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, September 22, 2016

Can't See the City For the Neighborhoods

What a golden age of information! The Q can easily post and link micro-nabe info on crime, house prices, density, transportation, schools, sanitation and more. But lately I've noticed that there's a treacherous downside to the competition and comparisons, the one-upmanship and the calling-out others for their opulence and entitlement. We forget to be a City, which is the most challenging and invigorating and impossibly diverse family of all.

We live near a train, on a block, in a micro and macro neighborhood. We live in election districts, and precincts and community board boundaries. We live in a borough. We live in a City. We live in a metropolitan area. And lately, I feel we're being encouraged to think TOO locally. Buy local, vote local, plan local, rah rah rah local local local. Look after your own, protect your turf.

I've been in many, many community meetings over the last five or six years, and I've come to the conclusion that the word "community" can now describe everything, and often, therefore, nothing. Who is YOUR community? Is it big, is it small? Is it prescribed by race, religion, income, owner/renter, car/ped/bike/vegan/fat pt shorts/old/young/hipster or craft/coffee/tea/hair/gender or cat/dog/single/couple/family?

One of my favorite expressions, that I've used time and again, is "the grand experiment we call NYC." I live in NYC. It has a mayor. It has tall buildings and cute townhouses, commercial centers and parks, business districts, corporate headquarters and cultural meccas. The extraordinary health of this ecosystem means that Manhattan swells to more than 4 million people during the day, with 3 million on weekdays and just over 2 million at night. Its "outer" boroughs are dense giants themselves.

Real estate is about the vacant lot or new apartments down the block, of course. But it's also about the 100 story tower in downtown Brooklyn, the huge supportive affordable housing complex near Kings County Hospital, the shady lease maniputations at Ebbets Field apartments, and yeah, the new luxury residential towers on the Upper West Side, and around Barclays, and along the waterfront in Queens. Jobs have become more plentiful in Brooklyn, subsistence to overpaid. Some apartments are frightfully small, some have tall ceilings and strain to call themselves lofts. Some people have to travel 2 hours to work; some fall out of bed and serve coffee at the shoppe down the block. It takes, as they say, all kinds.

When I hear folks complain about THEIR block, THEIR businesses, THEIR parking, THEIR quality of life - sometimes I ask myself "where did the THEIR come from anyway?" I have friends who've lived in Tribeca for nearly 30 years. They've been lucky, and bought in when the old building went coop. Last year, the wrecking balls came and knocked down their longtime view - a new hotel is going up, and that'll be what they see for as long as they live there. Bummer? You bet. Goes with the territory. But they're still making it, in the thick of it all, in the Big Apple, city that never parks for long.

Unless, of course, you're fortunate enough to have your block or micro-hood designated a landmark. Now it's frozen in time. Charming! Gas lamps. Period windows, pure facades. But guess what? The City still grows. It yearns for more space but it doesn't have any. It pushes here and it pulls there. The landmark districts ensure that certain eras of New York continue to be represented, and that's cool, if expensive to live in. But - does it really benefit EVERYone? Only a flunker of economics would say so. Someone, somewhere, will have to bear the cost of every major land use decision in not just Lefferts, or Brooklyn, but in the whole metro region. Dare I say, the whole country, then continent and world? Like Will Rogers said...they ain't making any more of it.

There was a time when humans could think tribally AND globally at the same time. In the modern world, in a world being torn asunder by man-made activities and overcrowding of cities and concentration of wealth and housing shortages...we must still encourage GDP growth, or suffer the consequences of recession and depression. Perhaps we've collectively forgotten how dire it seemed just 8 years ago. Or the 1970s and runaway inflation. S&L crisis. The Great Depression. The Middle Ages for chrisakes. Yes, we have to grow, and we have to provide for our progeny.

But we can't be foolish. We have to plan for even larger cities and even greater needs. We have to sacrifice sometimes, our own comforts or habits, for the benefit of others. These others may not be our idea of terrific dinner guests. But there's an obligation, moral and for simple selfish fact of survival.

The questions of political justice remain. But it's worth asking, as the Republic makes a fateful decision on its future:

How big is your tribe? What is your neighborhood? Are you a citizen of New York City? Or of your house, block and back yard?


No Spin said...

Most are a tribe of one, in it for themselves whose concern for the community and others is minimal. Actions speak louder than words. The oligarchy has broken the morale of citizens whereby only 5% are voting in democratic primaries. Million dollar athletes disguise stereotyping as free-speech.
City council representatives voting against their community boards.
And a Borough President who can't stand up and say, stereotyping an entire police force is as bad as stereotyping a race. Divide and conquer. Scapegoat.
And disrespecting the flag is one step away from burning the flag, and two steps away from a fifth column.

Perhaps we need to listen to what Doc Brown said to Michael J Fox in "Back to the Future".

"Marty: Whoa, wait a minute, Doc. What are you talking about? What happens to us in the future? What, do we become assholes or something?

Doc Brown: No, no, no, no, no, Marty. Both you and Jennifer turn out fine. It's your kids, Marty. Somethings gotta be done about your kids! "

The kids, the millennials are not the patriots of the days of yore.
They are the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.
Uninspiring cowards who devalue liberty, individuality and community.
Welcome to the New Age.

FlatLen said...

"How big is your tribe? What is your neighborhood? Are you a citizen of New York City? Or of your house, block and back yard?"

Good questions, I think. I have to think about it.

My tribe: the people I identify with. I am African American, so I identify with other people of African descent, but I find that nowadays, my tribe is comprised primarily people who share my religious orientation--these are people of all races and colors--because I'm fairly active, for a member of my denomination.

My neighborhood: Flatbush, the block I live on and the other blocks I tend to frequent.

I was born and raised in NYC. I define myself as a U.S. citizen and a resident of New York City, because I have a domicile here.

MikeF said...

You make a good argument for centralized control.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Actually, I'm tired of neighborhood jingoism. I'm probably as much to blame as anyone.

One anecdote that stuck with me. Folks were complaining at a CB9 meeting about how Sunset Park was getting all the jobs. Why weren't "we" getting jobs? To which I said "for god's sake doesn't anyone assume they have to commute anymore? A good job is a good job!"

Or folks complaining about the Select Bus Service because it "zooms right through the neighborhood and doesn't help the local economy." Say what? The point is to move people quickly where once it was painfully slow! Plus, it turned out that more people from our district got on and off the bus than any other.

And I'm really tired of the North Crown Heights, South Crown Heights, Lefferts divides. Absurd. A smartly developed Empire Blvd could change that, to the point where going to the Bedford Armory didn't seem like you need a visa.

No Spin said...

@MikeF - I believe in centralized management of the body politic; a democratic republic if you will. However, one must acknowledge that there is a bit of mind control by the special interests. Has anyone noticed that the Brownsville, Flatbush, and East New York Community Boards have no websites, which could otherwise interrupt the mind control of the BORG. I have heard unconfirmed rumors that Ingrid is a member of the BORG.

MikeF said...

I would worry about visiting the armory anytime soon.

FlatLen said...

Further thoughts....being a citizen "of your house, block and back yard?"

Being a citizen of one's block has some interesting connotations, tied to notions of civic-mindedness, I think. Those are the challenges, in how we define this civic-mindedness.

Being a citizen of one's house, under classical political theory, had some specific implications for sovereignty over one's "castle," so to speak. Although political and legal theory over time have come to limit an absolute sense of sovereignty, it still persists in different forms. The challenge, of course, lies in how that sovereignty is negotiated today, and that is the conundrum facing ownership rights on our blocks and in our neighborhood of Flatbush.

babs said...

Sorry, study after study (apart from that funded by the knee-jerk anti-landmark relentlessly pro-developer types at REBNY) has shown that preservation IS in fact an economic good across the board. Here's one from 1997: And here is a more recent effort from the Historic Districts Council, in the form of an easy-to-read infographic: Not "flunkers of economics" at all.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

No Babs. It's good economic sense for tourism and for wealthy whites. Furman Centers latest debunks your statement.

All of them agree - historic districts lead to wealthier, whiter market rate units of rental. As to houses themselves, the sky's the limit.

And I'm not even against a reasonable amount of landmarking. But after a point, if the city stops growing, what's left affordable must get crammed into a smaller and smaller space. That's not economics; that's just a matter of not-enough-land to contain the City's inevitable growth. You must go up - somewhere. Or take over "unproductive" real estate, which inevitably means even more displacement.

I'm basically saying that it's every man for himself out there, and it's only gonna get uglier. I don't need to tell you who typically wins.

Bob Marvin said...

FWIW I agree with Babs about historic districts and think the HDC study she cites is far more convincing than anything put out by the Furman Center. Historic Districts are NOT just for the wealthy and many (i.e Crown Heights North) are the result of grass roots efforts by neighborhood residents, most of whom are POC.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

That study is 20 years old Bob! And the Crown Heights North, while worthy, is not old enough (to my mind) to show the longterm results.

Think about the neighborhoods for a minute that have been landmarked. You can't possibly argue that they haven't been fuses for gentrification. I'm not necessarily opposed to any of it - but I do find it disconcerting that neighborhood landmarking advocates (as opposed to say individual buildings) would cling to the idea that they're somehow designed to benefit the majority of New Yorkers, not primarily those wealthy enough to live there, upper-end shopkeeps and tourists)

Jacob said...

Can't we agree that there should be a balance between preservation and new affordable development? That not every block has to be saved but not every block has to be torn down?

Seems like the studies are during a different era, when yes, preservation served to preserve neighborhoods in danger of urban decay. But now we are in an era of unprecedented demand.

The white house just put this out yesterday:

"Executive Summary
Over the past three decades, local barriers to housing development have intensified, particularly in the high-growth metropolitan areas increasingly fueling the national economy. The accumulation of such barriers – including zoning, other land use regulations, and lengthy development approval processes – has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand. The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers’ access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions. By modernizing their approaches to housing development regulation, states and localities can restrain unchecked housing cost growth, protect homeowners, and strengthen their economies.
Locally-constructed barriers to new housing development include beneficial environmental protections, but also laws plainly designed to exclude multifamily or affordable housing. Local policies acting as barriers to housing supply include land use restrictions that make developable land much more costly than it is inherently, zoning restrictions, off-street parking requirements, arbitrary or antiquated preservation regulations, residential conversion restrictions, and unnecessarily slow permitting processes. The accumulation of these barriers has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand."

babs said...

The HDC continues to publish research that supports landmarking as a preserver of affordable housing. Unlike NYU, it is not funded by developers and REBNY but by private citizens. Wonder why their conclusions are different? I am so glad that there is an organization actively seeking to landmark Crown Heights South.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

A balance. That's all one can hope for.

But even you, Babs, would agree that Landmarking isn't appropriate for the whole City. Right now, in order to keep towers and eyesores from being built, some are telling us Landmarking is the only option. Yes, it's nice to live in a Landmarked district. Yes, it's nice to have a rent stabilized apartment. For the majority of New Yorkers who DON'T have such luck, there needs to be more, not less, housing.

As for commercial corridors that serve no positive purpose - Empire Blvd for instance - the wrecking ball should come and housing be built - the more affordable the better.

Bob Marvin said...

I consider myself to be a preservationist, but have never met anyone who considers landmarking to be the only option. Of course in a neighborhood where an obstructionist maniac is allowed to block zoning changes there are cases where it might be the only practicable one, but that's a different story.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Maniac is right. And "reason" only makes her stronger. She's bullied media and the Brooklyn Museum into calling what she does "activism" as opposed to destruction of dialogue. She's managed to convince enough folks that a community-led rezoning is the same as a top-down rezoning a la "My Brooklyn" or East NY. I blame those too scared to stand up to her, but that only goes so far. Eventually, you need elected leaders to take your cause, and we have no one. No one.

babs said...

I totally agree with parts of Empire Blvd being redeveloped for housing (all those shuttered commercial buildings, for example). Otherwise, there already is housing there (on the north side of the street, as well as several apartment buildings that pre-date the current zoning). But tearing down attached rowhouses and detached frame house to build hideous, non-contextual, and market rate (or more) apartments serves no-one. This is why it's important to expand landmarking to areas that potentially deserve it, because developers are heathens who think only in terms of maxing out that FAR and $/sq. ft., helping no-one.