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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Cautionary Tale That Bears Rehashing - Part I 1/2 of What's Really Going On

I've met a lot of great folks in my year-and-a-half of blogging. I've gotten to know my hometown a lot better. I've watched and listened to people, old and new, with big ideas and enormous passion for civic issues. There's tons of energy 'round here, and no shortage of brains either. But something happened a few years back that I just got to share, because in researching the "story" I found myself wondering if there is some sort of strange curse pulsing through the sewers of northeastern Flatbush, that ensures that the kind of pollyanna chutzpah affecting other parts of Brooklyn will never happen here. Maybe it SHOULDN'T happen here, and that's what the good Lord's trying to tell us! So relax, and let me tell you the tale of an effort towards economic development some years ago that went horribly awry.

I recently sat down with Mark Dicus, whose name was once almost synonymous with post-millenial "change" in PLG. Half a dozen years ago Mark, w/his budding family in tow, took a look around the 'hood and wondered why it seemed stuck in time - as in the late '80s early '90s time - and so few "amenities" were taking hold like in other parts of the borough. theQ's memory of the time was that NYC was regaining that pre-9/11 swagger, and new businesses were sprouting up, along with a renewed vigor in the real estate market all over town. People were buying and flipping houses again, and banks were lending with quite a bit of, how did Alan Greenspan put it? Froth. (Yes, the stodgy Chairman of the Federal Reserve used the word "froth." Turns out, froth fairly understated the circumstances, but the fall of Lehman was a couple years off, so the nation's expert money guy could be forgiven for missing the meaning of a few leading indicators. Like froth.)

So our neighbor Mark says hey, other neighborhoods are creating environments favorable to business, and its working, so why not here? They're cleaning up their streets, making them safer, strengthening retail corridors, changing the ethos for business and hoping that all boats rise. He founded PLUS (Prospect Lefferts United for Services), a name he almost instantly regretted, but it's so hard changing a name after it sticks, and to my ear PLUS sounds pretty good, even if the phrase behind the acronym is pretty odd. PLUS quickly distinguished itself by cleaning up around Lincoln Road, encouraging places like K-Dog and Enduro to open up, finding some money to help businesses put up new gates and awnings (ever wondered why Papa & Sons and that deli on Lincoln near Ocean look so relatively upscale? Thank PLUS!), helping get the ArtMart thing off the ground w/PLG Arts...PLUS was cooking with gas and seemed headed for greater things. It had a seven-or-so member Board, and in researching this true story, the Q poured over the public listserve of PLUS (it's still up there on the Yahoo), and I must say there is ample evidence of a lively and upbeat and diverse group, meeting regularly, getting pumped and doing some pretty great work, especially for a bunch of volunteers receiving no remuneration. So...what happened?

The downfall started when Dicus found a grant opportunity too good to pass up...and so PLUS wrote what I can only imagine was a great proposal to a City economic development group for money to create a "real" organization, with a "real" budget, and a chance to make a more deliberate and sustained difference in the neighborhood. Given Mark's effective leadership of the group to that point, it made sense to him (and to anyone with an ounce of common sense) that he would be the person to lead the group once the money became available. Given that a "real" organization needs full-time administration and accountability, a salary would be involved. And in fact, the grant in question pretty much necessitated it. Someone would have to be held responsible for administering the money, and accountable to the Board for his/her actions. All of this should have been pretty easy to sort out. At the very least, the Board could have given the guy the gig and re-assessed when the grant money ran out.

I've worked in non-profits for years, in fundraising in fact, and what happened next is really quite shocking. Rather than the Board asking Dicus to step down as board chair to take the Executive Director position, with modest compensation to come from the grant - which they won HURRAY! - the board completely imploded and couldn't even get it together enough to accept the first trickle of money from a six-figure multi-year grant. That's right...after months and years of fantastic well-oiled work, and with some real money now finally after another of the board members quit til there was nothing left.

Back then there was a lively blogging community that predates yours truly, Hawthorne Street, PLOG and the like. Son of PLG and Across the Park both wondered aloud what-the-hell-happened, and the many people counting on PLUS to forge ahead were left confused and angry. I've talked to various people involved in PLUS's demise, but the general consensus is that it's well past time to move on, even if there's still a bit of disappointment and even bitterness lingering. The only pivot point that is incontestable is this: just after the big grant application went in, Dicus wrote a note on the listserve intended for the Board only that went to the general readership. I'm not quite sure what the mechanics of that were, but regardless many people unfamiliar with the board's plans to expand suddenly were given access to that information, and a lot of unsophisticated rumors began to circulate about how the money was going to destroy, rather than help, the cause. Some people wondered in public whether Dicus should even be considered for the gig - this after basically proving himself over two years of unpaid volunteer work. Once Dicus himself left the board in disgust, the great irony is that he was subsequently hired by the Church Avenue B.I.D. to do basically the SAME job, but for the folks immediately to the south of us.

And so ends our cautionary tale. What lessons are learned? First, be very careful about who you put on the board of your budding non-profit. It may all seem like fun and all-for-one and one-for-all until things get serious, and then people's true colors come through. Make sure your agenda is clear to your board AND to the general public at all times. Make sure not to press "send" on the listserve til you're sure you know who you're sending to. Don't assume that everyone sees eye to eye with you on how best to move the neighborhood forward.

Between the resurgent PLGNA,  Parkside Prize, PLG Civic, LinRoFORMA, PLG Arts and more...there's definitely plenty of catalysts to spark change. Let's hope they're more successful in navigating the waters of growth. (waters of growth - is that a lame metaphor or what? I gotta go to work now...)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cobu Post Struck a Nerve

The internet, with its many tentacles, managed to draw a number of comments to theQ's post on the Church of Bible Understanding's domicile on Woodruff. The original post on COBU yielded many comments from ex-cult-members who probably found the post through a link I made to an ex-member's fascinating blog. Normally I wouldn't rehash an old post, but I found the comments attached to my original post terribly enlightening, particularly the most recent that accuses COBU (also known by its commercial enterprise - Olde Good Things) of misrepresenting donations made to Haitians, where COBU has a presence in the form of a "mission" to young people. And by misrepresenting I mean, of course, stealing.

Just the other day while biking by, I saw a very sad and lonely looking dude walking out of the building. Thinking back to the emancipated commenters, I almost wanted to throw my arms around the guy and say "you can always start again, out here in the free world." But I chickened out, and probably would have scared him. Maybe ex-members will stop by and do some reverse evangelizing?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Trouble's A-Brewin' Over Medgar Evers Greenspace Project

Many of you may never venture north of Empire Blvd. Brooklyn's funny that way, particular if you don't bike or own a car. If you live in Flatbush though, it's worth a journey to the north and east of the Botanic Garden. Technically, this is Crown Heights. It's home to some truly beautiful blocks, some hideously scarred post-industrial wasteland blocks, some beautifully scarred post-industrial blocks (check out the "Spice Factory" on Franklin) and a few humble retail corridors. The area is also home to Medgar Evers College, a community-based extension of the CUNY system that has grown quite a bit over the last decade. In recent year's, it built a new state-of-the-art Health and Science building which is quite striking, rising as it does above Bedford Avenue at Crown Street. Not long ago, this important bedrock institution of the neighborhood announced a nearly $20 million plan to create an actual campus where none existed. The plan involves closing Crown Street to traffic, and making a hangout-able landscaped greenspace that looks something like this:

Pretty cool, right? This 4-year college serves predominantly low-income "minority" students, is geared towards providing a leg-up to those wishing to reverse misfortune, was created without precedent BY community groups and leaders during the tumultuous '60s, and has thrived through the many crazy years since. The new space is intended to provide a campus-feel to its thousands of students for generations to come. No brainer! Win-Win! Hurray for our team!!!

But wait, there's more...and it ain't pretty.

Thursday night I had the good fortune to attend the latest meeting of Community Board 9, which for those who don't know covers much of the area east of Prospect Park and north from Clarkson. The way these meetings work: various issues come before the CB as agenda items, placed by the various committees of the Board. Sometimes, as was the case this night, public opinion is requested on a proposal that was made to the City's land use, or ULURP, division of the department of planning. Folks sign up to speak to the agenda. I had been told to brace for a fire-storm on the Crown Street closing idea, and sure enough the place became electric with anger in fairly short order.

It strikes this blogger that something MORE than just the proposed closing of Crown street is at play, judging from the near unanimous vitriol blasted at the project, mostly from longtime residents of Crown street one block to the east. If you haven't been down that block, you really should treat yourself! It's gorgeous, amazing terraced landscaping, beautifully maintained historic houses, olde fashioned lightposts, the whole nine. One would think, and one would be wrong, that residents of this street and other beauties near it, would welcome the addition of well-maintained public greenspace just to their west. One would also think that by closing down that street to traffic, fewer cars from outside would use Crown as a thoroughfare. If you look at a map, or if you drive or bike it yourself, you can see that residents might be inconvenienced by the closing, since they'll now have to take a right or left on Bedford to continue their trip from their homes, where before they could drive all the way through to Washington. However, residents don't see this as a mere inconvenience, and they apparently near-unanimously hate the plan. Most of the speakers said the street closure would cause severe hardship, even suggesting that the intense street-clogging would create toxic conditions for area youth. Although one might assume that street parking would be a concern to these nearby neighbors, one speaker made a point of saying that parking was not the issue at all, and that she and many neighbors had garages or driveways rendering street parking irrelevant. Others refuted the notion that the area needs "greenspace" at all, given the proximity to the Park and Garden. Though I don't think I need to point out that the Garden is not free, so that one's kinda apples to oranges.

What gives? Apparently, various local block associations came together over the summer for a forum to discuss the plan. It wasn't organized by the Community Board or the City or DOT or Medgar Evers - it was put together by some really smart, caring, and apparently pissed-off homeowners who wanted a place to vent their frustration over the plan. Elected officials were invited to witness the furor, and some - like Councilperson Tish James - vowed to block the plan at every opportunity, seemingly in the spirit of her valiant star-crossed vendetta against the Nets Arena. Many of the speakers at the CB meeting cited this earlier community meeting that was held at a local church, where there were (anecdotally) a couple hundred people, as proof that nobody wants a $17 million project that closes the street, and even mentioned that President Pollard of the College said that maybe he'd have to go back and revisit the idea of closing the street. Attendees felt they had scored a victory at that meeting, and were outraged that the Community Board would even be talking about it.

You know, they might be right about the traffic snarls; it could be Carmageddon in Crown Heights if they close that street, and it would be good to know that DOT has a plan to combat it. BUT...there was absolutely nothing wrong with talking about it, and the way these various civic leaders lashed out at District Manager Pearl Miles and the committee chair (who gave the report that led to the discussion), was incredibly disrespectful and unnecessarily angry. I can appreciate that people experience NIMBY outrage - god knows I have a time or two! But really...we're your neighbors, guys. We want to hear your opinion, not your shouting and vein-bulging. Save it for people who ACTUALLY want to do you harm, rather than people who are there to listen.

Tish James had a good procedural point though...apparently Medgar Evers withdrew this plan in order to conduct a more thorough study of the project's effect on traffic. So this whole conversation at the CB level was premature. However, if a Community Board is to have any role to play in advising matters of City planning, it must have informational discussion sessions like the one last Tuesday. All of the rhetoric about how "this conversation shouldn't even be happening" was ludicrous. How else are we going to find out how people feel? And I'm sorry, but people can meet and jabber in churches all they want, but that doesn't supplant actually convened meetings of the community board, which supposedly is representative of more than just a couple of blocks.

In my limited dealings with CB9's committees however, I agree with Jesse Hamilton, the Democratic District Leader, when he complains of poor organization. It's a problem generally, and I'm pretty sure had the committee meetings been better run and articulated, we wouldn't have had such a wild scene from the pulpit. All that said, democracy was generally well-served by all the venting, and free speech flowed freely. All for the good I think.

Please comment, for or against, or provide more info, in the comments. I'm trying to remain neutral, though I'll admit I find most of the car-centric concerns to be self-serving, ignoring the longterm benefits to students and the neighborhood at large. I live on a congested block myself, though, and I would hope that a good survey of the plan's effect on traffic will be properly used when the REAL decisions get made.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Parkside Prize - Your Submission Please

It's time. You've considered every manner of idea to revamp Caledonia's humble main street. Now it's time to commit your vision to paper and send in your submissions. I'm sure you're tired of hearing me trumpet the awesomely optimistic Parkside Prize, $1,000 just for envisioning a new look for a tired block. As usual, Rudy says it best, so I'll leave it to him:

"Don't forget:  There is just one week left to register for the contest to redesign Parkside Avenue. 

We all know how shabby that block can be at its worst ... how maddening it is to see all that concrete after a walk through Prospect Park, how sad it is to see all that crumbling plaster and peeling paint after arriving home on the Q.  We all know how much better it could be, if the traffic were milder, if the sidewalks were cleaner, if the city cared for our block the way its cares for Columbus Circle, or Grand Army Plaza, or the Brooklyn waterfront.  This is your chance to remake your neighborhood.

The deadline to register is December 1.  The deadline to send in your design is December 15.  The grand prize is $1000.  All of the information you need is right here:

So!  All you designers, all you architects.  All you hackers and artists and freelancers.  All you who ride the subway and think of old Walt Whitman.  All you who, in your most private ambitions, see a city more open than Olmsted's, more modern than Moses's, more surreal than Julius Knipl's ...!  Yes, you ...!  All of you ...!  This is your hour ...!  Do not delay ...!  One thousand dollars ...!  Register today ...!" - Rudy on W

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's REALLY Going On, In Our Little Bit of Brooklyn, NYC, USA: Part I

An opinionated man, on caffeine, having just read two books on a single subject - now there's a dangerous combination. Throw in the fact that theQ has also logged dozens of hours this year at community meetings and interviews and civic blah-blah-blahs, and you've got a recipe for some big honking pronouncements. As's the State of the 'Hood from one blogger's perspective. Get your comment fingers ready!

So much of what gets said and thunk about our neighborhood centers on real estate, economic development, race and gentrification - that I felt it was time I collected my own thoughts, lest I become just another mindless jokester and civic-booster, forgetting my original reason to blog,  which was basically to make "sense" of my home of these many years (and presumably for many years to come). My experience with ACTUAL people on my block and environs lies in stark contrast to the usual "us against them" nonsense perpetuated by people who seem to have nothing better to write about Flatbush than conflict and outrage. Most people are just living their life, within their means, and are much too busy living, loving, birthing and dying to care much for these esoteric arguments anyway. But I'm a fan of dialectic, and frankly sometimes people say stuff that really heats up my bullshit meter, so maybe that meter is as good a place to start as any.

First, I don't buy that our area - NE Flatbush Q at Parkside PLG Caledonian Prospect Park E - is a neighborhood "in transition." Saying that a NYC neighborhood is going through change is like saying that butter melts on a's only a matter of how fast due to how hot the heat. The book "The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn," by Park Slope native Suleiman Osman, shows just how long is this story of change - certainly the modern "brownstoning" or "back to the City" movement in Brooklyn goes back to the early years of the Baby Boom (early '50s) as Brooklyn Heights saw a resurgence in its home values and an uptick in private single-family ownership, notably, even then, by head-strong white professionals. Such de-densifying of real estate is always a big cause of concern to housing advocates, though for many years it was slightly offset by the building of City housing and private, reasonably priced new buildings.

I could use my own house-story as example, with variation of course, of something playing out dozens of times each year on our side of the park. When my wife and I bought our place nearly a decade ago, 6-10 people were living here in various degrees of squalor. There was no heat, a backed-up sewer flooded the basement, electricity was being pulled "pro bono" off the street, and mounds of trash filled the backyard. No one living here was particularly fond of the house...they were probably fond only of the $100/wk rent. At the time of purchase, ours was basically a run-of-the-mill shithole boarding house - unsafe, unsavory and as a result, relatively cheap to buy, even for the era. Cheap is always relative of course - it cost WAY more than we'd ever imagined spending in one fell swoop, but we could make it work with "creative" financing (you could do that back then), a familial loan, and our middle-classy salaries. The transaction was so dull that were race or class not involved, the story of a couple buying a house formerly illegally diced into multiple fire-trap apartments by a greedy and dishonest slumlord would not provoke any interest or concern. In fact, our next door neighbors on either side were pretty relieved, and we were ecstatic to have found an actual townhouse that we could afford. A whole house. In the greatest city in the country. Wow. Dream? You bet. So in the actual on-the-ground world of man-needs-house, man-searches-for-house, man-buys-house...not much is going on. EXCEPT, and this is a big except...this man is a white man, moving into a neighborhood predominantly not-white, and he doesn't seem to think that's any big deal. In fact, he quite likes not being part of the oppressive sickly-precious majority for once, and so yes, in a certain sense, he DID choose to live in a non-white neighborhood, certainly over areas full of people afraid of true diversity. Maybe he's a little smug, but mostly he likes living close to the park, the train, having exciting neighbors from all over the place, and cheap shopping a-plenty, plus having a basement man-cave to play the loud rock 'n' roll music in, replete with drum kit.

Gentrifier? Who, me? No Way! I've lived all over this town, I'm not a richy-rich, and hell, I've always had to move because the rents started to rise around me and...wait. Wait a second. I was DISPLACED!!! That's IT!! Now I get it...I too have been gentrified, and no, it didn't always feel very good. Plus, I was probably part of the chain that led to the really big money moving in to my ex-hoods - Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, Gowanus, South Slope. Oh, it's so sinister! And yet, completely obvious and practically dictated by a free market. In fast-moving big-money cities like New York, it's buy or get out, so I'd heard, and then one day we finally had the down payment and the nerve, and we took the plunge. I don't recall hearing a complaint or protest at the time of the closing...though maybe that's because we live on a bus route. It's really noisy on Clarkson sometimes.

And speaking of displacement, I've recently been having conversations with renters who are feeling the heat as values rise...and the kicker here is that some of these priced-outers are people of the very sorts most closely identified with gentrification. It's a process, in other words, and it pretty much all comes back to people living where they can afford to live. Sometimes people suggest that this was not always so...but there's no evidence that it was ever any different. For a little while, it seemed that the political winds were blowing socialist, and NY really started to think progressively about how to keep people in neighborhoods even after rents shot up. But then the City and State went broke, and lots of the promises fell short, leaving rent controlled apartments in the hands of a lucky few, sometimes to millionaires. I know that huge swaths of our neighborhood are still rent stabilized, but even some of those buildings are either going coop or pulling out entirely, or unit by unit shooting up in rent as people get pushed out, brought in, then those new folks pushed's all pretty obscene really. Same as it ever was. When didn't a landlord with the upper hand take advantage? Almost never, of course.

Everything comes down to price after all.

Most people "gentrify" a neighborhood not as "pioneers" (offensive word, that) or urban idealists, but as realists. They do the math. They make lists of desirable and undesirable characteristics. They make lists of their fears and prejudices. They make lists and lists and lists. And their reasons for moving vary too - but the most-cited that I hear are "needed more space" and "got priced out." In other words, unless you're so well-off you can literally choose your house-size and neighborhood, you must do what so many of us do - you must compromise. Hopefully you end up somewhere cool, but few New Yorkers searching for a home are so lucky as to end up exactly where they wanted in exactly the kind of domicile they hoped for. But most, thankfully, learn to love and respect wherever they end up. That's why many neighborhoods become ever-more desirable, I suppose. People put down roots, become involved, and actively care for and about their neighbors. Word gets out, through mainstream outlets, and voila: Brooklyn Heights! Park Slope! Williamsburg! Ft. Greene! Old story, but when it comes right down to it, the previous generation saw the creation of dangerous and deeply impoverished urban ghettos, and that had an awful lot to do with the fact that the old guard simply up-and-moved, PDQ, often due to ignorance and racism of course, leaving behind a civic vacuum and lack of investment. Throw in redlining by banks and a few drug epidemics, and you could probably literally here the sound of civility getting sucked out of whole swaths of the City. All obvious enough, I suppose, but some people are blithely ignorant of our borough's history. Myself included, though I'm working on it.
The most recent part of Kings County history poses an unforeseen wrinkle: whiter and wealthier people moving back to the neighborhoods once left for blighted. (A lot of areas, like over in the Manor, never really suffered as much as outsiders believed, but the damage to central Brooklyn's reputation reached the status of conventional wisdom by, say, 1980). If you want to blame one factor above all for the flight back to the ghetto, I'd say it was the failure of the suburbs to live up to their promise. Whole generations of suburban kids grew up with a bad taste of cut sod in their noses. Add a dash of counter-cultural zeitgeist, and the whole brownstoning phenomenon makes perfect sense. As a good be-bopper, beatnick or hippie, you had two choices: head for the hills, or head for the hood. A surprising number chose the latter, and the process picked up steam, gradually at first, but eventually the tea water boiled. Herbal tea, certainly.

Inside the gentrifier there is often an idealistic streak, but for the purposes of this essay (not a blog post! an ESSAY!!) I would say it boils down to this: "the best I can afford." That's right. That's often the real, hideous truth. People in PLG, or Caton Park, or on Cortelyou, or Bed-Stuy or East New York or right here on good ol' Clarkson Avenue - they buy or rent the best they can afford. And they've ALWAYS done that. And ALWAYS will. The one thing that could possibly stand in the way of that axiom is legislated price controls - like rent stabilization, or subsidies or public housing or vouchers. Otherwise, houses and apartments are like any other currency - floating with the whims of the market. And by the way, I, like many others, checked out the whole stabilized/subsidy thing and found that I really didn't qualify and had no "leads" on a rent control pad. Such fickle policy is what happens when entitlements don't get dealt fairly, but don't get me least SOME people benefit from progressive policies, and I suppose that's something. (Though plenty of smart people think that letting the market float fully would actually create more affordable houses and prices. I'm a skeptic on that one, but who really knows? We may find out soon enough if Republicans and Landlords get their way in Albany.)

When house prices recently reached over $1.5 million on Midwood Street in Lefferts Manor, some mused that the idle rich had finally arrived in our neck of Flatbush. (Isn't it funny that people complain about both the idle rich AND the idle poor?) Sort of, without the "idle." There's still a great likelihood that our newest neighbors also made their lists of wants and needs and "settled" on a neighborhood that had a mixture of pluses and minuses. It's hard for some to imagine, but if you DO happen to have $1.5 million in cash or financing, that might not be because your income is massive - you may simply have been super fortunate to have bought years ago in an up-and-coming neighborhood elsewhere, and now you're simply trading "up in size" but not necessarily laying out oodles of annual cash, via income. It's not unusual for someone to be land-rich but cash-poor. If you really want to know whether your neighbor is "rich" by the way, a more interesting number than how much a house cost is how large was the mortgage. That's a better indicator of a family's income, but then, it's really none of my or your goddam business anyway! I still have my doubts that seriously wealthy people - one-percenter or even five-percenter types of any ethnicity - would choose to live on this side of the park, even now, but hey, some people are quirky that way.

Now I'm blabbering. I'm not cut out for this essay nonsense. But I'm not finished. yet Next post, after some public service announcements, I think I'll dig into the whole issue of what it means when a neighborhood changes it's racial mix. I still suspect it's a red herring though, masking the more marked change in the "class" makeup. Much to my pleasant surprise, many newcomers here are youngish couples or families, and many of them would get called "mixed race" by the census. Anecdotally, many brown/pink couples seem more comfortable in our hood than in whiter areas like Windsor Terrace, even when they could have afforded that side of the park. Actually, the terrace is scarily white for Brooklyn, likely the result of its never being hospitable to black folks EVER. Even when I moved near there in 1989 you rarely saw a dark hued person. I guess that may be some evidence for the class-trumps-race aspect of gentrification, because that neighborhood has gone through wholesale change in "culture" while retaining its solidly white demographic. Curiouser and curiouser!

Oh, and the other book? Great stuff from Lance Freeman called "There Goes the 'Hood," that concentrates more on what longtime residents think and say about gentrification. I love the stuff he reveals about black gentry and their role in the process. On the community board, I get to hang out and kibbitz with real gentry, not just the new kind, the old timers that held this community together through every manner of plague. And that, my friends, is something that I will sorely miss if the heat on the skillet shoots up too high, too fast.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Boutique Florist Hits Scene

Laying rest to that old cliche "real estate agents know nuthin' bout bouquets," Bette Cunningham, intrepid real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens and booster of PLG that she's been, has started a new home-based floral design company matching her passion for plants with her brains for business. It's called Yellow Jessamine, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Bette's going all out with the customer service, and she uses a highly decorative font. Seriously though, to many a homebuyer or seller, she has been a godsend - her reputation is stellar, and she always writes great descriptive prose in her listings - a talent in its own right. In her newest venture, she hopes to capitalize on her years of experience, in particular her skills honed through "staging" houses for sale. In fact, I remember when she was representin' a house a few doors down from me. We knew the sellers pretty well, and they said Bette was absolutely meticulous about how she wanted things to look when potential buyers arrived. And guess what? That house sold for CONSIDERABLY more than a near identical house mere doors down. That's a skill you bank on.

I sat down with Bette to chat about the new shingle she's hanging at her lovely Manor townhouse. (Technically, yes, I did sit down with her, assuming she also was sitting when she typed the email responses to me, though in all honesty not at the same time, so it's a bit of a stretch to pretend that we had an actual conversation in the seated position. I was most certainly sitting, probably in bed, never quite able to prop the laptop up in a way that makes typing feel natural or even recommendable, so if my questions sounded a little uncomfortable, you know the reason. Sorry, too, Bette, for any and all typos, and for the fact that I didn't believe that "floristry" was a real word, which it is, and it refers to all things concerning the commerce of flowers.  - sincerely, theQ)

I noted that her home has some of the nicest landscaping around - not that I'm an expert or anything, but it sure looks purty. Bette says that "about 90% of the landscaping at our home was done by my sister, and me. We both love to garden...together we make a great team."

Hows about opening a store on the 'Bush? Bette says she definitely can see herself opening a cute little boutique, maybe even a "go-to place for flowers and much more." [I'm thinking a flowers 'n' flounder place, but then I'd better leave it to Bette, because my last joint "Wieners 'n' Waistcoats" was a total bust so I'm in no position to judge what kinds of retail go well together. Though I'm still hopeful that my "Ottomans Anytime" idea for a 24-hour furniture store with drive-thru window - as in why is it so hard to find a suitable end table at 3AM, am I right? For more info, email me offline. I've got a half-a-dozen other sure-fire winners, including a store specializing in decorative and cutting edge nunswear called "Bad Habits."

In the end, what's nice about this new business is that Bette's a local gal, and as she herself said "I'm a person that is very much a part of the community, one I love and one I'm proud to call home."

Best of luck!

This Monday Night - Safety Meeting at the Clubhouse

Cameras...and the C.O.P. program (Civilian Observation Patrol). Those items are on the agenda Monday night at 6:30 at Eric Adams' office. For those serious about increasing safety and creating better relations w/cops and between neighbors, this meeting is more specific, and to my mind more useful, than many in the past couple months, since now we're at the point where we're talking about actually useful tactics. Cameras, civilian involvement and police presence are highly cited by locals seeking action. Lighting, another frequently mentioned strategy, is not on this particular agenda, but studies show smartly done lighting schemes can play a huge role in sending career criminals towards other, presumably poorly lit, parts of the borough, or maybe even as far as Staten Island or Ronkonkoma. The abstract blue circle designed poster below:

Q-nalysis: In my conversations with various neighbors, a single theme emerges - many people's sense of safety is deeply personal and psychological...actually, I'd say most people's. I mean, unless you've actually been robbed at gunpoint, or worse, or been, say, caught in the middle of a shootout, your fear of crime probably is aroused by a "sense" of menace on the street, which can be either real or imagined. Certainly a group of late-teens early-twenties rkids hanging-out can look menacing, but whether or not you're actually party to a risky scene is quite a different story. Unless you know the kids or their activities truthfully and/or personally, or they've threatened you verbally, you may just be viewing a scene that's unfamiliar, not unsafe. That said, it's the guys hanging-out that seems to vex people the most. Lighting, cameras, beat cops -- all of these seem designed specifically to keep people from hanging out in menacing groups, right? I say this because there are, after all, laws on the books to punish actual criminal activity (hey, if you see someone selling drugs, phone it in. someone getting beat up, phone it in. someone tagging a it in!) On some level, the whole loitering around public spaces and in front of buildings is merely an annoyance, until something ACTUALLY goes down. And...that's why I personally got concerned when shootings, felony assaults, and rapes started to rise year-over-year. That's not fear; that's statistics. There was an actual something to be concerned about, rather than a lot of uncomfortable people complaining about uncomfortable street grooves. The fact is, hard as it is to admit, these two factors - loitering and violence - might be 100% totally unrelated. However, I did get pretty concerned when two separate longtime black residents told me they didn't recognize any of the serious hanger-outers in front of some commonly-cited bodegas. They were "outsiders," which worried them, because there was no intel about them. I wonder if that's how the cops feel too? And the cops were telling me they've identified a rise in gang-related activity, whatever the hell that means. That too gave me pause, so I started looking under the hood a bit, and yes I do believe there's a lot more that concerned, capable citizens should do to help their environment be safer, cleaner and more amenable to all. And by all, I really sincerely mean all. Except Joe Handgun Crackman, who we really want to feel incredibly uncomfortable every time he sees us coming.

Anyhow, the summer's general freakout led to a series of reasonably smart, considered responses from quite a few of your neighbors - notably PLGNA, Senator Adams, Nostrand Ave Merchant's Association, block associations etc. A lot of people have been through all of this before of course -- during much worse periods in the borough's history. At first, I felt like only recent entries into the PLG sweepstakes were up in arms. Come to find out, the "sense that we've lost the upper hand" is quite pervasive, and runs deep in many sectors and demographics. By no means could anyone draw the conclusion that crime is "Camden, NJ bad" around here, of course. I mean, you're safer living in our borough, even precinct, than in just about any urban setting in the country - yes, even along Flatbush Avenue.

But how do you "feel?" That's the subtext involved in any discussion of civilian-led efforts to get the thuggy looking loiterers to move along, which is really what a lot of this boils down to. Because we're not undercover narcotics officers, and we don't have the know-how or fire-power to take on ACTUAL bad guys. So when it comes to the meetings like tomorrow's, its about actions sure, but it's also about you showing up and being counted and heard and being public and getting to know people. Because, by taking control of the way we interact with the police, each other and even the thugs, we empower ourselves. That's the theory anyway. Oh, and I forgot to mention this most important part - when you show concern, the cops take notice. They've told me so, and there's been an actual increase in the number of patrols in our sector (sector C), and busts, as a direct result. That's a fact that can only be attributed to people showing up at meetings like this, and expressing their concerns.

I've also noted that not enough people resort to the obvious - calling 311 or 911 - when things go down. People are more likely to inquire online about a shooting than call it in - the 71st is needlessly hampered by a reluctance on the part of locals to talk. If you want advice on when to call which three-digit number, I say this: if you're annoyed, call 311. If you're afraid, call 911. Nice simple rule, eh? See you Monday...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Parkside/Ocean Meeting Set w/DOT

Just got the call from Councilman Eugene's office - they're finally going to unveil the plan to redesign the corner of Parkside and Ocean to make it friendlier to pedestrians and bicycles, and frankly, to cars too. The intersection is a mess, and locals have been up in arms (or in a couple of cases up in the air with flailing arms after being hit by a car). So, mark your calendars:

Tuesday, Dec 6, 6:30 PM
Calvary Pentecostal Church
151 Woodruff Avenue

I've seen a copy of the plan, but it's been revised a bit after comment by the community board transportation committees. This meeting will be your chance to weigh in. Honestly y'all, I can't tell you how thrilled I am to watch my neighbors stand up for something and squeak til they get the wrong righted. To everyone who stuck their neck out on this one, especially Maddie...thank you. I can almost see the promised land!

As Red Foxx used to say..."Elizabeth, I'm coming to join you!!!" Not sure that fits, but I've been wanting to quote Sanford for some time now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Latest (Com) Post - and the Q ain't running right this weekend!

If you happen to have jurisdiction over a pile of leaves, please do the right thing and turn them into compost. Here's a flyer that tells you where and when to take them (this Saturday!). It's a nifty "urban farm" project, right here in the neighborhood, over at the campus of the High School for Public Service:

This is a very cool program that many locals volunteer for, and we'll be bringing them to the better attention of the Community Board to see if maybe we can help get them more resources, land, whatnot...

And don't forget that our beloved Q train is NOT running to Manhattan from the Parkside station this weekend. You have to get on it at Church or Prospect Park as it's only running express from Kings Highway to P-Park, city-bound.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

First Downs Lead to Touchdowns

A couple of good news stories to report. Squeaky wheels squoke loudly in the last few months, and proud to say that we've actually gotten a couple of things done around here. First up, I've been nagging Pearl Miles at the Community Board about the trees on Parkside near Flatbush that died during last year's drought. She came through big time, and I'm thrilled to share this pic of the new Popeye's lovin' trees, leafless of course at this time of year, that have replaced the Lorax lumps:

Rudy of the Parkside Prize will attest to how happy I must be, and I am, because for some reason those stumps got me madder than a wet hen driving the BQE. I know it's pretty silly to care so much about street trees, but I really do think Parkside is need of more fresh oxygen, among other things.

Second, there's a new bus shelter going up on Flatbush at Midwood. Mindy on Rutland kept the fire burning on that one...all I did was amplify the squeak a bit. I'll keep lobbying for more - now I know it can be done - especially at Caton, Parkside. Credit for squeaking early goes to Hawthorne Street, who indelicately asked for bus shelters many moons ago.

My hat is off to Pearl, our district manager, for putting up with all the whining from us OCD-types and coming through big time. She knows everybody in City government, and she can make shite happen. Thank Pearl!

There's a bunch of other NE Flatbush pet peeve stuff in various stages of adjustment, from traffic to trees to trash to safety to dem krazy green sheet metal treez at Flatbush/Empire (more on that soon). But I'm feeling good, so let me open the floor - if you can change one thing for the better near where you live, what would it be? Don't be shy. Maybe it can't be done, or maybe all your neighbors disagree with you. But lay it on me. Suggestion box now officially open.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Last Week's Big Town Hall Meeting at St. Gabriel's

theQ made such a big deal about y'all going over to St. Gabriel's church last Wednesday that he really owes it to you to provide a recap of what happened there. Turns out that neighborhood nifty and nice guy Matthew Wojtkowiak of the PLGNA Safety Committee took much better notes than this cub reporter could ever manage, and he was swell enough to provide the following in-depth synopsis, which I share with you now with only minor edits. Here's Matthew:

Below is a summary of the meeting which was held at St. Gabriel's on Hawthorne Street. The meeting was led by Ms. Lindiwe Kamau (of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association), who did an excellent job keeping the audience's attention and moving the meeting along. Senator Eric Adams and Council Member Mathieu Eugene attended, in a public show of coordination of effort. During the meeting Ms. Kamau was able to nail down Council Member Mathieu Eugene to promise a NYPD security camera for the Nostrand/Fenimore area, which is no small achievement.

Before the meeting, sign up sheets were available, and people were asked to provide contact information. I believe that Ms. Kamau is the keeper of these lists. Roughly 40 to 50 people attended the meeting, and there was an active discussion among the people who attended. There was no heated debate, however. It is probably fair to say that the main unifying concern at the meeting was reducing violent crime by all reasonable means.

The meeting began with a brief presentation by a detective from the 71st precinct who circulated some photos of young men who were engaged in a recent shooting on Nostrand Avenue. The photo was taken from a private video camera feed which was provided to the NYPD. The meeting then moved to introductions of the neighborhood organizations, which were well represented: Martin Ruiz (PLGNA), Delroy Wright (FECMA) and Ben Edwards (LMA). Martin and Delroy introduced their organizations and discussed the groups' ongoing efforts to reduce crime. Ben spoke later in the evening (see below).

Senator Adams took the bulk of the meeting's time, and made good use of it. He presented Take Back Our Community (TBOC) which is available at this link to the Senator's website. TBOC is a comprehensive issue identification, data collection, and communication plan which uses an administrative team, block leaders and task forces like ours to address neighborhood safety and quality of life issues.

One of TBOC's tactics is to link neighboring blocks together so that they are in close contact, and then to link the block network together so that there is a centralized place to collect information on issues and then report to residents on affected blocks, and so that an action plan can be implemented. As far as complexity goes, TBOC is a fully loaded Cadillac of a plan and Senator Adams encouraged the group to use the parts that we like, to modify it as needed, and to get people involved in implementing it. We may not need all of TBOC but there are elements which I believe could be very useful in our efforts.

After presenting TBOC, Senator Adams fielded a lot of questions about the need for such a plan, as well as the benefits. Specifically, Senator Adams was asked why we need to collect crime data when the NYPD already has it. This is a fair question, and Senator Adams answered the questions by saying that we need to be able to back up our demands for city resources with data. Additionally, we may need to be able to back up our claims of problem issues (crime or other issues i.e. sanitation) with data, especially if the NYPD or other NYC agencies don't have the same data on file. I should note that one reason why the NYPD or other NYC agencies might not have the same data is that residents might not make the required reports, although they may tell certain neighbors about certain issues.

In the end, Senator Adams agreed that we ought to be able to get crime data concerning our neighborhood sectors from the NYPD. If this is the case, then we should do so when we are ready to make a comprehensive map of the various issues that we want to address.

The other major benefits that I see coming from TBOC or any version of it that we implement, is that we build on the community organizing work of Skei, Carmen, Sheila, who are doing neighborhood cleanups, PLGNA, which is organizing a neighborhood show, and plenty of other hard working groups, and harness it for our purposes: linking this community in ways that have not yet been done, and using these new links to better address crime and other issues.

Senator Adams implored the attendees over and over to sign up and get involved. He did not say the words but his manner was relatively clear -- the city cannot fix all of our problems for us. We all need to get involved.

Council Member Mathieu Eugene spoke next, and he kept his comments brief. He spoke of the need for additional youth programming and he promised to bring crime reduction ideas to the neighborhood in the near future. He did not specifically identify any initiatives, but he said that he would do so. Again, Ms. Kamau took Council Member Eugene to task concerning shootings and demanded a camera. Council Member Eugene explained that all discretionary funds have been allocated and promised already, but Ms. Kamau would not let him go -- he caved and promised a camera for Nostrand Avenue when the next city budget comes in (roughly June 2012).

Finally, Ben Edwards presented last, discussing the C.O.P. program and asked people to take sign-up sheets. Ben did a good job but his words were largely ignored, due to the noise and dispersion of attendees. However, there were a few new recruits who filled out the forms. Training will happen in the next couple of weeks, so all interested parties should fill out the form and send it in to Ben or me. The time commitment is four hours per month.  - MW

If you made it this far, I will reward with you with two VERY COOL and POTENTIALLY LIFE CHANGING PICTURES for YOU! The first is the Civilian Observation Patrol car that you and I will be riding around in when you sign up for the training and program. It's a minimal time commitment (4 hours a month) and it could be huge to gathering data and providing a stronger presence on our blocks. Heck, the Lubavitchers do it with their Shomrim, which is basically the same thing. Feeling like it's too conspicuous or risky? So what you're saying're not as courageous as the Orthodox? They're tougher than you? You kidding me? :) (that's a joke folks...some of my best rabbis are Jewish).

 Ladies and Dudes, let me reiterate...they HAVE A CAR READY AND WAITING FOR US. And that jacket I keep drooling over? Look at it here onFEPMA executive director Delroy Wright! Hot!

Contact LMA president Ben Edwards at or email me for more info. Do it, baby!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's a Bedford Avenue Miracle

With the above visual proof (thanks for the pic, Babs), it's safe to say that the rehab at 1860 Bedford, the resiliently derelict mansion at the corner of Midwood, has begun in earnest. New permits have been posted, and a longtime down-the-block neighbor confirms that the owner's intention is for a full restoration. Currently, I've noticed that the corner acts as a gathering ground for neighborhood parents awaiting the return of their shorties from school, as a City school bus stops at this corner. Here's hoping the owner's financing holds out...this beauty deserves its second act.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Barbershop 2: Starring Martin Lawrence and Simon Bolivar

About a year ago, the Q ignored what he thought was some pretty suspect advice, and walked into a Flatbush Avenue salon (male of course) and asked for a haircut. I wrote about it here, and I guess it struck a nerve, because I received a lot of emails and questions about my experience from people who I normally wouldn't expect to be so queasy about something as straightforward as a regular old hair trimming. But this being Brooklyn, and barbershops holding their unique double role as both service centers and cultural gathering places, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.

A few months after that first colorful experience, I decided to try another joint, this time over in the giant colorfully painted toolshed known at the Flatbush Caton Market. I was going to write about it here, and it was certainly a memorable 30 minutes, but the bottom line is that it was the worst haircut I've ever gotten, and that includes the drunken ones by ex-girlfriends. (actually, they weren't ex-girlfriends at the time, so the hatchet jobs weren't intentional. though now I'm thinking it could be cool to start a website where you can digitally give a haircut to an ex, rendering them unspeakably hideous). Basically, Orlando, in booth 28, was an incredibly entertaining, mid-50s-ish Colombian man with super-left political sympathies. Our conversation left me wondering if he'd had to leave South America because he had been barbering to the FARC. In fact, a little research unearthed this disturbingly similar haircut to mine on the scalp of notorious FARC security kingpin Alfonso Canos:

So this time around, and in desperate need of a respectable sheering for a work event that night, I went around the corner to Nelson's Barbershop on Parkside. I've been meaning to go for a long time, and Duane Joseph on Woodruff recommended it, but being a middle-aged white guy I still couldn't escape the fear that I'd be horribly unwelcome in there. Desperation being the mother of courage, I walked through Nelson's doors last Saturday afternoon, and the results were encouragingly similar to that of my first Flatbush cut.

Proprietor Nelson Urraca warmly greeted me, and I sat down and surveyed the scene. I recognized a young kid - Yusef - from my block, one of the youngsters from of an extended family of Yemenis. Even though the shop is way dude, Yusef's sister was there. An old episode of "Martin" starring the inimitable Martin Lawrence was emanating from three audio-visual devices simultaneously, and I guess I'd never really known how talented "MAHHHTENNN" really is, cause we were all laughing our tushes off. The ensemble cast is terrific, and I found myself really respecting the work of Tisha Campbell-Martin in the role of Martin's put-upon girlfriend. But I digress...

There were three guys cutting locks, but I waited specifically for Nelson, and after about 20 minutes of yucks a la Martin he summoned me to his chair with a big smile and a "whaddya doin' today?" and I instantly felt comfortable in his firm but gentle hands. I noticed the diploma from the New York, or American, or U.S., or something like that Barber Institute, and we dug into all manner of conversation about the neighborhood and "back in the day" stuff and I began to feel really silly for ever having gone all the way to Park Slope Barbers for so many years, especially because I could never tell those two brothers apart and one of them was halfway decent and the other sucked but I never knew what I'd walk out with. Come to think of it, they charged $20 and $15 respectively, so I guess I could've just asked how much the haircut was going to be and I would've known which cut to expect, though it would be weird, after sitting down and asking for the price, to say basically "nope! not expensive enough!" and walk out.

Turns out that the Dominican surnamed Nelson Urraca used to be my neighbor when I lived in crack-ridden Prospect Heights in the early '90s. We got a good laugh out of the massive price change in real estate over there...he told me some real sad stories about people he know in high school who were perfectly great and got sucked into "the life" never to return. I often wonder what will be the next killer drug to come along...meth, crack, heroin...they're still around, of course. But they're not new, and new always has a killer allure.

All that to say that I don't think I'll be picking up any lice for a couple months at least...evidence below:

And speaking of crack, the above dude's hair used to reach nearly to it, so we're talking ravages of time here, my friends. Here are two pics from my musical 20 years ago (w pal Rose Thomson of our Babe the blue Ox), the other from yesterdays kids show. And yes that's Oscar (Asa's dad) and Eddie (Tony & Hollis's dad).

above photo by Eggs

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sing-Along at Play Kids Featuring Yours Truly, Friday Nov 11

If you've got your young 'un with you tomorrow (Friday), swing by Play Kids at 10AM and yours truly, theQatParkside, Mr. Clarkson FlatBush, a/k/a Tim Mature, will lead a sing-along of your favorites. I'm filling in for an actual professional called Lloyd Miller of Deedledees, so I can't hope to compare to a real kidz-star like that. But it should be good clean fun, even if the trash canz and tree pitz on the 'Bush are filthy as ever.

I'm expecting a special guest or two to sit in - neither Oates, nor Garfunkel, but sort of a cross between, plus Snoop Dogg thrown in for good measure. Bring your vocal chordz and an aspirin! It's $5 a family, split between the musicians and the store. I'm thinking of donating my share to the Peppa's Choice Awards, which helps find foster homes for orphaned chickens.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset...

Quite enjoyed the annual PLGNA meeting, hosted ably by president Martin Ruiz. Journalist Milford Prewitt gave a nice talk about changing demographics in the neighborhood, the Youth Committee is kickin' it into high gear, yours truly gave a rambling report about the Safety task force, and longtime resident and shop owner Delroy Wright of the trying-to-be-resurgent Flatbush to Parkside Merchant's Association (FEPMA) gave a dynamite performance encouraging engagement of youth and the need to put cops on the streets -  thisdespite the oft mentioned fear of harassment and profiling. Here's a picture to prove I was actually there...more on the gist later.

What I really wanted to post about was all the construction, destruction, and non-deconstruction that's been taking place, mostly on the fringes of what I usually think of as theQatParkside's neighborhood. Though what I REALLY want to talk about is the new plan to change the traffic and pedestrian nightmare at Ocean and Parkside. The DOT actually came up with plans, which I happened to get a peek at last week. Yes, folks, the effort led by local Maddie Fix-Hansen, seems to be moving forward, and you'll be hearing more about that as soon as a public hearing is scheduled by the Councilman. All I can say is that the plan is a heck of a lot better than the free-for-all that currently happens, and it's not just a change in the traffic lights, but a more substantial shift in how cars and buses and people will experience the various turns and signals. I'm sworn to secrecy or I'd draw you a picture...actually I can't draw to save my life, so scratch that.

First up on my radar, the Garden. Lots going on there. Like the massive new entrance on Washington with what looks like a garden on top of the new visitor's center, which will be quite nice I'm sure, but sheesh I'm beginning to think that BBG is more interested in its entrances than in the actual plants. I also attended an unveiling of the plan to redo the cafe. Basically it'll be in the same general footprint of the current cafe, but with a new "hut" and better "flow." The word "flow" is apparently used by actual architects, while the word "hut" is something I came up with to describe what I saw in the rendering, which was very pretty, but didn't include bringing back the Chunky Chicken Salad Sandwich, which was my favorite reason to eat at the garden for many, many, many moons. In fact, I've been chowing there regularly for 22 years since I worked at The Brooklyn Museum right outa college, and I must say the excellent catering company deserves a new "hut," and the shift in orientation will actually create a garden view while one dines al fresco.

They're also going to start working soon on OUR entrance, where they'll be adding a new outbuilding that looks like the below.

Looks like a souped up "shed" to me, and you better hope they don't take any square footage from the children's garden, though it pretty much looks like it does. There'll be bathrooms and a small visitor's center so you don't have to trek deep into the garden to take care of your "business," transactional or otherwise.

Over in Caledonia, there's a phoenix rising on Crooke, a new low-income housing facility built by CAMBA. It's actually almost ready for tenants, and you've probably seen it in person, so who has use for this rendering?
You can read more about it at: 97 Crooke

And of all the places to build a luxury building, the first tenants have arrived on Nostrand at Sullivan. You may be one of those "only south of Empire" snobs, but you should really take a peak at this one, the first real stab at upscaling southern Crown Heights:

Here's a big juicy one! Medgar Evers College seems to finally be moving forward on getting the City to close down Crown Street between Bedford and Franklin for a campus "quad." They actually want to de-map the street, tear up the concrete, plant a garden, put in lots of benches, and have some outdoor theater space, and here's the kicker...LOTS of nearby residents are actually AGAINST it. Because they're worried about a little trickle of extra traffic or the inability to park there. I mean talk about selfish. Sorry guys, I'm not buying it. We're talking PUBLIC GREEN SPACE and a proper campus for an important neighborhood stepping-stone institution of higher learning. I know that Crown is gorgeous between Bedford and Rogers...but this will only make it MORE so. Sometimes you just got to give in a tiny bit to the greater good...and yes I know I'm not being very polite about expressing my opinion, but that's kind of what having a blog is all about. The $17 million project isn't a done deal yet, so there's plenty of time to persuade me otherwise. In the meantime, I urge you to stroll down Crown between Bedford and Franklin, and tell me that the below would not be a VAST improvement:

One last project to note is the potential closing of a cute little historic, crooked little street called Clove Road, just north of Empire between Nostrand and New York. You can read more about the archaeological significance in this fascinating Hawthorne Street post. Here's where it is on the map. The scuttlebutt on this one is that the Community Board is thinking of de-mapping this one as well for a pedestrian plaza, and locals are similarly up in arms about losing on-street parking. Even MORE interesting to me, is that little sliver of an alley that joins New York Ave to Clove Road, known as Malbone Street...which was once the name of Empire Boulevard, but changed after the giant and tragic Malbone Street subway train wreck of 1918, that took place on the Brighton Line, now known as our dearly beloved Q.

Sunrise, sunset, indeed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TBOC - If You Attend Just One Community Mtg This Fall...Head East TONIGHT!!!!

Tonight. Hawthorne tween Nostrand and New York. St Gabriel's Church. 6:30. Safety. Eric Adams. "Take Back Our Community." Neighbors. What more needs be said?

There's been a lot of blah blah in the 'hood about crime and safety...some based on fact, some based on fear, and some based on good ol' rumor or misinformation. As I've tried to get a handle on where people are coming from on the issue, from newcomers to oldtimers to cops to elected officials to poorer and richer, I've come to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle to getting things done is a lack of unity - speaking with one voice, and asking the cops and City to respond to our requests.

Case in point - the dual meetings on crime that happened a mere two avenues from each other last July. One, organized by PLGNA, led to the formation of a Safety Task Force and new vigor from the Youth Committee. The folks at Nostrand Avenue Merchant's Association organized an effort of their own, and from Senator Eric Adams' own mouth came these words: "Tim, the meeting on Nostrand (at St. Gabriel's) did not reflect the true diversity of this neighborhood." Translation: as in, all the recent gentrifiers went to the PLGNA meeting and either didn't know about or didn't care to partake in the other.

I've got a whole lot to say on the race/class thing, though I've been warned to keep my mouth shut. Actually, that's all the more reason to share openly, but I'm not going to get into it right now because I need to focus on work for a few days before having a second kid, and I needlessly get worked up about offhand comments made on this silly little blog. Suffice to say, I encourage you all to pack your bags and head ALL THE WAY OVER to Hawthorne near Nostrand, for a second and hopefully more "action oriented" meeting with the theme "Stand Together."

I'm not naive enough to think that meetings and plans are going to solve the many problems about which neighbors are concerned. Although I must say these community meetings, held at bedrock neighborhood churches, are great places to hear from people who are perhaps not coming from exactly the same perspective as your closest friends and confidantes. I don't say that to suggest I know any better than you do, learned blog reader that you are...but in a short while I've just learned so much, and continue to feel more jazzed about our neighborhood, the more I get to know where people are coming from. And hey, there's usually a cookie or two on hand, and one thing I've learned in my years on this mortal coil:

Everybody, black-white-brown-rich-poor-PhD-GED-student-bluecollar-pinkcollar-artist-musician-bricklayer-fatman-skinnyman-thief...they ALL like a good cookie.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Cleaner Neighborhood, One Soiled Napkin At a Time

The Mad Mommas of Flatbush, a/k/a PLG Civic, were in fine form yesterday, shepherding nearly 40 volunteers to the task of cleaning up neighborhood streets from Empire on down to Lenox, from Ocean to New York. Barbara/Carmen/Skei/Sheila, pictured below, deserve a round of applause for keeping their eyes on the prize.
Nicely done, ladies!

Skei tells the Q "it wasn't so bad out there" this time around. Maybe the blitz of signs announcing the cleanup day helped put people on notice. I tooled around on my bike and the streets were lookin' real nice, though we all know it never lasts. But that's not the point - awareness, public shaming, and most of all coming together to do something that shows the love for our home turf - that's really where the MM's are coming from. Another part of the campaign is letting businesses know their responsibilities, and letting YOU know that calling 311 about repeat offenders is a big part of the strategy too. I've said it before, but if you have a building address that's particularly egregious, send it my way or leave a comment below and I'll add it to the Google Garbage map we're working on. Apparently Nostrand has been heavy hit lately with the litter stick, and this despite vigilance on the part of the Nostrand Merchant's Association. Could it be PLG has a Serial Litterer on its hands? An unSanitary Son of Sam?

Hey, hey, PLGNA holds their annual meeting Monday night at Grace Church, Bedford at Lincoln/Lefferts, 7PM. If you want to hear more about what's going down round yar, y'all better attend. Another crime forum's happening Wednesday over on Nostrand...stay tuned for deets.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

And now batting cleanup, PLG CIVIC, THIS SATURDAY!!

After the enormously successful PLG Cleanup day last spring, it's nice to see that the Mad Momma's at PLG CIVIC are planning another for this Saturday. This time, they've chosen a more centrally located meeting point (the Montessori School on Rogers near Fennimore), though Senator Adams' office on Flatbush will be open too for refreshments and, er, freshening up. Skei Saulnier, a primary catalyst for the event, says:
We are also trying to get wood chips deposited on the park side of 125 Ocean Ave, so if people want to grab some mulch to take care of a tree pit that will hopefully be available to them. We'd love for people to email me at if they plan on volunteering, just so we can have a contact info for those who helped.

They're focusing on Avenues and some seriously chronic trouble spots, so in solidarity with Occupy Trash Can, I'd like to share a couple photos I shot yesterday to show that the 1% are still greedily tossing their trash with no regard for the rest of us:

And for making it this far down in the post, a bonus pictue, of a lonely high heeled shoe left at the curb. I can only imagine what circumstance led to some poor lady or dragqueen leaving it there after, say, exiting a gypsy van?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Au Revoir, Gran Bwa

Don't know about you, but I was pretty sad to see the owners of Flabush's Gran Bwa packing the last of their goods into boxes, going-out-of-business. This place has been an obvious club house for some in the Haitian community. I bought a number of trinkets there over the years, and being a big fan of African drumming, I was always blown away by the amazing Vodou drum 'n' chant coming from the proprietor's speakers. If you ever walked the western side of Flatbush between Woodruff and Parkside you were surely privy to the strong scent of incense burning from the abandoned phone booth pictured below:

Now, I'll admit I took quit a beating for suggesting that nearby Peppa's was inflaming the neighborhood's nostrils with nightly mountains of smoke. But I never felt that way about the incense, cuz it stayed pretty local. By the time you hit the Duane Reade the scent was but a sensual memory.

Speaking of smells...there's a state arts agency. It shall remain nameless, but it's acronym rhymes with PISCA. If you visit "PISCA's" offices, you might want to consider bathing prior, and leaving off the after-douche sprays and parfums. This statement is prominently displayed on signs and on its website:

Please note: NYSCA strives to be a fragrance-free workplace. Please refrain from wearing perfumes, colognes, or other strong scents when visiting the NYSCA offices. Thank you.

Oops. Accidentally gave away it's name! I really should be more careful...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Last Chance To Win Big at Maple Street School Raffle

Big Benefit Show happening Thursday night...Cap'n Kurt from the Roots is making merry, and ?uestlove is spinning records, so come on out. Info here.

Then there's the fantabulous raffle, which has prizes so rich even Occupy Wall Street protesters are lined up against them. BUT, you NEED to be IN IT to WIN IT - according to the Q's calculations you have a better than 1 in 100 chance of winning a grand prize. As I've said before, I will personally drop off your raffle tickets - anytime you like (if you live in B'klyn of course). Here's the info again:

 $5 each, 5 for $20.

The prizes:
1 Week international resort stay (lotsa choices)
Birthday party at BounceU
Amazon Kindle Fire tablet
4 tix to late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Gift bag from

Email me at Tim Thomas, tell me how many you want, and I'll set up a time to make the dropoff.

Do it for the kids. Do it for the booty. Do it because you know, deep down in your heart, that this is your lucky post.