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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Meals For Moms Delivers. Literally.

With my mouth full, let me relate some thoughts on the Meals For Moms program, started by Parkside Avenue's Nicole Fabri,
pictured here in the shot that came up on a Google Images search, since I really don't get out much to take pictures these days since child #2 arrived. Truth be told, it was a homebirth, so the baby didn't so much arrive as burst forth. (FYI, I'm happy to engage in lighthearted banter about what I witnessed that day, but let me assure you that the nearly 2ft 11lb butterball did not come into the world easy, and I highly recommend, fellas and SigOths, that you eat your Wheaties too on that blessed day, since you may be required to provide ballast to your woman, who may very well be 10 times stronger, fiercer and more determined than you have ever seen her before, and that includes your wedding day AND the first time you said anything sideways about her mother.)

We, or rather Mrs. FlatBed, joined Meals for Moms around month 6, when it still seemed unlikely that we would ever be truly in need of twice weekly feedings at the hands of our neighbors. Turns out this chain-letter for stomachs, chronicled here by the Hawthorne Street blog, is unbelievably helpful, and if you have a bun in the oven I can't recommend the Ponzi-like rewards of MforMs highly enough. We've had six INCREDIBLE homecooked meals delivered to our door so far, and every single friggin' time it's been on a day when we simply couldn't imagine how we were going to pull off another mealtime without accidentally eating one of our wee ones (by mistake!) from the exhaustion. Talk about a life saver!

Basically we've been eating like royalty at least twice a week, and I gotta say it's good to be the King. Heck, I'm not even a mom! Come to think of it...I didn't ASK whether dad could eat it too, but the portions have suggested it was not verboten (German for hey, I know the German word for "forbidden.") It's been amazing dish after amazing dish; tonight we got the ultimate in comfort food - a killer meat loaf with just-right mashed potatoes, "comfort food" being a term I believe that suggests you don't have to chew too hard. This picture might look more like a plate of brains due to my substandard photo skills, but I assure you this is the best damn meatloaf I've ever had, and I've downed a few flesh loaves in my day. Outstanding.

It would probably sully the simple humility of the program if I listed all the epicurean lady-heroes here by name. A big thanks to everyone - turns out our 2 1/2 year-old DOES like food after all...just not ours. And y'all out there, if you'd like to be part of the small-town it-takes-a-village vibe, just send an email to Tell her a fat and happy Q sent you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What 12 Million Bucks Can Buy You On The Flabenue

This view of 757-767 Flatbush - roughly Mango Seed to that giant Beauty Supply store - looks like the Main Street of some Western town, probably due to that pickup being the only vehicle in the shot. It's an unusual stretch for Flatbush Avenue for having no height - i.e. no apartment rentals. But it's not unusual for our neck of the Flabenue to have such remarkably diverse, and even downright wacky, mercantilean offerings. Mango Seed is awesome, btw soaking up the killer Yelp reviews (please go - don't tell me there's nowhere to eat out if you haven't given the Seed a shot). Then there's the Christian knick-knack shoppe Lilly of the Valley, that Chinese run Tex Mex Fresco joint, a shoe place, the oddly named Aroma nail salon, and that over-lit wig etc. superstore with the wooden decky seating thing out front. Actually, you're not meant to walk on it or sit on it, but the owner does squat and smoke on it. So maybe it's a "smoke deck" or a "squat 'n' smoker," neither item actually existing in the Pier I catalog, though both ought to, and I'm happy to share my patent if they come a courtin'. Speaking of Pier I, I absolutely love the old film Wicker Man, and if you haven't seen it, I guarantee a good night's viewing.

The whole strip of these stores can't bring in more than 15K a month. And yet they've hit the market for $12 million for the lot of them. Here's the NY Times ad. They call it an "8 Store Taxpayer," and for the life of me I can't fathom what that means. Taxpayer? Well I'd bloody well hope so! It's bad enough we've got corporations paying $0 in income Chinese Mexican joints too? Is there no justice? Occupy Flatbush!!!!

It's just more zaniness to add to our special stew called home sweet home. And yet, you can't help wondering whether some enterprising slob might come along, buy the whole bunch and build one of those new fangled "luxury" apartment buildings. The prices around here are finally getting to the point where developers might take the plunge.

Still...$12 million? Is that a typo?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Very Caledonian Christmas

The FlatBed family hasn't been in the neighborhood on Christmas Day before. For nearly a decade, we've been doing a strange Xmas-New Years dance between Birmingham, AL and Tallahassee, FL - usually involving a very strange but illuminating drive through rural Alabam. Stopping off at a Chick-Fil-A along the way is de rigeur, and often it's a culinary highlight of the trip - and that's saying something, cuz we get fed well everywhere we go. The Chick-Fil-A secret? Definitely the pickles. A chicken sandwich with pickles is a treat not to be missed, the pickle being a much misunderstood sandwich accessory, often mistaken for a condiment. Apparently there's a Chick-Fil-A at NYU, and many a Southern ex-pat can be seen there, often coupled, proving that chicken and pickles, known collectively as chickles, are in fact confirmed aphrodesiacs.

With two little ones at home, and my folks in town, we did the holiday with all the trimmings. We had the tree, augmented by bling from the Gem. I cued up the seasonal favorites, though the Mrs. called a moratorium on Vince Guaraldi this year. Burl Ives seemed a better bet, and it payed off handsomely.

The "snowman" himself has the most lovely tenor, and we've been playing lots of Burl around the house anyway since Little Miss Clarkson Flatbed Jr. was born, Little White Duck and all. If you're looking for a good name to name your next child, I suggest Burl if it's a boy, and Ives if it's a girl. Or the other way around. The whole name thing is so topsy-turvy anyway. I fully expect our generation to be laughed at heartily for its reliance on olde fashioned names, so why not ride the trend while the poker's hot? (metaphor lovingly botched)

Anywhere else in the country but here, if you step out on Christmas morning you're greeted by the eerie silence of commerce interuptus, traffic is nearly non-existent, and one tends to feel a bit anxious that no, if one needed to, one couldn't just go out and purchase, say, a frisbee, or a bottle of bourbon. The country basically shuts down for baby Jesus's birthday, bookended of course by the mad rush to buy last second food and gifts on the Eve, then the mad rush to make up for a day of not buying stuff on Boxing Day. But C-mas itself always stands in stark contrast to business as usual, if but for a few hours. Not so along the Flatbush Corridor, and this year I found that fact to be oddly relaxing and reassuring. Bargainland, Gem, Duane Reade, Closeout Heaven, the pawn shop, the knick-knacks and patty wax sellers...bustling like it was no thang. And best of all, in a pinch, like the one I found myself this Christmas Day, Suzie Farm was open as always, selling every manner of thing you could possibly need to support the celebration of the birth of the King of the Jews. (not my term, btw. It's in the bible. The latter part. Look it up.)

Suzie Farm doesn't get the props it deserves for a) being open 24/7 with no time off for holidays or Acts of God and b) carrying PG Tips. They've got half-gallons of organic milk, "real" Mexican and Jamaican sodas like, say, Coke made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn sweetener in those cute 12 oz bottles; some delicious crazy-ass butter from New Zealand; cookies from Italy and Sri Lanka; vats of stuff I'm too much of a weenie to try; halfway decent fruits and veggies from Hunts Point (buy local!); an eye-popping array of Chinese and Korean remedies; and even some half-decent extra-virgin olive oil, which is what I needed on this particular Noël. By day, two really pretty ladies work the registers with a frenzied precision that will surely astound you. Both have excellent posture. By night, the duties are handled by a couple of cranky-looking dudes who won't respond to even my most charismatic or quirky entreaties. There are no days off in Suzie-land, and I've noted that the Suzie-work is often done in bitter, bitter cold. Today I asked whether any of the Suzie employees owned the joint; they responded with a chortle and a most definite nuh-uh. Also, none of the workers there are related. So if you had some kind of romantic notion of Suzie as a family operated biz with a few Mexican immigrant laborers, you'd be right only about the last half of that sentence. The Mexican guys often get to play their Ranchera music outside in front, but the soundtrack of indoor Suzie is 100% soft rock. I've often caught the ladies singing along with Hall or Oates, and sometimes both, though I'm not convinced that Oates did much singing, and I suspect he was more of a songwriting force than presence on the vocal tracks. I could be wrong, or I could Wikipedia that, but I'm throwing caution to the wind and leading with my gut, which these days is necessarily how I lead anywhere I go, unless I'm crawling on all fours.

The bottom line is: I hope you had a good Christmas Day regardless of your celebratory preferences, and I think we could all agree that for the most part, it was just another day on the Avenue, the 'Bush, or as I've lately come to call it - the Flabenue.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lefferts Ave Crime Scene

Some of you may have noticed a "Crime Scene" lab van parked outside of 25 Lefferts Ave this afternoon. Turns out it wasn't parked their "off-duty." Neighbor Melvin Vargas was found stabbed to death inside his apartment, possibly falling victim to the crazed hands of a known assailant. More from NY's WCBS.

I don't think I'd ever noticed how conspicuous those vans are...when I saw it my gut sank to my shoes. I don't even know why I feel compelled to tell you about it...I don't know, perhaps you were wondering...anyhow, condolences all around, on this most tragic day for many.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Erasmus Hall Head Stabber Nabbed

It should shock no one that violence has once again erupted at a local high school. Given the portrayal of inner city schools in the Hollymediawood, I'm surprised we don't hear these stories all the time. And yet, every so often, a story captures one's attention, if only because it's so damn bizarre.

Local legend Erasmus Hall played host to a bizarre scene on Tuesday, when a b-ball game turned real ugly:

According to The Daily News, “Chevoy Nelson, 16, was mad because victim Alfredo Allen stole the ball from him during a lunchtime pickup game at the Prospect Park South school.” The News wrote:
The two teens were playing basketball in the third floor gym during lunch when Allen took the ball and wouldn’t give it to the increasingly angry Nelson. The furious teen punched Allen in the face then ran out to look for a weapon, witnesses said.
“He goes running around, asking everyone for a weapon,” said a police source. “He goes into a classroom and asks a teacher for acid. She obviously says no, but then she get distracted he grabs a pair of scissors and runs back to the gym. He chases (Allen) around, stabbing him.”

Wayne Morgan, an 18-year-old senior, said, “He stabbed the guy in the head like seven times. The teacher was there, but it’s not like he let it happen — the whole thing happened in like 5 seconds.”
Then this, the chilling clincher:

Police said after the attack Nelson went to a school office and sat quietly, his hands covered in blood.

So I'm thinking, in my armchair psychologist sorta way, that whatever lizard-brained urge this kid had to destroy his nemesis was calmed by his actions. In other words, according to his teenager DNA, he totally did the right thing.

I remember high school. Some days were definitely like that...

Glad to the victim is recovering well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Say It Ain't True, Q!

This is devastating news, and I really don't want to talk about it right now:

Shuttle buses will replace all Q subway service between Pacific Street and Prospect Park during the weekends of Jan. 7-9, Jan. 14-16, Jan. 21-23, Jan. 28-30, Feb.  11-13, Feb. 18-20 and Feb. 25-27.
Southbound Q trains operate express between Kings Highway and Brighton Beach during the weekend of March 17-19.

Caledonian Construction Commences Cacophonically

Caledonian Hospital may yet have its second act. Riding by today I was struck by the sheer mess involved in turning real estate lead into gold. Joe Chetrit and company have a lot a lot a lot of work to do to turn this shell of a commercial building - the yet-to-be-niftily-named 100 Parkside Ave - into the luxury condos of their vision. Pictures like these below show that the multi-year sitting-on-your-investment stage is officially over...cranes and trucks are carnivorously tearing at the old hospital's flesh.

This afternoon there were many decibels to be detected, and I'm feeling sorry for my neighbors - many hundreds of neighbors - who will be inconvenienced for god-knows how long. Let's hope the dilly dallying and lollygagging are kept to a bare minimum.

You know, it's frankly a bit hard to imagine the changes that will come to Caledonian Flatbush when quite suddenly dozens of market-rate apartments go for sale all at once along the forgotten southern border of Brooklyn's Shangri-la. I can almost see the tag lines to the adverts: "steps to Tennis! a soccer moms dream! ancient Greek architecture views! ducks, geese and swans a-plenty!"

But you gotta wonder...where are those folks gonna drop their bourgie duckets?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Delroy's - Panini w/ Panache

Not to be outdone by Yelp or Urbanspoon, the Q gets to the 'Net first with a local omnivore's well-written and heartfelt review of the new sit-down joint next to the wine store at 65 Fenimore. The cafe is called Delroy's, and though the Q himself is in no position to luxuriate with such European-length meals, I'm glad to present the below review from a trusted source. This from the field:

Well, we had a very sweet evening at Delroy's, and we heartily recommend that everyone in the neighborhood who has a date to take immediately take their date to panini.

The lady had the (tomatoey!) tomato soup and salad panini; I had the chicken soup and (scruncheous) grilled cheese panini: total tab, twenty-five bucks. And Ashanti, the impressario or impressaria behind the panini press is about the friendliest woman in the world. She's formerly of Lincoln Tavern, and she makes a delicious meal. On the way out, we told her, "Brunch, coffee, waffles, crepes, further hot pressed foods!" But, frankly, even as is, Delroy's is something the neighbord has needed for a long, long time. A place with a simple soundtrack, simple decor, a simple menu ... you leave your apartment, and an hour and a half later you're back home, never having left the neighborhood, well fed, happily socialized, and feeling like the world is spinning properly on its axis.
Then some pics to seal the deal:

So don't be a weanie; try the panini, and let us know what you think in the comments below! Babs? I'm waiting Babs!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shocker: Dollar Van & Bus Collide on Flatbush

Update (12/17) No less an authority than the Old Red Rat (to the Times' Old Gray Lady) a/k/a The New York Post confirmed the crash involved three teens trying to rob the Dollar Van at knife point. Apparently 10 people were injured; four seriously.

Who'da thunk? A dollar van and B41 crashed in front of the Dunkin' Donuts on Flatbush near Parkside late this aft. The below picture is from some completely random unreliable source is purportedly of the bus 'n' van post crash. I'm shocked that the daily game of chicken played between MTA and DV Nation could ever end badly. Not sure about injuries, but some were taken to hospital. There's a crazy rumor going around the Twitter about the van driver getting stabbed, or stabbing somebody, but let's not trust the T-verse without corroboration.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brooklyn Finest Replaces Gran Bwa

If you've been to the Gem for a tree skirt, or Flatbush Fashion for a skirt skirt, you've undoubtedly seen the well-lit new boutique known as Brooklyn Finest. It crazily quickly replaced longtime fixture Gran Bwa, the Haitian knick-knacks joint. I still miss the Vodou drumming and incense burning in the abandoned phone booth that made a passage along west Flatbush such a mind-twist. The above picture shows the Grand Opening, where Brooklyn Finest had the brilliant scheme of GIVING AWAY a limited number of shirts 'n' hats 'n' stuff to draw attention to their wares. Never underestimate the power of "free."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Breaking News: Busted on Bedford

A tipster informs the Q that major police action shuttered the bodega on Bedford 'tween Parkside and Winthrop. Anybody got more info? According to the source, a few folks were cuffed and hauled off at the joint known to insiders, and to anyone who can read the sign, as "Puerto Plata."

I've been by it a couple hundred times, stopped in occasionally, and I never noticed any shenanigans. Always seemed pretty mellow actually. What's your take?

A picture of a plantains, not unlike the ones frequently available at Puerto Plata, must suffice in lieu of actual photo-journalism. I'll see if the 71st has anything to say about it; the bust, not the picture.

Kash for Kalashnikovs

Following up on the recent study by the Brookings Institution showing that 78% of blog readers own or traffic in illegal guns, the Q implores you all to take advantage of the upcoming cash for guns program. Now's the perfect time, especially heading into the holiday season, when bloggers and egg-noggers typically butt heads, leading to an alarming rise in drunken crimes of passion. Last year, half of all Brownstoner commenters ate or served lead.

In all seriousness, these things really do work, according to the NYPD, which keeps on doing them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Playground Should Be Ready By Dead o' Winter

If you haven't been down Winthrop tween Bed & Rog you've missed a remarkable transformation taking place almost daily. The new playground looks to be lovely - landscaping, lots of seating, tons of chess tables (maybe the guys on Woodruff will shift locations?) The Q is super happy about this one. PS 92 gets much needed recreation space, teens get nice basketball courts, and parents have another option besides trekking all the way to the park, which might not seem like a long way to the childless, but trust me, every block can be an adventure with a wee one. Nice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ramagi on Rogers

Check out this here fancy-schmancy sign for a brick-oven pizza joint soon to open on Rogers near Hawthorne:

Now, I gotta say. Just cuz you use bricks doesn't make it good. Nor does the current fad for $20 personal pan pizzas seem to me to have legs beyond the artisanal cheese crowd. BUT...if Ramagi's is a proper sit-down joint, my guess is they're going to do very well, regardless of the quality of their bricks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

BP Stands For Beware Pedestrians

The recent attention paid to troubled corner Parkside/Ocean has stirred up a mighty sandstorm of sentiment. I recall early in the discussion about that corner people were saying "hey, if you deal with that crossing you better deal with Parkside/Flatbush too." True enough that corner has stratospheric accident numbers too, and then came the recent pedestrain death to nail home what we all know well...traffic's a bitch around here, whether you're walking, biking, driving, swimming...but I do feel the need to point out a major difference between the two - Parkside/Flatbush suffers primarily from intense scofflawism. Speeding, running red lights, not waiting your turn to turn, crazy lane shifting...add to this (and this might not make me very popular) some really boneheaded pedestrian jaywalking, and you've got a hot mess. BUT...the intersection itself is pretty typical four-corner stoplight stuff. Parkside/Ocean suffers from serious problems of design as well - a huge unmarked space and five roads - though I'm sure improvements could be made at P/F too. The fact is, speed kills when you're in a wreck. The motorcycle accident touches a nerve, I think, because all of us suspend a bit of disbelief every time we venture out near our beloved main street. Another case in point...

A reader sent me some pictures yesterday (below) that show what we all know to be yet another local traffic cat-and-mouse game. The triangular BP station just below Lefferts has struck many of us [sic] as insanity-with-three-sides. There are "driveways" everywhere, parked cars at every-which-angle, and motorists speeding in and out all willy-nilly. Upon hearing that I was going to write about it, my good law-abiding friend informed me that he too on occasion "created" his own egress after gorging on gas. A scary fact is, and the below pictures prove, that the curb cuts intended for wheelchair access are used more often than the actual driveways when drivers exit certain "corners." Hey, it can save a few seconds, especially if the traffic light is not in your favor! Chaos, thy name is spelt BP.

So...what can be done? One, never walk, bike or drive in the neighborhood. And if number one does not seem reasonable, then bring your concerns before the Community Board. The transportation committee chair is Ed Fanning. Ed's a great guy and super-knowledgeable about all things City. But he and the other chairs of committees need residents to bring their concerns before the Board so that City agencies hear about our complaints through "official" channels. It's either that, or we can get elected officials to get involved, who will or won't respond depending on any number of factors. What I'm going to say next may sound antithetical given our recent success in getting Mathieu Eugene on board for the traffic calming's fine to tell electeds about your issues, but it's not always gonna work, especially if your issue doesn't coincide with their electoral objectives (i.e. getting another four years in office). I absolutely think that we should use the CB committees to get the ball rolling...once something leaves committee, it goes straight to the appropriate agency with an official looking letter coming from the District Manager. Believe it or not, it GETS RESULTS. That's not to say you shouldn't call Yvette Clarke, or Tish James, or Eric Adams or Barak Obama or Dr.'s just that there is a legitimate community-led forum for concerns (the CB) and it has been massively underutilized in this neighborhood. I'm on a crusade to get people to realize that STUFF DOESN'T JUST HAPPEN to make things better - PEOPLE make things better by getting involved. I do hope you'll send me an email with your transportation concerns, and I'll forward it to Ed directly. Then again, if everything is hunky dory, don't bother squawking...the CB won't come knockin'

And Mathieu - please DO add the BP cruster-fruck to the growing number of complaints I send your way! I'm making a list, checkin' it twice, and gonna find out...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pedestrian Struck at Flatbush and Parkside - Looks Serious

We're trying to get more info on a pedestrian who was struck at the infamous corner Flatbush/Parkside (next up D.O.T.!) during this morning's commute...this is just too sad, and the timing too weird for words. It looks serious, and the walker was apparently unconscious on the scene. Anyone have more info? Prayers welcome. UPDATE: The woman was hit by a motorcycle and has since died.

Flatbush is a four-lane menace. Between buses and dollar vans, double-parkers and extreme motorcyclists, plus livery cabs and the run of the mill idiot NY drivers, it's a disaster. Rogers Ave is also in our district, and recently won the distinction of most sped. Want to test your skills of agility? Try walking across Ocean at Woodruff. Have working ears? Try ignoring the constant honking along Clarkson. The whole sector is a bloody disaster, if you ask the Q. Exciting, but deadly. Wasn't it just a couple months ago a lady was killed on Flatbush at Lincoln?

For those who want to see the plan to change the intersection down the block, the plan is at the DOT website. A key point from the presentation is that this intersection ranks in the top 2% of most dangerous intersections city-wide, as does Parkside/Flatbush. Further proof of that is not needed. Here's a couple pics I just scanned for the click-o-phobic, but I suggest looking at the nicer pdf copies with all the bells and whistles:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the Q's Art Gone From Plaza - New Day Rising?

It's gone y'all. They said they were gonna take it down, and they did. And the timing was auspicious, since last night the DOT unveiled its big plan to change the name of the intersection from Death Corner to Half-As-Many-Deaths Corner. This must be the Bureaucracy Gods way of telling us it's time to think about how we want this ginormous unused public space to look - now and into the future. It's ours. Let's make it the envy of the City.

Ideas? I know the Community Board's Parks Committee is open...we just need to unite behind a plan and stay focused til it happens. I really hope that momentum is on our side, because what with the park's massive new Lakeside project, and the closing of this corner's entrance for traffic...we have a real opportunity to say something positive about our home through the magic of public design. Again...don't leave it to me. My latest idea is a giant human chess game taking place 24-7, giving employment to out-of-work actors and out-of-work costume makers. Then every Saturday you do sort of a Renaissance Fair, with jousting and wenches and lots of artisanal mead. Like I said, don't let me have anything to do with but cheer leading.

And by the way, last night was awesome. Take a peek at all of your neighbors who trudged through the rain to check out the plan to improve safety at Parkside and Ocean:

The presentation was strong, the ideas were good, and our questions were both passionate and astute. I mean...what's going on here? It was practically...dare I say it...productive. Great input from Ed Fanning of CB9's Transportation Committee, crucial input from Annie Williams of the Woodruff Block Association (I'm with you Annie - Woodruff traffic's a mess, and I blame my own Clarkson Avenue for feeding you the cars!). Celeste Lacy Davis from the Ocean on the Park Historic District made good points about the need for traffic calming along Ocean. All the high profile cats and dogs were in attendance, from the Democratic District Leader to Lefferts Manor Association prez to reps from the two most affected community boards (14 and 9), both precinct community councils (70th and 71st), a guy whose name I missed who said he was the head of the East 21st Block Association (Woodruff to Church), and lots of concerned citizens from 353 Ocean Avenue, a/k/a Prospect Park East. Plus Carrie from Hawthorne Street who got the whole ball rolling with her video nigh on three years ago, and her plan created in conjunction with Transportation Alternatives. And of course, the lady who got us all there, Maddie Fix-Hansen, who spoke eloquently of the need for drivers to get ticketed up the wazoo. All in all, a nice bunch of neighbors, and I felt proud of us all.

It's a good plan. With minor tweaks, let's make it happen, and show that when we put our minds and hearts to something, we can make shite happen. We may not be Pork Slip, and we don't wanna be, but the Man better be on notice - there's some fire in the Caledonian belly! (Or is that post-jerk indigestion?)

The plan itself? I'll post a diagram as soon as I get a good copy. In the meantime, here's my layman's description:

In addition to closing the park to vehicle entrance, they will extend the curb into the intersection, making the entire box smaller. The crosswalks will be tighter too - for instance, you'll go from the current corner in front of the Q station ON A DIAGONAL to the Park corner. Visibility will be improved greatly, for both pedestrians and drivers. Buses will no longer be allowed to idle on Ocean - this change will be affected by removing parking meters on the McDonalds side of Parkside and having the buses wait there. New, better markings will reduce driver confusion. And in all likelihood they will add some sort of enhanced traffic signal, like a left-turn only and head-starts for pedestrians.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Date w Destiny - Tuesday

Not six months since we all made a big stink, the DOT plans an unveiling of its new traffic design for Parkside at Ocean. Please come tomorrow night at 6:30 to the Calvary Pentecostal Church on Woodruff tween Flat and Ocean, to express your opinion. Note: I've been warned that a pro-car crowd might be out to shout down any proposed changes, even though from what I've seen of the plan it should make life easier on automobiles - right now it's total chaos, buses parking willy-nilly creating visibility hazards, and drivers not knowing where or when to turn. Kudos to Maddie Fix-Hansen for staying on top of the issue.

See you there! (poster pic above taken by our western correspondent).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stray Cats and Old Man Winter

Mrs. FlatBed and I have managed to help keep our feral (i.e. wild) cats warm for winter nigh on 8 years. After spaying and neutering a baker's dozen of cats through the Trap Neuter & Return program, we found ourselves caring for the felines too wild to be adopted (we found homes for four). Cats are hardy, and can handle almost any weather thrown at them...but the extreme cold can be deadly. And although they're incredibly cunning at finding crevices into basements and sponging heat coming up from grates, every winter we've lost at least one during the frostiest weeks. If you want to read more about our experience with this ever-so-ingenius method of dealing with out-of-control cat populations, you can read this old Q post here.

Reader Eagle Eye M.S. sent me this link that gives some options for how to build or buy a simple but effective shelter to keep your lovelies warm on the worst nights. He's a cat fancier as well, and I applaud his efforts and those of countless protectors of street cats all over our fair city.  By the way if you're interested in becoming a colony's guardian angel, that there link takes you to the site of Neighborhood Cats, an org started in 1999 that can walk you through the procedure of securing the safe future for your clan. It's incredibly rewarding, and the cat's - and your neighbors - will thank you for it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

205 Parkside Gets Ready For Its Closeup

Those of you who commute by walking down Parkside to the Q already know the remarkable transformation that has taken place to 205, the Moses Fried owned building that has been the bane of the block for more than two decades. Here you can see that new windows, removed graffiti and new glass to the lobby have done wonders, though the scaffolding continues to thwart passers-by:

Just one year ago, it looked like this:

People have said I'm obsessed with the progress, but the look of the building is not my primary issue with Fried and his grandson David Tepper's development project. It's the "use" of the building, which is described as a long-stay hotel. The Community Board refused is other plan to change the Certificate of Occupancy, so he changed the plan to conform with a well-worn business model of his. Other Prince Hotel projects have yielded hooker/drug joints - no way to candy coat it. They've become hourly places "under the table."

I worked for the Doe Fund, a creative program for homeless men that involved the Ready, Willing and Able work and sobriety program, and I know well that there's a need for single-occupancy room (SRO) housing, especially given the state of homeless shelters in 2011. So the fact that Fried took a perfectly nice apartment building and turned it into a shelter-esque joint is not my beef. It's that as a landlord and developer, Fried has shown little interest in people beyond profit. Though in fairness, he leased a building of his to a pretty decent non-profit on Woodruff serving a deserving population of homeless women and kids. Let's be clear though - the price was right; Fried's no do-gooder. Given two such rather large buildings on Woodruff, another huge shelter-building at across Ocean on Woodruff, a real big one at 60 Clarkson, and it would be fair to say we've got a high percentage of "transient" folks in a fairly tight radius. I don't want to speculate about what that means for the neighborhood...though I've certainly heard plenty of opinions through the years. A building in northern PLG cause a major brouhaha over just this sort of business plan (read about Providence House here). I found the argument a bit overwrought, given that we live in a way more heavily "social-serviced" neighborhood down here, largely without too much trouble. Though I'm not impressed with how most landlord's assume their responsibility in maintaining these buildings, and in particular, the comings and goings of non-residents. Ambulances and police cars are frequent visitors to the four buildings I mentioned, and some of the stories I've heard of goings-on give me pause. And yet, this is part of the grand experiment of NYC, rich and poor, privileged and troubled, that hopefully still exists as an ideal in the hearts of many. The reality on the ground? Often less than ideal. Just ask the tenants.

More to come on 205 Parkside. I hope for the best, though the fact that squatters have been living there throughout the demo and construction makes me think Fried has little true caring for the people he claims to want to serve. One "resident" whom I queried says he's been paying rent for years. Wow. In an abandoned building without utilities. That's bold. "I'm a deeply religious man" is Fried's favorite refrain. I hope he lives up to the words of his faith.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cortelyou Road? Not so surprising, considering...

In the spirited discussion that followed my recent post about past efforts to attract new bourgie businesses to Flatbush Avenue, I jumped into the fray and suggested that if people are serious about changing the tenor of the ave, they should organize along the lines of the star-crossed Prospect Lefferts United for Services (PLUS). And someone, I think it was Alexis, brought up Cortelyou Road. Well...funny thing. That was one of the things I was researching as a sidebar to the story, and I came across a somewhat illuminating article by Idil Abshir in The Brooklyn Ink that described exactly the kind of scenario that Mark Dicus et al were trying to make happen here. Though etiquette suggests you click the link above, some just can't be bothered to click, so I excerpt a bit here, hopefully with the author's indulgence:

Jan Rosenberg, who has lived here [ditmas park] since 1986, says that the neighborhood was drastically different when she moved in. “The houses were more deteriorated and in need of repairs,” she said. “The main difference was that it was much more dangerous.”  Rosenberg was a sociology professor at Long Island University in downtown Brooklyn before she ventured in to the real estate business. She is currently a partner at Brooklyn Hearth Realty. In 2001, Rosenberg founded Friends of Cortelyou- a group that sought to attract business to Cortelyou Road. [theQ's ed. note - the acronym would therefore have been FoC, with a hard consonant "c," but somehow it never became common parlance in polite company. ]
There were no new businesses drawn to the area. Friends of Cortelyou tried to attract merchants, convinced that this could redefine the neighborhood. “Our commercial strip is so short. I strongly felt, after looking at other neighborhoods, that three or four new businesses would make an impact, ” said Rosenberg. “We had nice houses and nice apartments but no businesses.” Rosenberg clarified that while useful stores existed, like the delis and dollar stores, nothing was in place that neighborhood residents were drawn to. Rosenberg went on to say that her work developing Cortelyou Road, and her current job as a realtor was never a far departure from sociology. “I got into real estate as a function of what I was doing with Friends of Cortelyou- trying to change Cortelyou Road,” Rosenberg said. “It was kind of applied sociology.”

So yes, an economic development group is often a catalyst to get folks thinking about attraction, and it leads to things that lead to things that lead to things. Then, there's further, and ultimately odd, chunk of the story:

Susan Siegel, the creator of the farmer’s market at Cortelyou, and later the executive director of the Flatbush Development Corporation said the changes to Cortelyou Road were absolutely necessary, because the area was experiencing ‘economic leakage.’ Nobody was investing or spending in the neighborhood. “We liked that it’s not Park Slope, but at the same time there was so much missing. We spent more money outside the neighborhood than in it,” Siegel said. “If I needed to cook something with broccoli or arugula I had to leave the neighborhood.” [emphasis theQ's]

Siegel says that the farmer’s market is at the core of the neighborhood. “The farmer’s market is like the town square,” Siegel said. “It was a way that all diverse neighbors could come together for the first time ever. It was a real community builder.”
The challenges Siegel faced involved getting people to come to the market, and proving to existing businesses that the market wasn’t going to take away their business: something that was easily achieved since the market provided goods that resident had to leave Flatbush to find. Business owners faced different challenges. One of the current owners of Picket Fence, one of the first restaurants to open during Cortelyou Road’s renaissance, said that it was a huge risk for the original owner of the place. “He took the gamble and didn’t know if there would be a payoff,” said Roma Agarwal a joint owner since 2007. “But he saw the incentive, he saw the market here.”
So Siegel took the "friends of" group one step further to become a "corporation," which by all accounts is a major player down there. But here's the irony to the foodie bit...there was always good raw food in the neighborhood - the Flatbush Food Coop has been around on Cortelyou since 1985, albeit in a smaller storefront than the minor behemoth of today.  Heck I remember wandering into that Coop in the early 90's, a bit grunged-around-the-collar, and laughing at the ridiculously named vegetables, fresh herbs and hippie leaning brands. I find it odd that the Coop isn't even mentioned by Siegel, who claims she had to leave the neighborhood for coop staples as arugula or broccoli. And by the way, you don't have to WORK at this Coop to enjoy the food...though it can be a bit pricey by Park Slope Food Coop standards. Curious. Personally, I think the farmer's market is cute, but there ain't much to it, and I can't imagine it trumped the bourgie places like Picket Fence and Farm on Adderly as catalysts. Still, some enterprising fool could start a farmer's market at the mall of the Q at Parkside, and I suspect it'd be a sleeper hit. There was talk recently of a group coming in to do an "artisan" market as well. Me, I'm still thinking fountain, but I just so love a good water feature!

So to the question at hand I pose this: yes, it takes the neighborhood cleaning up its act. Yes it helps to have a couple of strong civic groups pushing the agenda, even a B.I.D., or at the very least an actually functioning merchant's association. And most importantly it takes even just one or two intrepid entrepreneurs (Play Kids?) to start a landslide.

But here's the real difference: Cortelyou was a no man's land, hurting even for foot traffic. Flatbush is a thriving, if salon-heavy, avenue with tons and tons and tons of traffic, foot and otherwise. What we have here is no Franklin, or Cortelyou, or even Dekalb or Smith. We have the tri-state epicenter for wigs, styling, braiding and weaves and nails, with a massive contingent of West Indian cuisine and curios. (editor's note: I changed the next sentence to better reflect what I wanted to say, since I got wacked for my last sentence!) This is why so many come from all over to spend money here, and we should work WITH that powerful starting place rather than clean slate approach elsewhere. I favor a cleanup approach - drugs, gangs, garbage - that needless hold back the positive existing businesses and keep others from starting. Each block could and should deliver services to a wide range of folks, and then our main street could become the envy of diversity and local ingenuity.

I'm still annoyed by that arugula and broccoli quote though.

Latest FlatBed Demands More "Amenities" on Flatbush

A hearty welcome to Little Miss Clarkson FlatBed Jr. the II, who joined Caledonian society today at 11AM, weighing in at a bruising 10 lbs 13 ounces and just shy of 2 feet. Her first words were "maybe a modest sit-down middle eastern place on parkside avenue? i dunno. just sayin'. wah-wah-wah-wah"