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.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Reflections On a Day of Comments

It must be painfully obvious to anyone who reads the Q regularly that I have a great interest in the quality of life issues affecting us all. Public safety I've discovered, from the various fora and meetings I've attended, to the Community Board committees and hearings, to the Envisioning CB9 shindig we held recently at the BBG (the second coming soon at the Jewish Museum), is absolutely the #1 priority across the neighborhood. Whether you're new to the neighborhood or have lived here more than half-a-century - maybe even from birth - the question of whether you feel safe in and outside your home and on the streets of your neighborhood, this is of paramount concern. Not surprisingly, I find that this is the case throughout the City. I bet you could find that it is similarly true throughout the country, or certainly in areas of high density.

And despite all the talk, per capita this is STILL a safe neighborhood. We in Brooklyn are constantly looking over our shoulders at other 'hoods or boroughs, but if you filter out the noise you're still less likely to be the victim of a violent crime here than in most cities of the country. The cops are reacting right now in a big way, but Son of Sam isn't out there and there's no reason for us to stop living life normally. It's a rise in crime, not a foreign invasion.

Each morning (I've become in middle age one of those early even-before the kids risers), I look out my front first floor window and watch dozens of people walk by. Most are going to work; a few are walking their dogs. And yes, a tiny few are stumbling home from a late, late night out. By 7am, the parade is pretty constant. Without exception, they seem like nice people going about their business. I wouldn't hesitate to smile or chat with any of them, though they often look very busy and lost in their own thoughts or plans for the day. Soon, lots of kids are in tow, being taken to day cares or schools, parents (and I relate to this) often struggling to keep the kids on target for their drop-off times. Some parents seem to possess a preternatural patience of Job; others lose their cool quickly. I've been both parents, sometimes in the same day, so I have to chuckle at the epic battles for control.

Point? These are my neighbors. They are the ones I think about when I write this blog, when I think about raising a family here, and staying and fighting for the good things, through the best and bad. They're why I love Brooklyn, THIS part of Brooklyn, this version of America. It's very inspiring actually, to live among every flavor of person, all trying valiantly to live a good life and provide for their families and maybe even give something back to the culture and people that helped them grow. I believe that one of my jobs now that I'm one of the adults (eek!) is to lead by example, to live the ethical and moral equivalent of a good life and to try to guide the next generation a little bit, without coming across too pedantic. I know, I know, I fail on that last point regularly. Remember, I'm writing a blog here! It's kinda what they're for, not the pedantry, but definitely the opinionating.

And so when an issue comes up about crime, I'm often saddened to see how quickly we go from talking about the relative few bad guys to big questions of race, class and gentrification. It's not that I don't see how they play a role - I do. But imagine with me, for a moment, that we were living in, say, Nebraska, that was experiencing a rise in crime and gang-like behavior. Would we have to start talking about skin color in order to discuss the issue of lawlessness? Would it be possible to focus just on the bad apples, the bad houses and buildings, the bad landlords, even the bad extended families, the police and police tactics, the relationship between the police and the law-abiders, the coming together to form block watches and block associations, keeping our eyes out for illegal activity, creating drug-free zones, working with cops and families on crisis intervention, finding jobs for young kids at risk, developing community centers, looking for money for smart after-school programs...the list is long. But none those solutions has anything to do with race. Even all-white suburbs deal with this stuff. We're just not that special.

My buddy Celeste likes to remind me that race is at the heart of many of our conversations and lurks under the surface and can't be denied, and I don't disagree. But that doesn't mean we can't parse this stuff out a bit. Actually, one thing I've learned in life that's been EXTREMELY important is how essential it is to parse stuff out, lest you run around willy nilly reacting without reason. You can't look at our neighborhood of (depending on how you draw the boundaries) 20K - 50K people and say assuredly what it IS and ISN'T. And yeah, it's in flux, bigtime. But even that flux is only gonna take into account a swing of 10 or 20% in the next few years, because most people tend to stay in their homes for a long time. Ownership and rent stabilization laws encourage this, and it's why (in principle anyway) I support the idea of rent price controls. (Yes, I'm aware of the arguments for and against). I know things are going to change, but I don't want them to change so fast that we have the reverse happen of what happened in the '50s and '60s, when the earlier generation, often through deceitful blockbusting, left so fast they took much of the bedrock social infrastructures of neighborhoods with them, all throughout NYC, leaving a bankrupt and corrupt city behind them. Suddenly so many instrumental people were gone, and house prices fell so fast and furious, and vacancies shot up, that good folk had to struggle to retain some hold on civil society. But here's the thing - they DID. Look around. The reason this neighborhood is still so livable and great? It's not because of people who moved in when I did ten years ago, that's for sure, though I do hope I haven't hurt. Nor is it the movers from five years ago, or last week. It's because of the generation before us, like Celeste and Bob and Elaine Marvin and Bob Thomason and Lindiwe Kamou and the dozens of African and Caribbean-American board members that I've had the pleasure of getting to know. And on my block, there's my friend and block association mate Janice, and Pat across the street, and Vietnam vet Mr. Mathews, and Mr. Sam who just loves to garden, and countless others that I've had the pleasure to get to know. Please remember them when you're talking about the neighborhood - they may not be commenting on this blog or even reading it, but they're here, very much invested in what's happening now and next.

I love the way Eric Adams, our State Senator and soon to be Borough President (go get 'em Eric) took on, for instance, the low-riding pants of young black men. Talk about parsing it out! He took the time to recognize "the Sag" as part of a historical narrative, and then just needed to say "we're better than that." If you haven't seen it, you kinda got to. It's pretty amazing: STOP THE SAG.

That to me is successful parsing. When you don't do it, you end up making statements that you regret, or that get "taken the wrong way," because you start to globalize things that are actually very specific and often very local.

O.K. That's enough from me for today.


Anonymous said...

This is beautifully written and so important to keep in mind when we talk about our community. Thank you, Q.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Q! Some of us needed to here this. As a Caribbean American raised in this neighborhood, I agree with everything you've said. Keep up the good work...and I for one support your efforts!

OldMaple said...

First time commenter. Yes, we're out here. It's nice to see all the newcomers and their energy and passion. But it's good too to remember that real people were living here before you got here. We're people who've seen various cycles of violence and drugs and have worked hard to raise families and take care of our neighbors. Not all of us own homes either. I just got the third rent increase in two years, so it really does effect real people when the neighborhood changes. I'm on a fixed income, so this is going to be tough. It's a good thing to remember, even when celebrating the new businesses or buildings. Some of us are scared for our own futures, because we never were able to afford to buy. I'm not looking for sympathy. I'd just like other voices to speak up from time to time than just the loudest and newest.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we're out here. It's nice to see all the newcomers and their energy and passion. But it's good too to remember that real people were living here before you got here. We're people who've seen various cycles of violence and drugs and have worked hard to raise families and take care of our neighbors.
This so much. As someone pointed out in the comments section in the Policing Lefferts Gardens post, the current level of crime is not as high as it was back in the 90s (or even the 80s during the crack epidemic). Long-time residents (like me) know this because they have seen this first hand. Institutional memory would be useful to put things into proper context for those who have moved in here over the past few years.

I am happy to see the new people and the new businesses move in because it's a sign that things are getting better. None of these things would have been here when I got out of college, and that was only 14 years ago.