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.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Something's Jus Fishy on Flatbush

The Q's "gone fishing" til mid-August, but reader Steven B. sent me some swell pics of "JUS FISHY," the new eatery at 555 Flatbush near Maple. Check out the menu below. Share your thoughts on the joint here!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Newses

It ain't the Old Gray Lady, but we'll take it: Parkside Prize And a major local firefight may have been the result of lighting. Story here, from the ACTUAL Old Gray Lady. Very glad to see that there were no major injuries, though it was a great reminder of the fickle vengeance of Thor. Force majeure, indeed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Caledonians for Mindy

While we were busy ignoring Albany politics, the state of NY redrew its districts and many of us near the Q at Parkside will wake up the day after Election Day and find ourselves with new representatives in state government. And your "new" senator might be an incumbent. Huh?

If you haven't already cared to, take a look at the new districts here. Before you say no to clicking on that link, consider that it's an incredibly cool tool to look at both the old and new districts simultaneously. You get to see the REAL act of democracy at work, whereby a small group of jerk-offs gets to decide who represents whom, based on their own agendas about creating majorities for their own parties. In fairness, the new districts look a teensy, weensy bit less "creative" than the old ones. But the whole thing is enough to turn a civic optimist to cynic in just one peek.

And yet, there IS reason for hope. While me and Rudy on Winthrop and CeeLeeDee and Elizabeth C. and Duane and Eagle Eye Mr. S. and MJ McBee and Eggs and all you other Parkside Q's...our Democratic choice is now the very irritable and easily angered Kevin Parker, because we're now in the 21st. BUT, our GOP pick is none other than a pink-loving 22-year-old orthodox lady named Mindy. Many of you may have heard or read of her and said to yourself "she's awesome! but sadly not in my district" will now find that she potentially COULD be your rep in Albany. Ladies and Gentleman, Mindy Meyer:


And this is what she looks like when she's moving and talking:

I for one love her candidacy, though not because I'm trying to be hipster cool or ironic or condescending, but because her candidacy highlights what a farce is our state system that this is the best the Grand Old Party could muster. And she's fairly genuine, you know, if you, like, pay attention to what she's saying. Which I 100% don't agree with but would vociferously defend her right to spew. And she's no dummy...she must just take more votes than any GOP'er before her with her bubbly campaign in these notoriously fickle state-wide contests. It's a weird world, and staring at her name in November will be a real head-shaking experience. As for Kevin Parker? Do a little reading and decide for yourself. Dude has real anger management problems, though who knows maybe it's worth having a bulldog in the country's third most corrupt state Capitol. Just don't beat him by cheating at Scrabble...you'll end up with a Q and a Z up your nostrils.

Monday, July 23, 2012

201 Linden Boulevard - Landlords Without Shame

For those of us who have lived in big old apartment buildings in Brooklyn, far afield from the "pre-war" splendor of choice digs in say Brooklyn Heights, the story will likely sound familiar. Longtime tenants, often of a certain age, get reamed by greedy landlords who favor higher-paying newcomers. This Daily News story on 201 Linden between Rogers and Nostrand, while riddled with embarrassing (for a professional newspaper, not squeeze it in before bedtime blogger) typos, gets it about right. Though it goes a bit far in stating that the "yuppies" get palaces out of the deal. The reno-job might look passable at lease-signing, but rest assured the workmanship is crap and those hoodlums in the lobby aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

The culprit? Well, the landlords of course. But it's also the perverse incentives and disincentives of the rent stabilization laws. Two identical apartments in the same building can fetch wildly different rents, creating a two or three or four tiered hierarchy of desirability from the landlords perspective. And, incidentally, what better way to ensure your longtime profits than to rent to whites, or at least newscaster-English speakers?

The Q brings the story to your attention only to highlight one of the many (in my view) uncomfortable issues plaguing our neighborhood during its current in-fluxness. Fast, very-very fast, prices have come up. In the houses, yes, but that's not where the vast majority of NE Flatbushers live. Landlords are routinely grabbing north of $1,500 for two bedrooms, $2,000 is not unusual even on less-desirable blocks, and a little math will tell you that annual household income must be, say, pre-tax, at least $50,000 to hit the rent sweet spot of spending just half one's take-home pay for housing. H.I. of $50K is way higher than the mean income around here, meaning that most current residents can't afford to stay here if they're forced to move apartments. Duh, right?

I know you can file all this in the drawer of common knowledge. And yet, how exactly does a neighborhood stay "wonderfully diverse" as someone recently beamed, when only middle income people can afford to rent here? And trust me, if the rest of Brooklyn is any harbinger, it won't be "middle" income for long. No need for the newcomer renter who recently found a "bargain" to feel too smug - the next great-leap-forward might be sooner than you think.

The insult to injury part is that there are some absurd rules on the books that actually make it advantageous for some landlords to pack their buildings with homeless or transient recipients of social-services over locals desperate to stay put. See my post on 60 Clarkson, and trust me, there are plenty of 60 Clarksons in the neighborhood. In fact, it was recently revealed to me that the same adorable scumbag who owns 60 also owns other buildings around here that also have big contracts with CAMBA, the not-always-how-shall-we-say-thorough government contractor, or the Haliburton for the Homeless as I prefer to call them.

PLGNA, the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association, was once known as an agent for keeping the redliners and blockbusters at bay. Just 40 years ago folks were working to prevent the outflow of capital...it's quite unlikely that a similar outrage will erupt over abrupt inflows. If the building on Parkside - 123 on the Park - is a hit, and if trends continue in the bigger rental and condo buildings near the Park's "Lakeside" corner, we may begin to wonder where some of our neighbors have gone. Granted, the few trouble-making knuckleheads won't be missed. But here's a dark thought - maybe some of those very same displaced neighbors will come back as homeless residents as part of a CAMBA program. Think it's far-fetched? That's the exact story I was told by one current resident of 60 Clarkson - she used to live on Ocean nearby, one thing led to another, and...

As if there weren't enough poetry in her tale, here's some ACTUAL poetry written about 201 Linden Boulevard in 1955.





Saturday, July 21, 2012

Missing Person Alert

The 71st Precinct has sent out a missing person emergency for the below. Please contact them immediately if you see Natoya Stephens. (718) 735-0501





Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Parkside Prize Goes For the Gold

In case you hadn't been paying attention to the Q's endless braying, here's the backstory: a diverse collective of neighbors calling themselves The Parkside Project have been clocking countless hours to try to turn the stretch of avenue from the Park to Flatbush into something more than an eyesore to be endured. Springing from the metaphorical loins of local author Rudy Delson, the idea to hold a contest to redesign the block resulted in an inspired winning proposal from local architects who, serendipitously and unbeknownst to the jurors, happen to live and work here in the area. In Cho of ChoShields Studio created a plan for the subway station plaza that is particularly sweet:
The folks at the Parkside Prize, in a bid to turn fantasy to reality, applied for funding from NYC's Department of Transportation's Public Plaza program. You've probably noticed plazas sprouting up all over town, so why not here? The Q received permission from the good folks at PLGNA to reprint some of the application's key narrative points here. (PLGNA is the official author of the proposal, since the Parkside Project is acting as a committee of PLGNA in order to leverage PLGNA's non-profit status and history of good works in the neighborhood). I urge you to read the app and comment away. This really is a plan for the people, so if you happen to be a people, let your voice be heard. Excerpts below:

...Parkside Avenue itself is predominantly commercial. The street is anchored by four large merchants (McDonalds, Duane Reade, Popeye's and Pioneer Supermarket), with a variety of hardy small businesses in between: take-out restaurants, dry cleaners, bodegas, 99-cent stores. And these businesses need to be hardy, because this is a terribly neglected block:
  • There are no trees within fifty yards of Ocean Avenue.
  • The few trees at the Flatbush Avenue end of the block are sickly, with sheets of plastic tangled in their crowns.
  • Potholes plague both gutters.
  • Thick scabs of paint peel from the entrance to the subway station at Parkside, and ailanthus trees colonize the subway roof.
  • The traffic at Ocean and Parkside is constant and deadly, so that while Prospect Park is across the street, it might as well be miles away.
  • Towering over the center of the block is 205 Parkside, which for years was occupied by squatters, and now sits vacant.
  • Next door, the sidewalk has been commandeered by a squadron of bottle and glass recyclers.
Much of Brooklyn enjoys a renaissance; Parkside stagnates. This dispiriting block is the gauntlet that many thousands of Brooklynites must walk at the end of their commutes home at night. Parkside Avenue has been neglected by many city agencies for many decades, and cries out for attention.

The Parkside Project Committee of PLGNA was formed in the spring of 2011. It works to improve conditions on Parkside Avenue between Ocean Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. In 2011 and 2012, the Committee organized and ran a design competition, with $1000 in prizes, inviting architects and designers to imagine a new Parkside Avenue. The competition received wide publicity; the conceptual drawings submitted with this Public Plaza Grant application are the drawings that won the grand prize. The northeast corner of Parkside and Ocean Avenues is a quarter-acre triangle of concrete. There is nothing on this barren triangle: not one tree, not one bench. Year in and year out, commuters hurry across this plaza, eager to be anywhere else. This barren triangle is the entrance to our neighborhood. (This site is also an entrance to Prospect Park. Residents of Park Slope or Windsor Terrance can enter the park by any of several dozen quiet and leafy streets; residents of Flatbush can only enter by way of the concrete at Parkside. With the refurbishing of the Wollman Rink and the Music Island by the Prospect Park Alliance, many thousands of New Yorkers will visit our corner of Prospect Park for the first time. They, too, will enter by way of the concrete at Parkside.) We believe this quarter acre could be better utilized for two reasons. First, because on a day-to-day basis, the commuters and shoppers and children who live on and around Parkside need something more than barren concrete as the gateway to their neighborhood. Second, because Prospect Park, the jewel of Brooklyn, needs an entrance that extends its canopy and its open spaces into the surrounding streets. Instead of devoting a quarter acre in the heart of Brooklyn to barren concrete, we hope DOT will help us fill the space with trees, water, paving stones—and people.

In the last year, DOT has begun to take steps to improve the safety of the pedestrian crossings at Parkside and Ocean; we hope that DOT will see the advantages of addressing the other half of the problem, the underutilized triangle of concrete at Parkside. (We understand that DOT, in awarding Public Plaza Grants, takes into consideration the proximity of open space to the proposed site. Please see Note 3.) The Parkside Project Committee of PLGNA is devoted to bringing civic improvements to Parkside Avenue. As discussed below, in 2011 PLGNA held a design competition for Parkside Avenue; the winning entry featured the construction of a plaza at Ocean and Parkside. We have attached, as a .pdf file, a design board explaining the winning entry. We have also attached, as .jpgs, photographs of the intersection as it exists today. We think the visual contrast between what could be built at Parkside, and what exists today, says it all.

At present, the triangle at Parkside plays host to a weekly fair in the summer, the Arts & Culture Fest, organized by a 501(c)(3) called The Creative Side. We are friendly with the organizers of the Fest (they have submitted a letter of support for this application), and PLGNA would look to The Creative Side in developing programming in a newly built plaza. This programming would continue to include a weekly fair, with occasional musical performances. We have also discussed the possibility of expanding activities in the plaza to two days a week, with the Fest on Saturdays and a farmer's market on Sundays.

In the spring of 2011, a group of neighbors began meeting in a local coffee house with the aim of building community support for civic improvements to our poor Parkside Avenue: this was the birth of PLGNA's Parkside Project Committee. The original concept was simple. PLGNA would hold a design competition, open both to design professionals and to the general public, to solicit ideas for a new Parkside. State Senator Eric Adams, an early supporter, contributed $1000 toward the prize money. The Parkside Project Committee has a team of about one dozen consistent and energetic volunteers, and since those early meetings in 2011, they have repeatedly been in contact with the many merchants onParkside and with all of the local elected officials. (We believe this broad outreach is reflected by our many letters of support.) PLGNA announced the prize late in the summer of 2011, to wide publicity. Thousands of leaflets were distributed on the sidewalk in front of the Parkside subway station; hundreds of posters were hung in local businesses; nearly a dozen local colleges and universities were contacted; and PLGNA volunteers were interviewed in the local press and by local TV news. In the end, more than a dozen proposals were submitted by amateurs and professionals from across New York City.

In the winter of 2012, PLGNA convened a jury to select a winner. (If PLGNA were to create a Community Advisory Committee regarding a public plaza, it would begin by re-contacting these jurors.) The jurors consisted of four merchants who own businesses on or near Parkside Avenue, representatives from local block associations, an arts group called PLG Arts, and a landscape designer from the Prospect Park Alliance, as well as City Councilman Mathieu Eugene and State Senator Eric Adams. The winning design was submitted by Cho/Shields Studio. A .pdf of their winning design is included with this application. More entries can be seen at the prize website: www.theparksideprize.org. In March of 2012, PLGNA hosted a neighborhood party to show off the design and award the prizes. Again, posters were hung, leaflets were distributed, and all the local blogs advertised the night. Hundreds of neighbors attended the party; the delight and excitement that was expressed was incredibly moving. Later that month, the winning entry was presented to both CB9 and to CB14, where it was received with great enthusiasm. What we have here is a neighborhood in unanimity: Something new is needed. We very much hope that DOT will agree; we are eager to work with DOT to build a better Parkside.


About PLGNA - the Sponsoring Organization Submitting the Grant Proposal

PLGNA was formed in 1969 by residents of Prospect Lefferts Gardens who opposed unfair real estate and bank practices like redlining and wanted to form a working interracial neighborhood. One of its first projects was to document 300 abandoned and 300 deteriorating buildings within the neighborhood. In 1973, PLGNA became involved in a landmark legal battle to combat redlining. Over the years, it has helped tenants to organize unions and blocks to form associations; supported safety programs; transported seniors; developed youth programs; and served as an umbrella organization for other neighborhood groups, including many local block associations.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Eating Along the Q - Prospect Park Station

Glad to see the Daily News segment "Eating Along the Q" has finally pulled into the Prospect Park Station. After yours truly figured way too heavily in the last chapter, I was glad to just read and generally agree with the findings, though of course lots of joints were left out. Mentioned, as they MUST in any food story about the area, were the fantabulous "doubles" at De Hot Pot, and the one-of-a-kind vegan ice cream at Scoops (Tony Fongyit, Scoops' owner pictured below). The Q has indulged Scoops' soy-based icy sweets and can attest to their yum quotient, but it's his hot to-go food that really sparks the stars on the Yelp dot com. And speaking of the Yelp, check out the reviews for De Hot Pot. People LOVE this place, and if you haven't been, well, time's a wastin'.

Bryan Pace took the pic
The addresses for the aforementioned are attached to the links above. The Q is to hot to be bothered...will this global warming never cease? I mean, we gave up burning all that fossil fuel, right? Didn't we? We saw where this little ozone problem was going and we stepped back from the brink, right? Right? Whew. For a second there I had this terrible dream that we stood by and did nothing while the earth burned to a crisp. What a nightmare! Gotta go turn up that A/C, it's boiling in here...

Nostrand and Flatbush Merchants Associations - Upcoming Events

The Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association is holding it important elections and a quarterly meeting on Thursday near Midwood. Lindiwe Kamau of the wonderful Expressions In Ceramics will be glad to see you I'm sure. There's a lot going on on the 'Strand, including the delayed but soon-coming Select Bus Service along the avenue. And don't forget Lindiwe's been in the news about security cameras, story here. Having ridden these SBS buses in Manhattan a few times, I can assure you this is a very, very cool development for those traveling over-the-surface. I totally dig the European style everybody-gets-on-at-the-same-time-through-any-door-honor-system-with-roving-ticket-checkers attitude. Brilliant, and working great on the Island City, so why not here?



And don't forget that FEPMA's doing its annual Street Fair on August 5th. Colorful Circussy poster here:





Monday, July 16, 2012

Parkside Playground Loses Innocence w Shooting

Well, that didn't take long. Not two weeks from its official opening and the Parkside Playground already has its own "rap sheet." The below is from Vinny Martinos of the 71st precinct:

On Saturday July 14th at approximately 9PM a 22 year old male
was shot one time in the hand inside of Parkside Playground located on Winthrop Street between Bedford Avenue and Rogers Avenue. The male is listed in stable condition at Kings County Hospital. The victim has a lengthy arrest history including numerous arrests for marijuana. This case is being investigated by Detective Thomas of the 71 Precinct Detective Squad. Anyone with information should contact Detective Thomas at 718-735-0515. All information will be kept confidential.
It was about that time on Saturday that the usual hoodlum crowd on my block mysteriously dispersed in a mad hurry, causing us to question whether something big was going down. Many residents heard the shots...it's often difficult to tell where gunfire is coming from, but on this occasion the reports were correct. Likely at 9PM the number of young ones was less than during the day.  But as I'm sure we've all noticed, 9PM is no curfew for even toddlers around here, so it's likely there were children present. This is bad, bad, bad news indeed. Cameras, a regular police patrol, and clearing the loungers at the entrance is in order.

The Q has been pondering whether to make a big deal about the grown men hanging out at the park's basketball court entrance, smoking weed and drinking all afternoon and into the night. But after this, I think it's time local officials keep the space off limits to anyone breaking the law in any manner around the perimeter of the playground. It makes no sense to me to create a safe outdoor recreation space for young people, then allow the worst sorts of "modeling" behavior to take place like a gauntlet as you enter the park. Drinking and smoking hooch might necessarily be tolerated to a certain degree on hot summer afternoons and nights, but not around youngsters. This is a school and a playground. The incident on Saturday shows that some neighborhood residents have no respect for the meaning of those public words.


update: I sent Mathieu Eugene the following email today:

Councilman Eugene:

I saw you last Wednesday at the Woodruff Ave Block Association meeting. I mentioned to you that there was a very uncool group hanging out regularly around the Parkside Playground that you so generously helped bring to life. Sadly, a shooting took place ON THE PLAYGROUND just this past Saturday night at 9PM. I'm absolutely certain this shooting could have been prevented, or the dispute would have happened elsewhere, if there were regular clearings and patrols of the park. 



This is playground for children; the basketball courts are for those playing basketball. And if people are congregating there at reasonable hours, that should be fine too. But the number of grown men hanging out, drinking and smoking weed, and the activity that persists after dark, is simply not a smart way to inaugurate a public space. I urge you to use the power of your office to see that the 71st patrol the area every few hours AND clear the entrances of loiterers. A child should be able to enter the playground without being forced to endure unruly and illegal activity.

Thanks as always for your hard work!

best,

tim
update: response from jonah rogoff, asst to Mathieu Eugene

Hi Tim,

The Council Member asked that I respond to your email on his behalf. We’ve been speaking with Officer Martinos and other officers from the 71st Precinct about increasing the number of patrols in and around the park on a permanent basis. We are really infuriated and troubled by what happened, especially given the fact that this occurred shortly after the opening of the park. The police also mentioned that the park is not being properly closed by the Parks Department so we are trying to see how this can be resolved. Any illegal activities in the park should not be tolerated and we will continue pressing the NYPD to have patrols of the park as much as possible.

I will keep you posted as we get more information from the 71st Precinct.

Best,

Jonah


Friday, July 13, 2012

Lark - Coffee Joint on Church Opens

Ditmas Park Corner notes that the new nifty coffee hangout "Lark" is now open. Photo below gratefully stolen from their story, linked here. Digging those light fixtures, Lark! Seems a little renaissance is afoot on Church just north of the mammoth Victorian mansions of Prospect Park South. For Caledonians, this is most definitely in walking distance. Open for biz - check 'em out.


Woodrough Avenue? Notes from Wednesday's Mtg

Another weekday night, another community meeting, another evening the Q goes home shaking his head. What was accomplished? Was any new light shed? Were decisions made? Were new ideas shared, and minds changed? Did the lighting get any better in the Pentecostal church on Woodruff between Flatbush and Ocean? And that band that plays there, even while we meet, can groove pretty hard at times, but don't they keep people in the neighborhood awake when they play too late? And do heavy-set cops just sweat their buns off along with the Hasidic Jews all summer long? I sweat buckets in shorts and thongs from June to September, reducing my overall manliness quotient to absolute zero. Maybe you get used to it, the head-to-toe thick dark colored clothing in 90+ degree heat?

At the table at left is Annie Williams, longtime (former) president of the Woodruff Block Association, and at right, Evria Ince who is her protege and the current prez. If you live in this neighborhood, I highly encourage you to get involved with the block ass. Evria's email for the group is woodruffaba@yahoo.com. It may be hard to get a quick response from her, but keep at it!

Ask her to add you to their email list, because their signs go up for meetings at the very last minute, leading I believe to poor turnouts like the one on Wednesday. Folks, you had a chance at this one to sit in a small room with your councilman (Eugene), assemblywoman (Rhoda Jacobs), cops from the 70th precinct, and president of the 70th precinct community council Ed Powell, who is running for district leader at the youthful age of 71, though I can't for the life of me understand why after all his years of wisdom and experience he isn't grooming someone to be his replacement rather than start his elected political career now. No offense, Ed, but do you really need this gig? It doesn't even come with a salary! I'll vote for you, man, but where's the next generation coming from? Hang on to the 70th precinct gig if you must, but don't hog the spotlight. Maybe Evria will run next time? Or Elizabeth C?

Look, the whole thing was very well-meaning and all, but I got seriously peeved when I asked about what sort of response we could expect to constant drug dealing and intimidation happening on Woodruff near Flatbush. Many of my neighbors have complained about the gang hangs and selling happening there (not the chess playing, btw, which generally isn't bothering anyone, except when it turns into a drunken brawl), and I've seen transactions myself with my own eyes on numerous occasions (note to dealers, don't you think I might be a cop? I mean, I'm heavy-set and all...). Jacobs, Ince and Powell basically turned around and insinuated I needed to get more involved, which is preposterous since I spend every available non-work non-family hour of my week on this kind of stuff. Powell went as far as to suggest that I bring it up at a 70th Precinct Council meeting, which is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS since the president of the damn thing is...HIM! I'm bringing it up here because you supposedly came here to listen to our concerns and tell us what you're doing about them. Then I got another earful of that "it used to be SO much worse here, you're SO lucky we cleaned it up for you" bull-crap. I mean, if you feel your job is done here, then MOVE ON so someone else can recognize that there's actual work to be done and not rest on their laurels. Sorry, but that response might work with folks here 25 years and more, but I've been here a decade and I can tell you with certainty that we're backsliding in some quadrants.

A question came asking Rhoda why, if she was busy trumpeting the success of getting dozens of security cameras in Boro Park, was there zero talk of getting some for our nabe. She has a tendency to get feisty and defensive when you ask anything but softball questions, and predictably she blamed the whole problem on Dov Hifkind, he of the Republican persuasion, who has special access to funds for voting with the GOP on other issues, so politically he's well positioned to get perks like that. With the recent stabbing of a teen in the Parade Grounds, one would think that more cameras or better cameras or monitoring or police presence would at least be worth talking about. But with the help of Evria, the conversation was shut down almost as quick as it started in the name of civility, I guess. But if we can't have heated discussions in a political meeting of empowered leaders and their constituents, where CAN we have these conversations? Needless to say, I was disappointed by the lack of dialogue. For his part, Mathieu Eugene gave his usual stump speech about working together, and he took credit for the new Parkside Playground and money for Kings County hospital and the intersection at Parkside/Ocean, which is admirably better but still totally unmanageable at rush hour.

Okay now, Q. Pick up your hands, and put away the keyboard...it was a nice meeting generally, and everyone stuck around to talk after. With an average age of 55 in the room, I can't help asking - where are all of you younger folk? Reading this crappy blog isn't the same as raising your voice publicly and taking ownership of your neighborhood. Because as we've learned throughout the City it's up to us to raise the issues and hold feet to fire. Actually, that phrase is kinda ghastly, so maybe I'll just say "raise issues and remain vigilant."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tinkering

The Q is playing around with the site a bit today to see if I can make guest posts happen on a regular basis. If you see posts pop up today, then disappear, that's why!

I'll be away, starting next Thursday, for a month. I'll be posting less frequently starting then, so I'm asking you, gentle reader, for thoughts and ideas for posts. And if you'd like to be a "guest blogger" by all means let me know and we'll discuss. Maybe you take lots of pictures and just want to share those? Maybe you have an issue near and dear to your heart you want to air in depth. Either way, just email me. There seems to be a healthy regular readership in the hundreds(!), and while I don't agree with the substance of all the comments, I'm super-glad that conversation is happening and I'd love to see it continue and grow. I'm especially heartened by the growing number of people who choose to comment with either their real names or a screen name. It is too easy to complain and criticize recklessly when you aren't taking ownership of your comments. I respect that you may want to conceal your real name, but if you use a screen name and comment regularly, we can at least get to know your voice and use your name when referring to things you've said. It makes it feel more like a community and less like a dumping ground. GOD KNOWS we don't need any more dumping grounds around here! Actually that's a great name for a coffee shop to sip and bitch: Dumping Grounds. Soon to open on Rogers Ave...?

cheers, theQ

Wanna Start a Food Biz?

For everyone of us wondering how is it that you DO start a successful Brooklyn business, Brokelyn seems to have covered all the angles for you.

6 Things You Should Know Before Starting a Brooklyn Food Business

Any takers?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Parade Ground Stabbing Death

I don't even know why I feel obliged to pass these things along, grizzly and ghastly as they are. But 11:51 on a Sunday morning? Don't gangstas go to church anymore? Ugh. Seems the victim was no stranger to trouble, but still, depressing stuff. Summer's truly here when the City has deadly weekends like this one just past. Teenager Stabbed.

The Q In the News - Dining Near the Q

Yes, it's a bit embarrassing, but I coulda said no so I have no one but myself to blame. It's a clear indication that none of my friends read The Daily News that I haven't heard from a single soul about the piece they did on dining along the Q line. A reporter reached out to me for tips on what's best, presumably because I have this peculiar hobby. I really thought she'd ask more people than just me, so my apologies if I appear like I'm trying to be some authority on the issue. I mean, I'm a grilled cheese and french fries kinda guy, so you really shouldn't trust my opinion on food. Btw, I stuck to the assignment of food right near the Q at Parkside, so I stayed south of Hawthorne on my recommendations. I mentioned other places, too, in the interview, but they (wisely I think) stuck to what's truly unique. Here's the story in the news and the unflattering video:
Daily News Story.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fresh Start for Sheet Metal Trees?

Flatbush Ave TreesIn what will hopefully signal a turning point in the long and silly life of the very-Brady '70s green metal Flatbush Avenue trees at Empire/Ocean/Flatbush, the Community Board voted unanimously last month to send a letter of support to DOT to address the trees' shoddy condition, and to do so in a larger more holistic context for the betterment of the neighborhood's Flatbush Ave "entrance."

That sounds highfalutin, but it's really the only way that the Q's been able to gain traction on the issue. Some of you may recall my call to gather a posse of Banksies and just paint the damn things.  I was prepared to just call it a "neighborhood improvement thing" and not bother with formalities. But more sane folks convinced me this was pure folly. If you're going to do something, do it right, right? While plenty of folk would love to see the trees go the way of the Dodgers, an equal number feel quite attached to the ol' eyesores, so it seems the least disagreeable route would be to spruce them up rather than fell them completely with a one swoop of Paul Bunyan's axe.

Others have nobly tried to do something with the trees, and the plaza that surrounds them, over the years. Skei S. and I met with a local do-gooder in Lefferts Manor who came up with cool drawings and even found some money from the Borough President's office. But the couple hundred grand had the typical bureaucratic strings attached, so the project never took flight. (One main issue was the need for a 501c3 to undertake the work BEFORE being reimbursed by the City, and no one in their right mind would have been willing to "loan" the project that kind of money pending payback).

So I contacted DOT (which has jurisdiction over the land under the trees) in the Spring to see what could be done, and lo and behold the borough commissioner said "get CB9 and NYPD approval, and we'll work with you." Thanks to the Parks and Transportation committee chairs Mike Cetera and Ed Fanning, we got the CB approval through and now we'll twiddle some knobs with NYPD. And, we need someone with a lot of experience in this realm, and it just so happens Cetera has it, having worked as one of the City's lead architects for many, many years.

Here's how it has to roll - a City agency has to petition the Design Commission to hear a proposal. We'll put together a slick presentation to ask the Commission to let us, under the auspices of CB9: a) accept bids to fix up the trees and raise the dough to do it and b) ask for designes to create a public plaza out of the current fugly parking lot. Frankly that seems far-fetched, but I accepted the broader "vision thing" as long as we broke it into two parts. That way part "a" could happen while "b" gets stuck in the transitions at City and Borough Hall. If that idea sounds amenable or anathema to you, then please weigh in here. If a consensus for another plan emerges, I'll be happy to be a good team neighbor. I'm just sick of the status quo, frankly. Why should a neighborhood full of pride be visually represented by a sign that says "we don't give a crap, so come and park and dump all over us if you like!"

It took the Q the better part of a year to figure out the history of those dang trees, and with the help of many interested neighbors, Seth Kaplan and Mike Cetera foremostly, we finally figured out what was the dealio. Seems that the trees themselves received preliminary approval from the Design Commission (then called the Art Commission) back in the late 70s BUT never got final approval. What that means is that the trees don't actually exist in the bureaucratic sense, and were they to be removed or seriously damaged in the dead of night no one could compel the City to replace or repair. (So if one of you dear readers has a secret longstanding hatred of the trees, just don't get caught and there's nothing any of us can do about it. Teehee.)

Am I going to make this project my raison d'existence for the next couple of years? Not on your life. But I'm certainly on board to help promote the idea, and I'm trying to give it the necessary shoves, and this could be a great community-building project for everyone to rally behind. I've encountered many eager participants along the way, people with great ideas, great personal and professional help to offer. The bottom line is that, save the few greedy sods who park there now, who would argue that a more attractive plaza and even (god help us) a re-imagined subway entrance and exit wouldn't be a huge improvement to this "gateway to the 'Bush?"

Or I'd settle for filling that damn hole in the sidewalk over by the Wendy's. I'm telling you right now if Dave Thomas, may he rest in peace, was still around that danger pit would've been filled months ago. I mean, how'd it even get like that, anyway?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

Elizabeth C sent over some awesome pictures that show 3 distinctly Caledonian images worth sharing. First up, the Prospect Park "Parthenon" (as the Q calls it in his brain everytime he rides by it) gets a lovely trash makeover after one of its many big barbecue extravaganzas. Btw, you may not know that you can reserve spaces like the Parthenon for events for $25. In fact, you're SUPPOSED to for groups of 20 or more. Personally, I think you should also get a fine north of $500 if you don't pick up after yourself.
Not far down the road rises "123 On the Park," brick by brick and beam by beam. From the looks of this sign they've settled on the name 123 On the Park at least for filings. I think they could do better...any suggestions? My choice (of course) --- The Caledonian.
And finally, a plucky (adjective use a grammatical shout-out, you know who you are) Woodruff Avenue resident shows off a brilliant new use for burnt-out pay phones. The choice of periodical is priceless. Nicely done, sir/madam!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Blue Day for Blue Roost

Less than a year in at its new digs, Blue Roost is calling it a day.
I just got off the phone with owner Linda Billings, and it would appear that July 15th will be the end of the anything-but-run-of-the-mill run for the little PLG cafe that almost could. After the closing of the beloved K-Dog and Dunebuggy last summer, many folks were heartened to see Blue Roost take roost in K-Dog's old home. But once again, northeastern Flatbushers will likely wonder aloud whether their "up-and-coming" neighborhood is somehow cursed amenities-wise. Before we blame the occult however, it may be worth noting the actual facts around Blue Roost's closure. Linda was quick to squash any potential rumors about it the closing being primarily about landlord Rong Ge. Listening to Billings speak, I couldn't help hearing the same sort of weariness to her story that cropped up in articles about Gabby and K-Dog when it closed. The bottom line is it's exhausting to run your own caffeine house, and the payoff is not so great. I've heard from many, many people now through the years - the coffee shop business LOOKS glamorous, but in fact it is very difficult to make a living on latte's and croissants and other baked goods. The markup on coffee can be high, but you have to sell a darn lot of it. She confirmed my suspicions that the only way to make a real living is to own a few of the places, even under different names. And without the booze-biz that restaurants fall back on, you're really busting your butt for not much dough. She said she was making better money when she was waiting tables, if any of you really want to put some ballpark figures into the mix. It seems Blue Roost was already a question mark for Billings when the K-Dog spot came up, and she threw her heart and soul into the new reality, but while the gross receipts grew, so grew the expenses. I think I speak for many in the neighborhood in expressing thanks for the ol' college try, for the early morning hot liquid kicks in the pants, and for believing in the neighborhood. Linda's not sure what's up next, but it's safe to doubt it'll be another Blue Rooster. Third time a charm? Anyone? UPDATE: Rumors are flying about what's taking Blue Roost's place, and indeed there is a new business arriving. Hold tight...we'll let you know the details when the owners are ready to divulge said details. Sounds quite promising actually...

Pedestrian Killed By Car On Bedford

A speeding driver fatally struck an up-and-coming reggae singer in Flatbush early yesterday, police and family members said. Jean Bigord, 53, of Brooklyn, was driving west on Sterling Street when he crossed the double yellow lines at Bedford Avenue at 3:05 a.m., cops said. He smashed his 2006 Crown Victoria into a parked car, jumped the curb and hit a building. Then he slammed into pedestrian Chris Hutchinson, 39, whose reggae stage name was Chris Iqon, police and family said. Hutchinson died at Kings County Hospital. His grieving sister, Michelle, called him “a funny person who liked to make people laugh. He was an entertainer.” - the NY Post this morn
And more here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Scandal Down the Block

This week the Q visited the head offices of CAMBA, an acronym for the Church Avenue Merchants and Business Association. It was not a pleasure call. Trouble's a-brewing on my block, and I was on a fact-finding mission on behalf of our humble block association. CAMBA's annual budget is now $80 million, thanks in large part to hundreds of major contracts from the City to provide social services. The Clarkson Flatbush to Bedford Block Association has an annual budget of, rounded up of course, let's see, carry the one, that's, er, zero. So yes, this is a bit of a David meets Goliath, if David were in fact completely broke and sans slingshot, though to be fair THIS David and THIS Goliath are playing for the same team most of the time, politically. But some times, we are not. Let me explain.

Ever since I moved to Clarkson a decade ago I've been hearing rumors about the ongoing conditions and problems at 60 Clarkson. It's a beautiful old pre-war 83-unit apartment building that from all angles has fallen on very hard times. It looks like hell, the doors don't work, the trash is always piled up under windows and in the basement, the super's a drunk, the place has countless unresolved violations, the vermin are winning, the elevators are frequently urine-soaked and festooned with chicken bones, peeling paint, broken plumbing, etc. etc. etc. You know the scene, and perhaps you've even had the misfortune of living in just such a greedy slumlord's rancid hellhole. However this particular joint has an extra-interesting backstory, or I guess you could say frontstory, because the story is very much playing out in real time right now.

Despite the lack of signage or any prominent official NYC or NYS logos, 60 Clarkson has become a homeless shelter. According to longtime tenants who predate this arrangement, 73 of the apartments are now housed by temporary "shelter" residents. The (relatively few) rent-paying pre-shelter tenants claim, among many other things, that new residents are uniformly brought to the building in the dark of night so as not to arouse attention, typically after a long day at the homeless "intake center" called PATH in the Bronx. The City's Department of Homeless Services contracts an absurdly over-market-rate payment to the crooked slumlord Barry Hers to the tune of $3,000 a month per "shelter" apartment. This is part of the City's "cluster-site" program, which was a cynical renaming of a much-maligned failure called the  "scatter-site" program, wherein the City forgoes the tough job of building affordable housing or decent shelters and instead simply rents space in already existing buildings (even hotels at times), thereby reducing the number of apartments for non-homeless tenants who clearly need affordable housing too. All of this insanity is so the City is able to conform to the state court's judgment that requires the City provide housing for anyone who seeks it. It is, of course, the only humane thing to do, but at $3,000 a month you'd think the City could do a little better than 60 Clarkson Avenue and Mr. Barry Hers. With the City's homeless population nearing 50,000, there are hundreds of 60 Clarksons all over town. And thus all over town, blocks deal with the social realities of sharing a block with shelter, and the tenants get to share not only a block, but a building. Without any prior notice or conditions noted in their lease, of course.

While it may be shocking to you to find that some slumlords are making such a killing off of others' misfortunes, imagine how shocking it must have been to the longtime tenants in this rent-stabilized building when they went from being regular old Joe and Jane tenants to being the far less profitable tenants in a building now housed mostly by temporary homeless folks. The perverse incentives here have made the rent-paying lease-holding tenants pariah in their own building, even less likely to get the attention of their landlord. The tenants are starting to investigate ways to organize to demand Mr. Hers take better care of the building, which they say is filthy, under-supervised, full of drugs and even sexual predators, managed by a greedy scoundrel, and attended by a super who does nothing to help, especially when drinking, which is most of the time.

So why was I at CAMBA's head offices on Church avenue, meeting with three senior officials from the head office? Because I had the (mistaken) impression that the do-gooder social service agency that works with the many women and children housed in this shelter would want to know what's going on in the building and would want to do something to compel Mr. Hers, or HPD, or DHS, or somebody to make sure that at least some of the $3,000 a month per apartment (the annual haul must be well over a million dollars) goes into protecting the homeless clients and giving them at least a reasonably well-run building from which to begin the slow and difficult process of reclaiming their lives and dignity.

But I was basically told that unless the 10 remaining tenants can organize themselves in a meaningful way that can get the landlord's attention, there's precious little leverage they can bring to bear. At this point, even going on rent strike would barely dent the guy's income. How can their $600/month or $850/month compete with $3,000 a month from the shelter clients? Money talks, right? The only party in this arrangement with any power to put pressure on Mr. Hers is DHS, which is overworked and understaffed and just grateful to have the apartment contracts it has, which number in the tens of thousands. CAMBA's relationship essentially ends with the clients themselves, and can put only "gentle" pressure on a landlord. The clients don't want to make waves - they feel they could be sent away at any moment - and they could. Step out of line and DHS sees that you go back to "75 Catherine Street," a TRUE hell-on-earth homeless shelter with no privacy at all and squalid conditions. 60 Clarkson is fabulously well-appointed in comparison.


The straw that broke the Q's blog-silence on the issue was when I actually got a phone call from the landlord, Barry Hers, and he mentioned that he had been forwarded an email that I had sent to CAMBA seeking their help, which of course had my phone # attached. I was actually glad to hear from him because I had long wondered what kind of scumbag makes his living this way. Turns out he primarily called me to inform me that one of the pre-shelter tenants, a woman I've worked with in the past to plan our block parties, is in fact "the problem." "She and her boyfriend are selling drugs, destroying property and lying to authorities, all in an effort to undermine my many efforts to make the building more livable," he said in nearly 30 minutes of psycho-rambling. He's essentially trying to get this tenant out because she's been leading a mini-insurrection in the building and trying to organize people to complain en masse. Now he and she are locked in suit and counter-suit, and I have no idea how the mess is going to play out.

The scandal here is that "cluster-site" housing is not working precisely because it does not provide a suitable home from which a family can start to move forward. The City's official plan to transition homeless people to self-sufficiency is by-and-large a total scam. CAMBA makes money on its contracts. The landlord makes tons of easy money. But the clients bounce from crappy place to place, or stay for years in unsuitable apartments without a lease, rarely making any real headway. Sometimes these single-mother families of 5, 6, 7 leave the rolls, but they're frequently back on within months. Sometimes they're even counseled, as one woman at our block association meeting told us, to sign a contract on a new place and leave the homeless system, then NOT PAY RENT(!!!) so that they will qualify for a separate FEDERAL program that will pay your rent when you're ABOUT to get evicted. How's that for your sense of security?

A little icing for the cake? Did you know that clients are routinely counseled to consider moving out of town, to places Upstate and Connecticut for instance, just to move them off the City's rolls? I wonder what they might name that "policy." Scatter-All-Around? And does Poughkeepsie even know that they're routinely mentioned as a possible destination?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Parkside Playground Opens Avec Fanfare

A small miracle has taken place in our midst. After years of begging, the City Parks Department finally fixed up the dilapidated playground next to PS92, which you can enter on either Winthrop or through a cute passageway off Parkside tween Bedford and Rogers. Councilman Mathieu Eugene shepherded the project through the budget process, and therefore was seen taking his metaphorical victory lap yesterday, with folks from Parks and other local leaders. Hundreds of kids and parents spent part of yesterday's scorching heat at the playground and on the basketball courts. The street was blocked off, upbeat music was pumping, lunches were given out. Relatively healthy lunches in cute boxes to boot - tuna sammies, a peach, carrots...

So what's the big deal, you might ask? While it's true that there are excellent playgrounds at the park, what's been missing for years is a decent place for teens to hang out, and the playground includes not only jungle-gyms for toddlers but decent full-court basketball courts, handball courts, chess tables, workout stations and markings on the ground for some game that seems barely big enough for a rousing round of badminton, which it probably isn't, but I'm glad I had a chance to write it out for the first time in prose, since I had no idea the word had an "n" it. I tried all manner of spellings before I tried "badminton" on a whim without the red squiggly auto-correct lines appearing. Bad-MIN-ton. MIN. Holy cow, how many years have I been saying that wrong? 40? Anyhow, three cheers to everyone who stayed on point and got the job done. The playground is not five minutes from my doorstep, and my daughters and I will be there a lot in the coming years. Thank you, all.

One potential problem - the trees already look to be struggling, among an intense landscaping job by Parks. (Did I even notice City trees ONCE in my 20s? Now I notice them constantly, and the trash. So strange what time does to one's recognition of environment...)

Below, a funny moment where Councilman Eugene calls out to Lefferts Manor President Ben Edwards to join the picture because he's been "working hard." Also here, from the right, Eugene's assistant Jonah Rogoff and CB9 district leader Pearl Miles.

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