new home-based floral design company matching her passion for plants with her brains for business. It's called Yellow Jessamine, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Bette's going all out with the customer service, and she uses a highly decorative font. Seriously though, to many a homebuyer or seller, she has been a godsend - her reputation is stellar, and she always writes great descriptive prose in her listings - a talent in its own right. In her newest venture, she hopes to capitalize on her years of experience, in particular her skills honed through "staging" houses for sale. In fact, I remember when she was representin' a house a few doors down from me. We knew the sellers pretty well, and they said Bette was absolutely meticulous about how she wanted things to look when potential buyers arrived. And guess what? That house sold for CONSIDERABLY more than a near identical house mere doors down. That's a skill you bank on.

I sat down with Bette to chat about the new shingle she's hanging at her lovely Manor townhouse. (Technically, yes, I did sit down with her, assuming she also was sitting when she typed the email responses to me, though in all honesty not at the same time, so it's a bit of a stretch to pretend that we had an actual conversation in the seated position. I was most certainly sitting, probably in bed, never quite able to prop the laptop up in a way that makes typing feel natural or even recommendable, so if my questions sounded a little uncomfortable, you know the reason. Sorry, too, Bette, for any and all typos, and for the fact that I didn't believe that "floristry" was a real word, which it is, and it refers to all things concerning the commerce of flowers.  - sincerely, theQ)

I noted that her home has some of the nicest landscaping around - not that I'm an expert or anything, but it sure looks purty. Bette says that "about 90% of the landscaping at our home was done by my sister, and me. We both love to garden...together we make a great team."

Hows about opening a store on the 'Bush? Bette says she definitely can see herself opening a cute little boutique, maybe even a "go-to place for flowers and much more." [I'm thinking a flowers 'n' flounder place, but then I'd better leave it to Bette, because my last joint "Wieners 'n' Waistcoats" was a total bust so I'm in no position to judge what kinds of retail go well together. Though I'm still hopeful that my "Ottomans Anytime" idea for a 24-hour furniture store with drive-thru window - as in why is it so hard to find a suitable end table at 3AM, am I right? For more info, email me offline. I've got a half-a-dozen other sure-fire winners, including a store specializing in decorative and cutting edge nunswear called "Bad Habits."

In the end, what's nice about this new business is that Bette's a local gal, and as she herself said "I'm a person that is very much a part of the community, one I love and one I'm proud to call home."

Best of luck!

This Monday Night - Safety Meeting at the Clubhouse

Cameras...and the C.O.P. program (Civilian Observation Patrol). Those items are on the agenda Monday night at 6:30 at Eric Adams' office. For those serious about increasing safety and creating better relations w/cops and between neighbors, this meeting is more specific, and to my mind more useful, than many in the past couple months, since now we're at the point where we're talking about actually useful tactics. Cameras, civilian involvement and police presence are highly cited by locals seeking action. Lighting, another frequently mentioned strategy, is not on this particular agenda, but studies show smartly done lighting schemes can play a huge role in sending career criminals towards other, presumably poorly lit, parts of the borough, or maybe even as far as Staten Island or Ronkonkoma. The abstract blue circle designed poster below:

Q-nalysis: In my conversations with various neighbors, a single theme emerges - many people's sense of safety is deeply personal and psychological...actually, I'd say most people's. I mean, unless you've actually been robbed at gunpoint, or worse, or been, say, caught in the middle of a shootout, your fear of crime probably is aroused by a "sense" of menace on the street, which can be either real or imagined. Certainly a group of late-teens early-twenties rkids hanging-out can look menacing, but whether or not you're actually party to a risky scene is quite a different story. Unless you know the kids or their activities truthfully and/or personally, or they've threatened you verbally, you may just be viewing a scene that's unfamiliar, not unsafe. That said, it's the guys hanging-out that seems to vex people the most. Lighting, cameras, beat cops -- all of these seem designed specifically to keep people from hanging out in menacing groups, right? I say this because there are, after all, laws on the books to punish actual criminal activity (hey, if you see someone selling drugs, phone it in. someone getting beat up, phone it in. someone tagging a it in!) On some level, the whole loitering around public spaces and in front of buildings is merely an annoyance, until something ACTUALLY goes down. And...that's why I personally got concerned when shootings, felony assaults, and rapes started to rise year-over-year. That's not fear; that's statistics. There was an actual something to be concerned about, rather than a lot of uncomfortable people complaining about uncomfortable street grooves. The fact is, hard as it is to admit, these two factors - loitering and violence - might be 100% totally unrelated. However, I did get pretty concerned when two separate longtime black residents told me they didn't recognize any of the serious hanger-outers in front of some commonly-cited bodegas. They were "outsiders," which worried them, because there was no intel about them. I wonder if that's how the cops feel too? And the cops were telling me they've identified a rise in gang-related activity, whatever the hell that means. That too gave me pause, so I started looking under the hood a bit, and yes I do believe there's a lot more that concerned, capable citizens should do to help their environment be safer, cleaner and more amenable to all. And by all, I really sincerely mean all. Except Joe Handgun Crackman, who we really want to feel incredibly uncomfortable every time he sees us coming.

Anyhow, the summer's general freakout led to a series of reasonably smart, considered responses from quite a few of your neighbors - notably PLGNA, Senator Adams, Nostrand Ave Merchant's Association, block associations etc. A lot of people have been through all of this before of course -- during much worse periods in the borough's history. At first, I felt like only recent entries into the PLG sweepstakes were up in arms. Come to find out, the "sense that we've lost the upper hand" is quite pervasive, and runs deep in many sectors and demographics. By no means could anyone draw the conclusion that crime is "Camden, NJ bad" around here, of course. I mean, you're safer living in our borough, even precinct, than in just about any urban setting in the country - yes, even along Flatbush Avenue.

But how do you "feel?" That's the subtext involved in any discussion of civilian-led efforts to get the thuggy looking loiterers to move along, which is really what a lot of this boils down to. Because we're not undercover narcotics officers, and we don't have the know-how or fire-power to take on ACTUAL bad guys. So when it comes to the meetings like tomorrow's, its about actions sure, but it's also about you showing up and being counted and heard and being public and getting to know people. Because, by taking control of the way we interact with the police, each other and even the thugs, we empower ourselves. That's the theory anyway. Oh, and I forgot to mention this most important part - when you show concern, the cops take notice. They've told me so, and there's been an actual increase in the number of patrols in our sector (sector C), and busts, as a direct result. That's a fact that can only be attributed to people showing up at meetings like this, and expressing their concerns.

I've also noted that not enough people resort to the obvious - calling 311 or 911 - when things go down. People are more likely to inquire online about a shooting than call it in - the 71st is needlessly hampered by a reluctance on the part of locals to talk. If you want advice on when to call which three-digit number, I say this: if you're annoyed, call 311. If you're afraid, call 911. Nice simple rule, eh? See you Monday...