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, May 4, 2011

Know Thy Neighbor: Eric "Can-Do" Landau

This neighborhood is so Mayberry, R.F.D. sometimes. So I meet a guy on the Lincoln Road Playground (hey, our kids were there, it was totally innocent). We get to talking, a little gossip, a little kvetching. Pretty soon we're making a date to hook up for coffee at the local counter, in this case the K-Dog, where proprietor Gaby Lowe serves us up hot coffee with a (Brooklyn-style) smile. We grab our drinks, saunter past the happy laughter of children coming out of the homey nursery school (Maple Street), towards the local park. Which just happens to be Prospect Park, which just happens to be where my "date" works as Director of Gov't and Community Affairs. Once we cross Ocean Avenue, you could technically say that he's arrived at work. Nice office, this Prospect Park! And this being Mayberry, R.F.D...we of course run into a mutual friend in a matter of moments. It's like that over here sometimes. And of course, other times, it's more like Kolchak the Night Stalker. But I date myself...speaking of dates, here's my date:


Here's what you need to know about Eric Landau (the full grown man in the picture) personally. He moved to Lefferts Garden from Park Slope a couple years ago, around the time little Beckett (the smaller guy pictured) was born. He's got a second child now, a girl, and a super-nifty wife, who just so happens to be making the time-worn transition from P.R. executive to Episcopalian minister. (That's a post in itself, and maybe someday we'll get around to that. Look out Kimberlee - the Q's got you in his queue).

Eric's grandparents lived in Brooklyn, and years of coming back here from Kingston (NY, not Jamaica) for visits gave him the Brooklyn Bug. After college at Binghamton, our man goes to D.C., interns with the legendary liberal Paul Wellstone not long before he dies in a plane crash (Paul, not Eric) then becomes one of the Washington insiders that all the Washington insiders claim to despise. Frustrated by the "company town" attitude of the nation's capitol, he moved to Brooklyn to be the government guy at Prospect Park. What does that mean he actually does, you'd do well to ask. He develops close relationships with politicians and civil servants, advocating on behalf of the Park to make sure it gets its fair share of attention and resources. He's since added "community affairs" to his title, meaning he heads up volunteer efforts and liases with community groups and park stakeholders. If you care about the park as much as he does, he's a good guy to know, and a fount of info on everything "park." Sure you could call up Emily Lloyd, the new head of the park, but I'd try Eric's office first, since that's his gig - to be on YOUR side, unless of course YOUR side is all about pouring your HOT COALS all over the trees, which was an issue that the Alliance did its best to combat just last year.

Whew! That last paragraph was a mouthful (particularly if read aloud, which I don't recommend).

When I first moved to Brooklyn 20+ years ago, Caledonia PLG's side of the Park was a sad stepchild to the newly resurgent Park Slope coast. It was painfully clear that Slope wheel-squeaking had garnered all the oil. It's only within the past dozen or so years that you can witness revitalized respect for what was once (so I am told) the truly Grand part of Park Prospect. From the lake, to the Boathouse, to the once and future Concert Island, to the once and future Skating Bazaar, to the McDonalds (the eatery preferred by Frederick Olmsted, as I recall), we really got the goods over here. Once the extraordinary Lakeside Project is complete, lookout. Tourists might make the Q at Parkside more popular than the Liberty Island Ferry. And so it is with great relief that I find myself introducing you to Eric not by way of epithet for ignoring our side of the park, but for his able understanding of our needs, in part, because he is ONE of us!

One last word about Eric, or rather the whole Prospect Park Alliance thing, because so few people know what that's really all about. By calling it the "Alliance," it conjures up visions of some kinda advocacy group like, say, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Actually, the Alliance is also against Drunk Driving, but that's not my point. What the Alliance IS -- is the Administrator of Prospect Park, in the way that a Principal is the head of a school. Period. They run the show day-to-day, and Emily Lloyd is the Principal. Sure, they answer to the Parks Department and ultimately the mayor, much as a Principal contends with the Department of Education and ultimately the mayor. But they manage the City's Prospect Park portion of the parks budget and Prospect Park employees and augment it with funds and employees of their own. That's where you get that whole "public-private" partnership line that we all hear so much about these days, because they pool tax dollars, special gov't funding and private donations. And here's where it gets kinda weird - Emily Lloyd is both President of the Alliance AND Administrator of the Park. Eric told me its simpler than that sounds, but it still gives me a headache just thinking about it.

Look, we the people are basically the beneficiaries of this oh-so-modern arrangement. Instead of calling a faceless bureaucracy when you have a problem with the Park, you get to talk to nice people like Eric. He works with dozens of Community Groups to make sure their voices are heard (through the so-called "Community Committee" or Com-Com), and he helps to make sure the 3,500+ annual PP volunteers have a decent experience.

By the way, if you want to spend some time in the sun and do your part to help the park, here's the page with the deets: PP Volunteers.

Frankly, when I hear the phrase "Public-Private initiative," I usually get annoyed, mostly because there's frequently a copping-out going on from the "public" side of things, or at the very least, a tapping-out of funds. But it finally hit me while listening to Eric that what's REALLY going on is often a matching of money to public interests. Wouldn't it be nice if someone asked YOU exactly how your portion of your taxes should be applied to, say, defense, or health care, or whatever? But no, the government does not ask you to help apportion dollars, and thus you are stuck with the ballot, which is basically just a yea or nea vote on whether your politician is doing the job of spending your money well - or not. That is why it is SO important to get to know these people!

What the Alliance and other public-private partnerships allow you to do is to take some of your personal money and allocate it SPECIFICALLY to the public project that you care about. As an absurd example, say you REALLY REALLY loved the Department of Sanitation (DSNY). You couldn't just write on your tax return "hey, give those garbage men a little something extra from me!" But if there was a DSNY "Alliance," you could donate money directly and expect your curbside service to improve. Dig? And yes, if you happen to understand what the Central Park Conservancy is, then that would be a better parallel.

And here's where that's relevant to you and me. Many years ago, a woman named Shelby White,
pictured here from 10 years back with her investor-guru husband Leon Levy, was born on Crooke Avenue. Yes, OUR Crooke Avenue. She loved Prospect Park as a child, particularly skating at the Lake. And so, years after becoming fabulously wealthy and moving to the Upper East Side, she decides to give $10 million to kickstart the Lakeside Project that is currently ripping up the old Parking Lot and reclaiming tons of park space. But she couldn't just give it to the City of NY and expect them to divvy it out to her wishes. She gave it to the Prospect Park Alliance, and the rest is about to become history.

(Full disclosure, from a totally unrelated part of my life, I actually know Eric Landau's "barber" Dave Hickey personally. That is not a joke, folks - live in NYC long enough and the connections get weird).

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