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.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Watch "My Brooklyn" Online

If you've been wanting to learn more about how public policy led to the quickest and most sweeping changes in Brooklyn's history since the bridge, you have a month to view the film "My Brooklyn" onlin. It's okay as documentary - I'm not a fan of the personal memoir style - but fantastic as a primer for what's been happening.

I was at meetings with Joe Chan back in 2004 when he started running the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Click here to see their website. (It's ironic, in my view, that one of the things they're promoting right now is a show on Brooklyn's Abolitionists. As if being politically correct in your promotions means you've cared even two whits about the present and future of African-Americans in the borough.) I work in a building - 80 Arts on Hanson Place - that was one of the first shots in the war against old Brooklyn. The idea was to convert an old building on a sorry street next to run down apartments and the Salvation Army, and bring a bunch of college educated artsy folks in through subsidized office space for BAM-approved non-profits. We would make it "safe" for coffee shops and upscale eateries to move to Fulton. The BAM Development Corporation was on the top floor, and the famed Harvey Lichtenstein had offices there. BAM was instrumental in seeing that Ft. Greene and downtown Brooklyn changed for the arty and upscale. BAM used to joke that if it could move BAM to Manhattan they would have been much better off, this from someone who used to work there. No surprise of course - we all knew that was true. But if you can't move the building over the bridge, why not bring Manhattan to Brooklyn? Eventually, BAM was taken over by the Downtown Partnership, when the plan became not only feasible, but likely.

When I saw Joe's plan, and even questioned him about it, I, these guys have a massive vision. It'll never happen, I thought. Not in downtown Brooklyn. It's too popular and profitable. Maybe you could get some arty types to live in the lofts above the stores on Fulton. But a big mall - Albee Sqare - had already failed, and Metrotech was an eyesore. And a pro sports franchise with a big arena next to that hideous Atlantic Center? Keep dreaming!

How naive I was. They did it. Including the part where they try to "bridge" the neighborhoods of upscaling Ft. Greene with upscaled Brooklyn Heights. I saw the renderings - a space safe for white folks to walk from one nabe to the other (they put white folks in the rendering in case you weren't able to make the imaginative leap). And BAM, in many ways, is at the heart of it all. Without it, I doubt they ever could have been so successful with all the residential buildings, and so quickly. Every brochure or website touts the location as "at the heart of the BAM Cultural District). They originally thought it would be mostly commercial towers like Metrotech. But sometimes, success has a way of snowballing.

80Arts has a fabulous museum on the bottom floor, that provided perfect cover for the most far-reaching aspects of the plan. Called MoCADA, founded by now City Councilperson Laurie Cumbo, the gallery-sized museum celebrates the wide-ranging arts heritage of the African Diaspora. If you're not familiar with that term I find it incredibly handy. How else to describe the amazing cultures that developed when slaves blended with their owners' cultures, then developed through good and bad times to the present day? I feel the location of MoCADA is incredibly cynical, given the plan that it helped launch. But then, the Partnership and the Mayor were never racists per se. They supported development and increases of tax base and business to compete in a global economy. No one said that buppies couldn't be part of that plan. Assimilated Blacks and Latinos and Asians were more than welcome.However, if you don't have the means to live or shop here, well, that's just the natural evolution of things.

Am I being glib? Watch the movie, let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

Its good that we dont forget the past, or the way things were. Very nostagic this all is but all the grime and crime are still pretty vivd to me. This city has been rolling over and changing and reinventing itself for 400 years, lest we forget this is also part of New York. A place this dynamic will die if it stagnates.


Anonymous said...

I saw Joe Chan on the train last night, canoodling. I want to yell at him. Loved the movie.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I'm all for change FtheY. And for the most part, development and building of apartments is a good thing.

The problem is that when the government is the catalyst, and the planner, I think they have a moral responsibility to listen to and incorporate the needs of ALL citizens. This plan was developed from the perspective of "Fulton Mall is a filthy crime-ridden eyesore." Some of the white interviewees said as much in the doc. It's just sad and typical that wholesale change meant only ONE thing to planners.

The cautionary part of this, to me, is that Flatbush Avenue, particularly below Parkside, is in many ways is like Fulton Mall. Same stores, same festive come-as-your-are African and Caribbean American marketplace. White folks tell me it doesn't feel like it's "for them."

So I ask Flatbush destined to the same fate?

Anonymous said...

Flatbush Ave is going to shift, though doubtfully at the same rate as Fulton Mall. Take a look at in the 50s:

For decades it was a middle class Jewish and Italian shopping district. Then for decades it's been a working class Afro-Caribbean shopping district. Now it's changing to something else. Development is coming, but there are a lot of forces--like high-density rent stabilized housing--that are going to keep it from flipping overnight like Fulton mall.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

And what you're describing is not the full-scale governmental makeover plan, but something more neutral?

Remember, the flight of whites and the change of the neighborhood to almost completely non-white was due to red-lining and complicit government policy to suburbanize NY. That was not a natural transformation either.

When the government, or P.R. machines, tell us that it is the natural order of things, do we just accept it as fact? These are the questions I've found myself asking.

Bob Marvin said...

Not just gov't policy Tim; another major influence on "white flight" was blockbusting, by unscrupulous real estate interests, so the private sector also played a major role.

Bob Marvin said...

Sorry–redlining was also done by the private (banking) sector

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Bob: I beg to differ. Had the government not tacitly allowed red-lining, it never would have happened. Remember, this was post Brown-Board. The government was absolutely complicit, and as the buyer of mortgages, could have done as it pleased.

Banks and insurance companies do whatever they're allowed to. We've learned that the hard way on too many occasions.

Bob Marvin said...

We don't entirely disagree Tim. The government's post WW II encouragement of middle class migration to the suburbs helped give rise to the notion that cities were worthless slums, to be escaped. That, combined with the racist attitudes that were prevalent (and generally accepted without much thought) encouraged bankers to withhold loans to purchase city properties as part of what I'm sure they considered (incorrectly IMO) to be their fiduciary responsibility. In my experience red lining continued long after block busting and white flight abated. I had a hell of a time getting a mortgage when I bought my house in 1974 AND had to make 40% down payment. It wasn't a question of my personal finance either, since most banks wouldn't even let me fill out a mortgage application.

Bob Marvin said...

I was typing at the same time as anon. 4:49. Red lining went far beyond banks being "careful" since they weren't even letting potential borrowers apply for mortgages. When I bought my house in 1974 the common practice was to apply for a mortgage loan from a savings bank, or savings and loan, generally the one (or ones) where you had an account. I was very surprised when the Greater New York Savings Bank wouldn't even let me fill out an application. I actually had more money on deposit than I needed to borrow. After I got my mortgage (from a commercial bank, something very unusual back then) I had the pleasure of closing my account and telling an apparently shocked GNYSB officer, who asked why I'd do such a "strange" thing, exactly why.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Just ignore Mr. Heritage Foundation. He's a class A jerk. I wouldn't call him a troll, per se. Just completely brainwashed by Fox News. To say that banks weren't complicit in racism is the most ludicrous thing I've heard in a long time. He should know as well as anyone that the banks were financing the American dream back to the Great Depression, but they were very picky about who got a piece of the pie.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

And Mr. Heritage, white-flight happened long before those issues you mentioned. Actually, I'm taking your crap down right now. Go away. Please. Read if you must, but keep your hateful garbage to yourself.

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