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, November 13, 2013

The Qatarification Quandary

In the fall of 2044, the temperature once again confounded expectations of public and professionals alike, and the water continued spouting from the dragon at Imagination Playground well into the middle of November. But as the weather finally began to shift from a tapered summer into a once-Floridian winter, a much less subtle shift took hold of the Lefferts Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, one that had left many longtime residents worrying about their futures and their very homes and, as some whispered, culture.

Many traced the trouble to the Great Fracking Disasters of the late '20s, when dead fish started washing ashore at three of NYC's primary reservoirs, forcing a state of emergency that led many to assume the Big Apple's best days were behind it, the damage already having been done to a generation or so of future drinking water. At first just a few nervous longtime residents along the eastern side of Prospect Park sold their homes, cashing in on the past couple decades of double-digit annual growth, most moving to northern Canada for its temperate climate and discernible seasons. But soon a flood of frenzied selling led prices to fall sharply all over the neighborhood, and borough. A good many homeowners stood their ground, and quite a few were therefore relieved when the first wave of foreign buyers arrived, bringing their hard-earned overseas cold-fusion currency and tantalizing exotic cuisine to the neighborhood. The blood having ceased pouring from the wound, despite the massive drop in pressure i.e. prices, most Leffertsians felt that the neighborhood and its mixture of 20 and 30 story buildings along Flatbush, its landmarked tree-lined streets, and its last remaining quaint-seeming locavore sit-down restaurants, coffee bars, yoga centers, and shoppes specializing in various forms of self-expression - these ensured a relatively stable and homey quality of life for those of Generation X, Y and Z and their children, many of whom belonged to a generation yet unnamed. Most of the new "unnamed" were somewhat disaffected in the way of youth and spent their days roving the streets in gangs on Stateboards, so-named for the cold-fusion engines built in their wheels and trucks that allowed a skateboarder to float two or three inches above the ground if desired, and speed off quickly when the cops came around. "State" became the world's primary source of non-polluting energy for vehicles sometime during the energy gold-rush of the mid-30s. It was invented by the Chinese and trademarked by the neo-Maoist regime led by the ridiculously tall infamously seductive Ted-talker Yao Ming Jr., and now nearly every vehicle in the world paid the State-controlled government in Beijing royalties on every tankfull, having made China and its Arab nation allies rich beyond historical precedent. Yao Ming Jr. himself, at nearly 8 feet and 1/4 inch, was now the world's richest man by a power of 10, having recently bought half of the Fortune 500, renaming it the Yao Ming 250, shares of which could only be bought and sold on third Thursdays between 2 and 5 pm CST (Chinese Standard Time).

As a direct result of the world's tilt in economic and political power, Manhattan had seen huge shifts in demographics. Professional class "whites" steadily left for greener pastures in Detroit, but NYC remained the entertainment capital of the world. In fact, Andrew Rooney III once quipped that NYC had become something of a vaudeville for the world, with New Yorkers playing the roles but the international community footing the bill. Most notably, folks from the hottest and richest parts of the globe were moving to New York for its mild winters and relatively low real estate prices and 24-hour theater, dance, music and art - and truth be told its wholesome sex industry. Whole social structures in NYC were shifting and businesses were catering more and more to the incoming wealth. A few families from the recently dethroned monarchy of Qatar purchased the grandest homes of Lefferts Gardens at fire-sale prices, one of them, whose post-Qatar inter-name was Walter Whitman (by the '30s people had frequently assumed "international names" to reflect their new status as world players; thus Nada Zeiden became Whitman when outside his native Doha), wrote eloquently of the way he was welcomed into the friendly, diverse neighborhood of Lefferts on his Zlog سؤال في بركسد

Many of the Qatarian diaspora were entranced by his words and, not so coincidentally, the phenomenal bargains available so near the still gorgeous Prospect Park, whose entire "native" flora had been remade to resemble that of prehistoric North Carolina. Remarked one son of former Qatari King Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani "I cannot believe my good fortune to have found a genuine four-story brownstone with good bones and original detailing at less than $5 million dollars, which wouldn't buy you a studio apartment in Saudi Arabia! And did I mention it's near the Park?"

Pretty soon Qataris were purchasing any home that came up for sale. A few enterprising apartment owners, sensing pent up demand, began easing out longtime highly educated once solidly middle and upper-middle class residents. This came as quite a shock to renters who had been paying their landlords faithfully, some of them, for 20 years or more. While it would be easy to call the whole old-timer/new-timer divide "racial," the fact of the matter was that many of the Qataris hailed from various ethnic groups and times being what they were many of these new families were mixed marriages anyway, with at least one spouse being Jewish-African or African-American or Indian-Scandinavian or Japanese-Haitian or Chinese-African as so many were...even calling them strictly Qatari was a bit misleading given the hodge and the podge, but generally the term stuck and thus "Qatarification" become a word tossed around with a great deal of froth.

And to say that the longtime residents were "white" was just as misleading, in that a great number of the longtime residents were not strictly "caucasian," though truth be told Lefferts had been referred to as a predominantly white neighborhood since at least 2020, and the phrase was rarely heard by locals as anything other than a statement of fact, an often jaundiced fact but there it was, and even black residents had grown accustomed to it, if not completely happy about it.

Rent stabilization had disappeared after the Great Fracking Disasters due to their obvious obsolescence, and zoning rules had been abandoned in a flurry of "please come and build whatever you like, ANYTHING, pretty please" prospectuses sent to any number of international developers with promises of tax incentives and tickets to Broadway shows for life in exchange for 10% of the apartments left to current neighborhood residents at 1/3 the market rates. Seizing the opportunity, Qatari developers started by tearing down 626 Flatbush, a particular eyesore to many, and replacing it with a 50-story gleaming tower shaped like a set of interlocking cantilevered hex-wrenches (rendering below).
Perhaps for the first time in a generation, longtime residents began to feel that this was no longer "their" neighborhood, and as they watched the Multi-Hex building rise, some got a sinking feeling that the world they'd known was disappearing forever. At first it was a rumour here or rumour there, but soon it became increasingly clear that landlords were favoring the new Qatari residents over longtimers and their children and even white kids just out of college. Landlords were quick to point to Qatari's high employment rates and flush bank accounts and called the whole thing a simple matter of business, nothing personal. When the first new restaurants arrived, longtimers were excited as anyone, though the prices were outlandish and the service peculiar. Some didn't even feel completely comfortable or welcome.

It's not that the Qatari's weren't friendly and civic-minded. Quite the contrary, they had all kinds of big ideas of how to make the neighborhood better, more attractive, more economically vibrant. They joined committees. They formed committees. They started all sorts of projects and rabble-roused at the precincts to rein in the Stateboarders, whom they viewed with great suspicion, even when they were just being teenagers. The fact was, a lot Qataris had little experience with middle-class whites in Brooklyn, and couldn't really tell the trouble-makers (and there WERE a good many trouble-makers) from the merely rough-around-the-edges. The fact that a lot of the "unnamed" teenagers had taken to chewing the stimulant Qat lent an ironic twist to the Qatari invasion. The illegal substance was everywhere, and the spitting offended the Qatari's to such a degree that City officials created a Qat task force. Lots of young white kids were being shaken down by undercovers in an effort to rid the area of negative influences. The seeds of unrest were being sown in every policeman's reach into the coat pockets of relatively innocent youngsters.

Which brings us to the present. On the night of a balmy December 7th, six young white men were chewing qat outside their rent stabilized apartments, those eyesore edifices as most Qatari newcomers called them, at 33 Lincoln Road. Undercovers pulled up. Insults were hurled. Someone threw something, though accounts differ as to what it was exactly. Many corroborated that one of the kids threw his farm-fresh organic donut at a rookie, and as the rich fair-trade cacao frosting dripped off his glasses, he reached into his holster. What happened next has been told differently by everyone present. There's no reason for me to re-tell the end result, the carnage, the sadness, the anger, and the riots that erupted in the following days.

As a proud, educated, diversity-loving person-without-much-color myself, I still can't fully process how I feel about it all. No one should resort to violence, not cops, not residents, not kids, not grammas. But there it is. There's been a lot of good taking place, but as the events of the past few days illustrate, things are not always as they seem on the surface. We all have a lot of soul-searching to do, and as we head into the New Year, 2045, I only hope some way forward is presented by the emerging leaders who express such desire to grow and prosper - TOGETHER.


Anonymous said...

You're no Jonathan Swift, but it's very entertaining. Thanks Q.

Anonymous said...

"The Frackers", by Gregory Zuckerman. A reading and discussion at the Monday night meeting of the reading series at The Half King, on 23rd St and 10th Avenue. 7 pm.

A night of talk about hydraulic fracturing is guaranteed to be a hot night of spirited discussion. It's a good opportunity to learn that fracking his here to stay and how and why it will become the standard extraction method for gas reserves in New York.