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, March 1, 2018

The Rise of Saigon - The Fall of Brooklyn

Saigon fell in 1975. Long live Vietnam. Brooklyn, you worry me.

Just back from a family vacation in one of the most friendly, vibrant and eye-opening places the Q's ever been. It was a good thing we left visiting the War Remnants museum to the end. The brutal story of U.S. war crimes against French Indochina would have weighed heavily my whole time, and I might have missed the majesty and mystery of a country and people embracing the future with an optimism I haven't seen in the Western world.

It's not really a communist country at all. It's a one-party crony-capitalist state that really doesn't like to be criticized (sound familiar?) And most people are too busy hustling to argue. For now. When you make more money every year, it's easier to forgive the couple hundred jailed dissidents who merely had the gall to question the Politburo.

Been following things back home though! In our "advanced" society, the Q's once-maligned prediction of a Korean joint at the old Flatbush near Beekman sneaker store came true (read more on Flatbushed). Once Q-bashed now-resolutely-part-of-the-neighborhood 626 Flatbush will be getting an informal sit-down place next to Greenlight Bookstore (read more on Flatbushed.) Bergen Bagels finally opened where lively Ray's deli used to was. (read more on Flatbushed.) That Ice Cream and Coffee joint opened where Shelly's Linen cum Shelley's Toy Store was at the corner of Flatbush and Westbury Ct. (they make the confection in the basement, the same where a few of us met to talk about kindergarten just a couple years ago when it was a "community space.) Oh, and if it weren't painfully clear -  Flatbushed is back with a vengeance! #LovingIt.

While in Saigon, I composed a note to the ULURP committee at CB9. We had received from Chair Michael Liburd a link to a Village Voice article at which Brooklyn City Planning head Winston von Engel was reported to have told a Bushwick audience that (and this is NOT a direct quote) - the city is interested in preserving architectural character not preventing displacement. Read all about it if you like.

So on the painful flight home from Hong Kong, I penned the below and sent to ULURP. It pretty much sums up my thinking right now, so why have a blog and keep it to myself?


Been thinking a lot about this one. I'm sure Winston has remorse about getting quoted that way, but the fact is, his perspective is refreshingly honest. Let's suppose for a minute that City Planning is NOT a force for anti-displacement. This would hardly be a shocker if expressed more artfully. Planning is about planning for the future. It's only in a hyperventilating housing market that the mere mention of "planning" would be met with venom.

The ULURP committee has become, to my mind, less about Land Use planning and more about Keeping Out Rapacious Developers committee (KORD). I get that, and I'm no fan of big developers. One of my main reasons for remaining on this committee has been to fight for rational development - not too tall, and with plenty of new rent-stabilized below-market housing. My block is a disaster area. The committee is currently fighting for the areas on and above Empire - my family and neighborhood association lost everything a couple of years ago. You won't recognize Clarkson Avenue in 2020. It will have gone from my wife and I being the only white people on the block to us being the old-guard - part of the vast majority of middle and upper middle mostly white neighbors. That will have happened in less than 20 years. Let me repeat - a switch from all black to mostly all white in less than two decades. It's astonishing, disheartening, and I don't deny that I haven't done enough. My only defense is - I needed a place to live too.

The ULURP committee has also become a housing activism committee. It's hard not to conflate the two, and I don't know that we can separate out these issues (though I'm still not convinced that resisting rezoning can do ANYTHING to slow gentrification). Landlord rules need to change - the City needs to control its own housing laws. But is this even ULURP related?

What the ULURP committee DOESN'T do is - imagine a future neighborhood 10, 20 or 50 years hence. By insisting that all new development be market rate, we ensure that we will become merely the next neighborhood out on the subway line to become wealthier and whiter.

I don't say this to argue with anyone. I just want us to remind all that there are immediate issues and there are planning issues, and they will not always overlap. Sometimes they do - and sometimes, we're merely engaging in speculation and fear.

Maybe Winston's admission that City Planning isn't about displacement is a needed reminder that they - and ULURP - aren't going to fix the most immediate concerns, and if we are to design a coherent Community Board policy, it may need to happen as a broad, multi-committee, feet on the ground protest response. Merely saying no, using the City's process, may be too little too late.

with respect,


Bob Marvin said...

"a switch from all black to mostly all white in less than two decades"

If this is true about Clarkson it may be that Lefferts Manor may remain the most successfully integrated part of the neighborhood. Ironic that a restrictive covenant, historically a tool for maintaining racial and economic segregation, may have had the opposite effect [at least on the former] in this unique neighborhood.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Interesting. But Bob, in the twenty years 2000 to 2020, what would you guess the demographic shift to be in the Manor? I think the 2020 census will be eye-opening to everyone, assuming we're allowed to run one.

My experience of the Manor may be different. The blocks of LM seem way, way whiter to me than when I moved here. Perhaps I'm too race conscious.

Bob Marvin said...

They ARE whiter, without a doubt, but still, I think, majority POC. eventually LM may come to mirror the overall demographics of NYC (with a POC majority and a large white minority) IMO that wouldn't be a bad thingand I 'dD like to see it in the rest of PLG and many other neighborhoods

Anonymous said...

You won't recognize Clarkson Avenue in 2020...a switch from all black to mostly all white in less than two decades.

You're like the Bible. The Bible says the world is 6,000 years old. According to you, Brooklyn is maybe 30 years old. You base your demographics on the most convenient starting point for your argument.

The bigger picture tells more. In 1950, Brooklyn was over 90 percent white. About 7 percent black. These days, Brooklyn is about 35 percent non-Hispanic white and 35 percent black. Interestingly, the population of Brooklyn is the same today as it was in 1950. But between 1950 and today, the number did sag. Whites left in the 1970s, heading for the suburbs

Meanwhile, if you were to identify the first owners of all the homes in the PLG area, what do you think you would find with respect to their race? I'm sure you know the answer. In other words, it's a lot more accurate to acknowledge the area went from white to black and back to white.

But overall, the borough is a lot less white than it once was. However, prosperity being what it is, Brooklyn neighborhoods are far more mixed than ever. Asians began to pile in during the 80s. Asians were 2 percent of the population in 1980. Now they're over 10 percent.

Gotta let the developers go wild. That's the only way to create enough housing for everyone.

As we know, the NY City government is a lousy landlord. NYCHA facilities are run down and in lousy shape. Because no one is actually responsible for maintaining the properties. None of the clowns have P&L responsibilities. Without a stake in the assets, nobody has to care if the buildings fall apart.

tim the Q said...

I've written about the changes in demographics over the years only about a hundred times. Don't lecture - we all know the history.

Living through it, though, is much more immediate. Whites bemoaned the loss of "their" neighborhood. Some blacks bemoan the loss of theirs.

It's not unprecedented. But it's OUR story, not one in the history books. Yet.

jacob said...

Bob, LM may be integrated (though less and less so) but it is certainly not integrated in terms of income levels.

To quote the California politician Scott Wiener, "the result of being so insistent on mantaining the look and physical feel of the neighborhood, saying we don't want change, you're actually creating a lot of change, you're mantaining the architectural look, but you're kicking out all the people, because no one can afford to live there. "

and anonymous, we can make note of the changing demographics and history but still bemoan the loss of a neighborhood with black homeowners. Yup, it used to be a white middle class neighborhood, but those are a dime-a-dozen.

Bob Marvin said...

Lefferts Manor "is certainly not integrated in terms of income levels".

It never was, to any great extent Jacob, although, when I bought my house, why back when, the newcomer "brownstoner" types were at a somewhat lower economic level than the old-timers, of whatever race. FWIW I think that the existence of an integrated middle class [possibly verging on upper middle class] neighborhood is a good thing and should be valued.

ANEW said...

"if we are to design a coherent Community Board policy, it may need to happen as a broad, multi-committee, feet on the ground protest response. Merely saying no, using the City's process, may be too little too late."

Bravo. ANEW is focused on building neighborhood power and self-determination precisely because the existing systems/bodies are too often anti-democratic. If CB9 ULURP wants to think through how we can become sort of a "sanctuary district" we'd certainly love to be part of that coalition!

Some amazing neighborhood based politics have been happening in Pac Northwest and also Jackson, MS. It's NYCs time!

ANEW said...

Letting the market solve it is what got us into this mess. NYCHA is a mess because there is no accountability. But why is there no accountability? If it's because we can't hold politicians accountable then we should solve for that. We can't say it's just the nature of the beast. Countries from Sweden to Singapore have wide swathes of public housing. NYCHA will work when NYC works and NYC can only work if it is a democracy run by people not bureaucrats, lobbyists, and politicians.