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.