The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Did That Really Just Happen?

The Q couldn't do justice to Tuesday night's Community Board 9 meeting over at MS61 on Empire at NY Avenue. Thankfully, plenty of folks were in attendance, so you can probably find someone to back me up. It was hilarious. It was sad. It was absurd. But you know what? In the end, we'd made it to the end, and no one was bleeding on the floor. (I had a bit of a cramp in the tuckus, but no flesh wounds).

Here was the gist, and trust me, you're lucky to be getting the short version. Three different groups came before the Board (via a chaotic couple of committee meeting two weeks ago) asking for remedy regarding land use - ULURP they call it. The Department of City Planning is in charge of deciding what you can and can't build on a property. Think you can do what you like on your land? Heck no. There's all kinds of rules of what you can and can't and permits and Changes of O and who really cares to go down that rabbit hole right now anyhoo.

(please excuse the simplistic nature of some of this...for you land use experts please don't be offended - and hey, we might need your help!)

The basic idea here is that a City as dense and diverse and compact as ours has to have some way of organizing itself, so that we're both able to grow and prosper AND not get in each others' way too much. (Actually, I think I just accidentally did a pretty good job of explaining a lot of people's City salaried raison d'etre.) It's really important stuff, and we've been lucky to borrow the Borough President's land use guy Richard Bearak for info and guidance. The man has such a twinkle in his eye when he talks about zoning it almost makes you wish you understood what the Sam Hill he was talking about! (Seriously, the guy is a godsend, because once people trot out the R7-1's and R6-A's and C-3PO's and R-2D2's you need a ULURP Jedi Warrior like Bearak to bring it all back to Alderaan. Follow me, Chewy? Speaking of disturbances in the force, how about that crazy lady Pat with the Fight the Power t-shirt and the Gilligan hat? She's been jazzing up the CB meetings for as long as I've been a member. Thank god she's there to keep it light. One classic Pat question from the floor to a person who had just made a presentation: "Who are you and what are you doing here?")

So one group, the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, representing dozens of Chabad Lubavitch synagogues, and therefore a few thousand people, wants a bunch of blocks in the NE quadrant of the community district upzoned from R2 or R4 to R6. By the way, it's no small feat to achieve such rezoning. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes money (usually coming from the City, so you gotta get your electeds on board). The reason for the request, as Rabbi Eli Cohen of the CHJCC put it, is designed to allow families to build out their houses to accommodate big families. It's no secret that many Orthodox families are quite large, and current zoning restricts how much you can build up and out. The reason for such restrictions, as I've mentioned, is to avoid a situation where MY building plans piss YOU off, and as a result of the limits we can all maintain some uniformity to the housing stock and the density and "feel" of a block - and my view from my backyard won't suddenly become a view of your second home. If you want to make it even MORE uniform, you can try landmarking. In which case you can't hang a picture without seeking permission first. (I'm joking, of course, please don't [lime]stone me for poking fun!)

Now, it would be tempting to lump that request in with the request coming from the other side of the park - namely, asking that the Board support a moratorium on too-tall development along the park and Flatbush Avenue. Not a moratorium on DEVELOPMENT with a big D, mind you. Just massive luxury buildings designed to appeal to folks wealthier than 95% of the people living in the neighborhood. There's not much anyone can do about buildings going up that achieve market rates. In fact, good for you! Many of us prefer, of course, that there be an affordable element to your building, and 80/20 is frankly not keeping pace with the displacement, but that's what we got for now. However, we know you're not in the business of "giving away" homes, so let's be reasonable here. Do you really have to completely change the character of the neighborhood? Without asking? Or even checking in? In the case of 626, that would appear to be the case.

The moratorium on outsized development, like the lawsuit against 626, is a longshot of course. In fact, it rarely happens. But there are ways to bring the issue to the powers-that-be and hope for someone to come along and look at the zoning, and perhaps as we've since learned, add an amendment of some sort to the zoning R7-1 along Ocean and Flatbush that would protect the view from the park, and the view of the sky from the rest of the neighborhood. It could even be a very specific height restriction, say 100 feet or so. Because regardless of what anyone thinks of the 23-story building at 626 Flatbush, it's just the beginning. The "secret" is out. Yep. We're near the park. And (sorry I can't resist) white people are now willing to live here.

One other request was by a land owner on Empire Blvd near Brooklyn. He wants to build an apartment building, where now it's zoned commercial. The Q feels this is an excellent use of this process...turn moribund commercial space into places to live. He was pretty sketchy on the details (probably an 8 story apartment building), and he didn't bother to come before us himself (he sent his lawyers), but generally speaking this is the sort of thing we need MORE of on Empire, rather than Sonics and Self-Storage.

I'm not going to bore you with the details of how all three motions were received - it was pretty unpretty at times. The CHJCC motion is going back to committee due to our (CB9's) incompetence, but the moratorium idea passed with overwhelming support. Despite concerns, the Empire lot rezoning passed too. In retrospect the three motions probably shouldn't have been presented at the same meeting. Because, and here's where I start choosing my words very very carefully, there is a history in Crown Heights that suggests great care be taken to identify problems and deal with them individually and not in relation to one another - as in, one group gets this, another group gets that. Feelings and resentments are still fraught with anxiety, even 20+ years after the terrible riots. And all this ties back into the question of whose neighborhood is it, and the what are the needs of its inhabitants.

Now if that was too vague, let me focus on Lefferts and say just one more thing. As the demographics of the neighborhood change, so does any "consensus" about the kind of future we're looking towards. In parts of Canarsie, by way of contrast, the neighborhood is more than 90% Haitian. It's pretty safe to say, then that if the Haitian community develops consensus around something, then you can move forward with confidence on that project, after hearing of course from the minority views. But right now, the demographics of Lefferts are SO diverse, economically-racially-ethnically-religiously-birthplacely-dareIsayPolitically, that it will be very hard to find true consensus on things that involve even slight controversy between those various sets (assuming there's consensus WITHIN a set of course). Which is why even though there are plenty of folks who see ALL development as bad for rent prices, that was not the motion and is not the mission the Q has signed on to. The members of PPEN, pretty much all our elected leaders, the groups LMA and PLGNA, have all signed on to a contextual zoning request, and now are being urged to support a moratorium on non-contextual development until that happens. Once it happens, we can all go back to playing our congas in the drummer's grove. Groovy? Good.

Addendum: We were one of the first groups to meet with new borough prez Eric Adams (go team Lefferts!), and he's agreed to hold a town hall style meeting on March 20 to discuss. We need everyone and their nephew to come and out and speak up.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Parkside Committee Needs You This Sunday

On our way, bit by bit
All are welcome. Even No_Slappz. Though I may have to start by giving him a few Yes_Slappz upside the face first.

The more the merrier. Winter is a great time to get involved in this ongoing grassroots revival of the beloved Q Plaza!

Dear Friends of Parkside,
This Sunday the Parkside Committee is hosting a big meeting to talk about what should come next for our plaza on Parkside.
  • WHEN:  Sunday, March 2, 5pm
  • WHERE:  Play Kids @ 676 Flatbush
  • WHO:  Everyone who loves the new trees; everyone who loves the old Q; everyone!

This plaza is everyone's plaza, and it will only succeed if everyone in the neighborhood has a say in how the plaza feels.  So please come out!  And Shelley from Play Kids tells me that the basement meeting room can get hot when there is a crowd ... so dress in layers.

We look forward to seeing you there,

Rudy, for the Parkside Committee

Montrose Morris - If You Don't Already Love Her Writing, You Will

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

The Q LOVES it when the NY Times does a story that I've been meaning to do for years! I adore Montrose Morris (Suzanne Spellen) and her insights into our borough. She is an NYC treasure hersel, and I hope her story of foreclosure on her home in Crown Heights, has resonance as well. We gotta hang on to the MMs, y'all! Brooklyn's loss is Troy's gain.

Here's the story.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

And the Bloodbath Continues

Finally, a decent story in the Times about landlords and their lust for profits over human decency. And the law.

NY Times
“Our only sin is to have lived here for a long time,” said Carlos Calero, 52, a supervisor at a recycling company who pays $706 a month for the two-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife, two children and two young grandchildren.
Yep. That's the apartment.

Demolition Complete at 626

The above motion shows that...well, apparently all it shows is that the lawsuit did NOT stop demolition through a TRO, otherwise known as a Temporary Restraining Order. Any fool with eyes could tell you that. The lawsuit lives on though, for the construction phase. But what once was a drab "tax payer" building and poorly maintained parking lot now looks thusly:

While the building won't be ON the park, you can get a sense from these pictures just how close it WILL be, as these shots were taken from a building on Ocean. Funny how this comes right on the tail of my last misty-eyed post about the end of an era. Once the dust settles, we'll all move on as if the building had always been there, of course. And I'll be among the first to welcome our new neighbors.

My biggest issue remains, other than the ridiculous height of the building of course, is that the public really never had a chance to voice its opinion. No elected officials weighed in early, no community group was given notice in time to look at the proposal, no review of the buildings' effects on the Park, the City, and the future were given their due. The developer wanted to build a 23-story building there, and now they're building the building. And there you are. Money and profits are essentially all that tells us how we want our City to be. There was a time, not so long ago, when you had to BEG developers to build. That time is over. It's not a buyers market anymore. It's a sellers market. We can demand more from the builders than we ever could have dreamed. Instead, we settle, uncontested, for whatever someone wants to build and where. We applaud 20% affordable on a building that will make a fortune. 20% doesn't cut it anymore, especially with secondary displacement, which yes, is a real thing.

It's time to stop being told how we're supposed to live. A huge movement is brewing in Manhattan to stop the madness, but you'll need to read about THAT on another blog.  It's time to tear the page from the 1961 playbook that zoned our neighborhood. We need to come together and discuss what we want to be when we grow up. And grow UP we're being forced to do, very quickly.

Come out to the Community Board meeting tomorrow night, where a motion will be made to place a moratorium on non-contextual new construction along Flatbush Avenue until such a proper study can be conducted and new zoning decided. Oh, it's probably too late for 626 of course, and I know plenty of Q readers love the rendering and all that they expect the building will do for the neighborhood. But I also know, and have come to listen to, the many many people concerned about what this building means to their home, to THEIR idea of home. And not everyone is pleased, nope, not at all. So I can't help but feel sorry that the voices didn't have a chance to be heard sooner and the conversation had before the rubble was cleared.

Que sera sera. The smart money wins. The early bird gets the worm. Sleeping squirrels gather no nuts.* Out with the old, in with the new. A stitch in time woulda saved nine. The Phat Lady sang. That's the way the patty crumbles.

*By the way, that sleeping squirrels one is the Q's. Use it frequently enough and maybe it'll catch on. I could die happy knowing that I'd created a phrase that lived beyond me. I tried to get people to call Barclay's Center "Fudgie the Whale," but failed miserably.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bye Bye Black Brooklyn

The Q's been dreading this post for some reason. So maybe I should resist? Sometimes the more you learn the more you wish you could unlearn, because your idyllic little home enclave ecosystem seems so wonderfully organic and natural, and who wants to see the swamp on which paradise was built? The dynamics of a New York City neighborhood are complex and vital, and while we can all profess to an underlying compact to get along with one another, the reality is always a bit more, er, fluid. No single question so defies logic, and stirs deep fear and pride, than the question of whose neighborhood it is. Anyway. So I keep asking it, hoping I'll come to some sort of conclusion in the asking.

For better or worse, we've become a society of demographics, and even those labels don't do justice to the reality on the ground. Where once it was enough to say black or white, rich or poor, Yankee or Southern, blue or white collar, the shades between have become infinitely more nuanced. Each time the pundits trot out the charts and graphs at election time, they seem surprised that various groups aren't acting according to type. Sure, black folk voted overwhelmingly for Obama. That was historic. But where the experts tell you that, say, white men voted for Mitt, that was true only by a few percentage points. Millions upon millions of white men voted for Obama - twice. Democratic women prefer Hilary, except when they don't, which was almost half the time in primary battles. Blue collars prefer Democrats? No, but plenty do. Even unions aren't unified. Hispanics? Forget convention, even the "dependable" Cubans. Mixed race - which side prevails? How about Jews? I mean how dumb a thing is it to lump Jews together politically or even socially? Have you seem how many ways there are to be Jewish? Lately? Oy.

Poor Muslims, middle class Catholics, rich Blacks, educated underpaid children of mixed marriages, depressive wealthy agnostics, gay business owners, short hirsute unemployed PhD children of second generation Irish immigrants, etc. Surely they as a block, no? Nate Silver, the incredibly accurate common sense statistician, eschewed most of that nonsense for simple analysis of what various district and state polls parlayed and ignored "conventional wisdom," because by the time you've got CW worked out, it's four years later and the sociological train has left that particular station. Ten years ago who would have predicted how many states have gone giddy for gay marriage? And how the "tea party" would've redefined political paralysis? There are no blue or red states; just various shades of purple. And lots of pissed off people living in them.

Where once Brooklyn was a borough of parishes churches and synagogues, where block by block you could identify whose was whose, we're now a borough of rapidly changing sets and subsets wherein the most reliable shorthand for a neighborhood's character is Gentrified or Not-yet-gentrified. But where gentrified in East Harlem or the Lower East Side, or in a previous generation's Upper West Side, meant middle-class whites moving in on Puerto Rican and Dominican turf, gentrified vs. not-yet-gentrified in Brooklyn means primarily-white-and-getting-whiter vs. black-for-now-but-not-for-long. And why? Because with all due respect to the romance of the word "Harlem," Brooklyn has been the gravitational center of the northern African-American universe. I would argue, and I'm sure I'll take heat for it from people who actually know such things, that as whites get bolder about moving into once solidly-black neighborhoods, and given the irrefutable fact of rental racism, we will start to hear more loud and uncloseted calls for a new and more acutely relevant civil rights movement. Resentment is out there big time; some degree of political clout is there too (witness the latest slate of local elected officials and their pedigrees); the double standards are there; the entitlement and stereotypes are out in force. As the Q might ask in his more morally troubled moments, what's so damn great about the world we're living in today, that we should put up with even an ounce of racial injustice? Especially here, in the CENTER of the American Black Universe?

In the 2010 census we were told that blacks were becoming less numerous Downtown, in Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Bed-Stuy, Flatbush and Crown Heights. (Even Brownsville and East NY saw a few pale faces more than the years before). The numbers we were fed were astonishing. But guess what? Things have picked up considerably since 2010, with a building craze not seen since the pre-war apartment boom. You know the one that left so many New Yorkers THRILLED with their closet space? No matter how many more whites resided in once solidly black nabes in 2010 over 2000, we've seen as much again since 2010 to now. Even Utica Ave on the IRT has gone paler - don't believe me, get off at that last express stop sometime and give me a holler if you don't know what I'm saying. Given Brooklyn's vast size and population, it's really quite astounding just how striking is the change. Is it too cynical to equate it to a blacks must move to the back of the bus moment? "I'm sorry sir, your house is conveniently located near some of the best transportation, bistro and park you mind moving to East New York temporarily, until my brethren can gather the gumption to move you from there too?"

For those who still aren't buying my amazement that this isn't MORE of a front page story, consider this: For more than half-a-century, nearly a million African-American folk have lived in a roughly four mile by four mile square area of Central Brooklyn. Their numbers are dwindling at a staggering rate, the steam gathering with each frothy year in the housing market.

You may have already seen, digested, and dismissed the following analysis from the 2000 to 2010 census study, but I'll drop it on you again just in case, and keep in mind this was through mid-2010, nearly four years ago, and things have WAY kicked into high gear since:

From 2000 to 2010, Brooklyn's population grew by 39,000 people. The White population grew by 38,774 while the Asian population increased by 75,838. Blacks lost almost 50,000 people (-49,517).

  • Black losses were substantial in several communities with historically large Black populations. The Black population declined by 10,000 in Crown Heights North (a loss of almost 12% of the Black population), 8,400 people in Flatbush (decline of 14%), 7,258 people in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens (decline of 12%), and almost 6,000 people (-5,936) in Bedford (decline of almost 15%). [Note: The City Planning Department created two separate "neighborhood areas" for the community commonly referred to as Bedford-Stuyvesant. We use the Planning Department's "neighborhood area" delineation for this analysis.]
  • Communities in northern Brooklyn such as Bedford, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill in 2000 straddled the area of central Brooklyn with substantial Black population plurality and the Park Slope/Brooklyn Heights area with substantial White population plurality. By 2010, Black population concentration had declined and White concentration had increased. In Bedford, the White population had the greatest percentage increase of any of the major groups citywide -- 633% (an increase of almost 16,000 people), increasing the White population share in that neighborhood from 4% in 2000 to 25.5% in 2010. In Prospect Heights, the White population share increased from just over one-quarter in 2000 (28.2%) to almost half (47.2%) in 2010 (an increase of 3,818). In Clinton Hill, the White population share more than doubled from 15% in 2000 to just over 35% in 2010 (an increase of 7,419).
Sure, some folks have moved to "East," as Dr. Cuts told me some people call it. Yes, East New York. (I've actually heard the term before and didn't get it.) Or Canarsie, or even Flatlands. And the feel good story you sometimes hear is that some people are moving "back South," presumably, I dunno, because "the cotton is high and the living is easy?" But plenty of people are being "encouraged" to leave high-priced NYC de facto and de toldso. A social worker friend tells me it's commonplace in her profession to coach poor single mothers to move to a more hospitable municipality, preferably one with more government supported housing, like cities Upstate or down South. And then there's that pesky new huge homeless population that grew under the Bloomberg years. A little carrot here, a little stick there, and they should be gone before the REAL numbers hit the books.

I'll go right out and say it. Black Brooklyn is being gutted before our very eyes, and frankly, I'm shocked there aren't more people screaming from the new 40-story-luxury-rooftops about it. You can choose not to care, and clearly most people choose not to care, or you can say it's just the way of things, can't stop progress and yadda yadda. Or you can say, this ever-wealthier City turned its back on one of its greatest cultural, literary and historical legacies. Oh sure if you're brave and lucky enough to join the Black middle and upper classes and CHOOSE to live in Brooklyn, the City will let you stay, provided you don't mind while it tidies things up a bit. Oh, and make sure your taxes are paid up. If so, we cool.

Despite generations of racism, poverty, injustice, malnourishment, bad education, drug epidemics, mass displacement, profiling, getting shot by cops while unarmed, and one after another misplaced do-goodism by people who don't know what the f*ck they're doing, black Brooklyn is disappearing. Oh, and it would be disappearing MUCH, MUCH faster if it weren't for those quaint and oft-ridiculed laws that try to hold rents at a reasonable increase year after year, or rules that try to prevent landlords from gaming the system or hovering like vultures around old-folks on fixed-incomes.

Don't get me wrong, less well-heeled whites and other races and ethnicities are being shown the door as well. But no single group is being more exploited during the current rush to New Brooklyn than those, I would argue, most responsible for its "brand." Okay, the Dodgers too. But when I moved to Brooklyn in 1988, the world knew where I was moving, and it wasn't to Pee Wee Reese's old place.

You know, I WAS going to write about the lovely afternoon I had with Rabbi Goldberg, chair of CB9, on Kingston Avenue the other day. He showed me around his neighborhood. His neighborhood being the area around and mostly south of 770 Eastern Parkway, world headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement. It's a wonderfully vibrant and quaint and distinctly Jewish neighborhood, almost harkens to another era. People know one another. It's a desired location to live if you're part of the clan. It wouldn't be wise to call it "their" neighborhood, because you might sound accusatory, and after all, no one ultimately OWNS a neighborhood. And to be super-clear, I don't mean to pit one reality against another. God knows there's been enough of THAT in Brooklyn's history too. But to a certain degree, the orthodox Jews of Crown Heights have built a true neighborhood for themselves. One wouldn't dare to suggest it shouldn't be so. Certainly not I. Somehow, the idea of neighborhood and ethnicity, religion, race, primacy of purpose - be they Chinese or Russian or Muslim or blue-collar or hipsterist or foodist or older-parentist - they continue to exist, you know? And we yearn for it. We create it. The continuity. The familiar places. The generational transference. In essence, it has meaning to people - deep meaning. And you can sense it when it grows and prospers, and you can sense it when it begins to crumble before your very ideas.

Does any of it matter?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Meet Me For Cocktails at...Beekman Place?

The Q's spies are everywhere, and thank goodness! A full-time working father of two spastic lovebugs can't be pounding the pavement for small-town stories as big as this one. Remember when I noted a couple posts ago that the building at Beekman and Flatbush had been sold for $1.7m? Well, a Q reader reports she overheard a discussion at TotT about their opening a new cocktail bar (I thought that phrase went out with the Brat Pack) at that very corner, to be named, perhaps, Beekman Place. As early as summer. Cafe by day as well.

I know, I know. Sounds crazy, but probably no crazier than it sounded when people first opened upscale joints on Franklin or in Bed Stuy. And make no mistake, this is NOT the same place as the gastropub that's opening at Midwood and Flatbush.

Which reminds me of a funny story. When the Q was 16, growing up in Ames, IA, he wanted to go see a local rockabilly band called Boys With Toys. Problem was, they were playing at a 19-up club (the drinking age was 19). My friend Tim Rood and I decided to chance it. At that point, they'd usually only "card" you when you ordered, not at the door. We had a plan. When the waitress came to our table, we both ordered (get this) a Mai Tai. Yes, complete with the little umbrellas. It was the only proper cocktail we'd ever heard of, and we figured if we ordered something exotic we couldn't POSSIBLY be underage. Worked like a charm.

We drank many mai tais that night and the band was great. I intended to keep every single one of those little umbrellas, but accidentally left them in the bathroom in an alcoholic haze.

Next time, remind me to tell you the Adam Ant story...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Great Salt Shortage of 2014

If you are the person responsible for keeping a sidewalk clear of snow and ice, you can probably commiserate with the Q. This has been a bitch of a year to keep the stuff at bay. Now, I grew up in a much colder & snowier climate, and I don't find this winter to be particularly anything. And I don't have a car, so the endless scenes of drivers trying to dig out of useless street parking spots barely registers on my radar - such is the reality of free parking on the street. But the strange mix of precipitations and suddenly frigid temperatures has made it incredibly hard to shovel at exactly the right time to avoid freeze-over scenes like this on Woodruff, just outside the mysterious community garden just west of Ocean Ave:

pics by Elizabeth C
Turns out it's the responsibility of the gardens' caretakers, a group identified by Community Board 14 as Woodruff Seniors. And who are they? We're investigating! (If you know, please post a comment or email the Q). I've talked here before about UMMA, the group Muslim-American neighborhood watch group responsible for creating the park (thank you Ed Powell!). But Woodruff Seniors? Granted you don't want to send gramps out there swinging and stabbing at the ice, BUT somebody's gotta do it. (Maybe grams? She always did the heavy lifting in the family anyway...)

We've all dealt with it...a barely passable sidewalk...and cursed the owners for their laziness. But there is basically NO ROCK SALT to be found in the stores, the stuff that magically melts the solid ice. For those like me who had to look it up, I'll save you the trouble and tell you that the salt creates saltwater on the surface of the ice, which freezes at a much lower temperature (seen a frozen ocean lately?).

Dang. Just as I was about to post this I see I better shovel again. Dang.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Losers of Lefferts

The Alternate Enforcement Program. That's what the Department of Housing and Preservation and Development (HPD) uses to identify the worst rental buildings in the City in terms of violations. We have a bunch of them in our Community District, in fact, way more than our fair share. One that the Q pointed out in a previous post is 115 Ocean, as written up in the Daily News.

Then there's the gorgeous wreck known as 67 Clarkson, a rowhouse cum crackhouse down my block. Then there's 443 Rogers, which is just north of Lefferts. Anybody know anything about that one? Then of course there's 55 Winthrop, which I understand is a quickly gentifying building. I'm wondering if this is one of those situtations where the landlord is making life hell for some stabilized tenants in order to get them out and raise rent. And 45 Hawthorne next to that goofy contemporary building - what's the dealio there? 1159 President is not far away, between Rogers and Nostrand. 1059 Union is just up the road, off Franklin near Eastern Parkway. And while "Stoddard Place" may not ring a bell, it's the little street just north of Empire and just east of Bedford, behind the Rite Aid and where the new TD Bank is going up.

From back in 2010, a similar list went out and our then-neighborhood-watchdog Hawthorne Street had this to say:

I was psyched to see that the City has put its slumlord data to good use: a handy map allows web users to see the worst landlords at a glance. Here in PLG, two have earned the "worst" designation, Louis Bombart of 150 Lefferts Avenue (bet. Bedford & Rogers), and Jean Bernard Mode of 441 Rogers Avenue (bet. Lefferts and Lincoln). Congratulations, guys.
The program accelerates penalties and gives short windows to remedy the situation, or the City does it at their expense.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

99 Cents Now Equals $1.7 Million

Recognize this?

That corner building just sold for $1.7 million, says a tipster. It has three stores - the 99-center, the laundry and the tailor/sew shop. It has two two-bedroom apartments and two three-bedroom apartments. Back of the playing card Q-estimate says the new buyer could, if he wanted to, renovate a bit, hit the Craigslist, and gross $15k a month easy. Is there any wonder that the smart money follows the gentrifiers? Or rather, the REALLY smart money LEADS the gentrifiers. Remembering that you live in NYC, home to some awfully smart people, the odds are stacked against the budget-conscious renter. Unless, of course, your version of budget conscious is another man's budget buster. Ah, life.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Saul Restaurant at The Brooklyn Museum

It's Valentine's Eve. Mrs. FlatBed and I used to make it a regular thang to go out the night or two before Heart's Day and therefore avoid the gouging and the crowds. We hadn't since the kids came on the scene, but just like the old days, it worked like a charm. Our wonderful regular babysitter Simba was available (since she's celebrating with her guy on V-Day) and there was like no one there at the restaurant we've been dying to go to. So we went to Saul. At the Brooklyn Museum of course.
Evan Sung took this picture for the NY Times
Now, there's a couple things you should know. One, Saul and family live on Chester Court, and the Q interviewed him awhile back and can't say enough positive about the guy. Here's the post. Two, Mrs. CFB and I enjoyed his first restaurant very much, the one and only time we went there, fifteen friggin' years ago. That Smith Street location ended up becoming one of the hottest tables in town, thanks to Saul and Lisa's homey touches, the delicious food, and a certain star from the Michelin Man. (Though how that chubby dude ever managed to squeeze into that old storefront I'll never know.) Three, the Q is NOT a culinary expert nor does he even go out to eat that often. The Q has two young children, and the Q spends most of his meals eating what they don't, then going back for late night bowls of cereal. Oh, and of course salads and diet cokes at lunch so he can kid himself that he's "watching" his weight. So take what I'm about to say with a grain of saul.

I LOVE this place. I felt totally cared for, not in a weird pampering kind of way, as if after applying thousands of diapers to children you really want to be "pampered" anyway. I mean, the service was always there when you need it, but not hovering or congratulatory. Saul came by to hang with the staff and greeted them fondly. He's not pretentious or pompous, just an ueber talented chef and solid local dad. He comes over to see if you want to chat and asks about the food. He's quick to note the pluses and minuses of moving into the belly of a gigantic institution that itself struggles to define itself. He and his team have done a great job carving out a decent space though, and it's comfortable, not showy. The windows look out to the Museum, but you're still inside the museum, so it's kinda mall-like in that way, like dining at the Piercing Pagoda. But it has those great Williamsburg Murals that were saved from housing projects, you know the ones that were done during the WPA back during the depression, and they look great in that room, though I doubt many people were eating THAT well during the Great Depression. Going to Saul at night is a trippy experience, since you're walking into the front of the titanic beaux-arts building's wacky 21st Century nose job entrance, then walking past security and the membership desk to an inviting restaurant within a closed Museum! You almost expect Ben Stiller to be the maitre d'.

We had two fish dishes - the bass and the monkfish. We had the beets and the charcuterie for starters. We got the chocolate concoction for desert. Did I mention to you that I know very little about haute cuisine? Hell I don't even know much about not-so-haute cuisine. But I'll tell you this. To MY tastebuds the food was extraordinary, and the shapes and colors and smells were divine. (Ruth Reichl, eat your heart out. And while you're at it, why not consider putting a vowel in there before the last "L?")

How much, you ask? Not that bad I'm told. A $30 entree ain't a slice a pizza. We got out of there for $150, $180 after tip. Now, I'm not saying that I can afford that more than a couple times a year. But we were there for a lovely three hours, that's $60 an hour for two, or $30 an hour per person. Like how I worked out the math? $30 an hour for a fantastic experience, away from the kids, with delicious things in your mouth a lot of that time.

I say go. Do it now. Before the word gets out that it's the best restaurant in SoCro or some nonsense.

115 Ocean - A Perfect Example Of Slumlord Cruelty

pic by Reuven Blau, NY Daily News
Below in itals is the story from today's Daily News by Reuven Blau about the sick joke of a building at 115 Ocean. Thanks Reuven! Btw, the scumbag landlord also owns 55 Winthrop Street. What do y'all know about THAT building?

Got two words buddy - for shame! And if he now decides to rent to only the "right sorts" tenants and kick out the longtime stabilized renters, don't be one bit surprised. The well-worn scheme is to focus on recent grads who don't mind a bit of squalor for (what for them is) cheap rent. Then the landlord fixes the place up just enough til they can get out of stabilization all together. We've got to create some sort of task force to take this problem on. Head on.

Toilets without water, flooding ceilings, leaky radiators and a front vestibule door that never closes top the list of complaints at Brooklyn’s worst apartment buildings.

The city has named 115 Ocean Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens the borough’s most problematic slum building and has targeted the six-story apartment complex for repairs.

Situated across the street from Prospect Park, the complex boasts an astounding 444 open violations for everything from peeling lead paint, roaches and mold to broken sewer pipes and a wide open front door, city records show.

“The landlord just doesn’t care,” said Molubah Kollie, 30, a resident at the building his whole life. “When they come to fix something one month later it’s broken again.” That includes the toilet of one tenant who was forced to fill it with water from his tub for close to a year. “There are plenty of problems here,” said another resident who declined to give his name.

Last Tuesday, the building, owned by Lincoln Prospect Associates, was one of the 187 apartment complexes placed in a city program that tackles the most heinous slums in the city, including a whopping 103 in Brooklyn.
The Alternative Enforcement Program, created by the City Council in 2007, allows the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to complete emergency work and bill deadbeat landlords for the repairs.
The city has already shelled out $7,904 to cover emergency repairs at 115 Ocean Ave. since 2001, records show. Just $326 of that has been paid, according to online records.

Tenants say they frequently spot loiterers smoking pot and hanging out in the building’s vast entrance and hallways. “The door breaks two times a week,” said Jean Pierre, 18, another resident in the building. The building’s owner did not return calls for comment.

Besides 115 Ocean Ave., officials sited 84 Lawrence Avenue, 1059 Union Street, 55 Winthrop Street and 2 Stoddard Place as nearly as shoddy. Each had in excess of 300 violations. Citywide, the new list of the worst of the bunch includes 55 buildings in The Bronx, 19 in Manhattan and 10 Queens. “A severely distressed building puts the well-being of its tenants at risk and can act as a catalyst for destabilization with a community, and we are resolute in ensuring that does not happen,” said HPD commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas.

Lefferts Food Coop a-Happening

Read from Brooklyn Paper here for word of how Karen Oh and company have really moved things to the next level. Want to buy in? Head on over to their website now!

While I'm sure some will bemoan the location at 324 Empire Blvd, it's actually perfectly situated to draw in the wider neighborhood of Lefferts and Southern Crown Heights. One might even call it "central" to the greater neighborhood, given its location near Nostrand.

Colour me impressed. Way to go y'all!

And a big "clean-up" day is happening this Saturday! Come on out and meet your neighbors and find out what this cooperative thang is all about.

The indefatigable Karen Oh!
Co-op Clean Up
Saturday, February 15, 2014
9 a.m. - 12 p.m.
324 Empire Blvd.

The co-op needs your help cleaning up and doing some repairs to the store. This is in preparation to renovations that we need to make. If you are a Park Slope Food Co-op FTOP member, you can bank hours working with us! Come see the space, get dirty, and share your vision for what it could be.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Major Bumsky Feburary - June on the Q at Parkside

Prepare to be inconvenienced. Starting February 21 you will no longer be able to get off or on the train heading south at Parkside Avenue. Phase II of the reconstruction project begins then and runs through a projected June 22.

And of course, keep your eyes open to various midday closings as well, 10am to 3pm. The MTA does not suffer an uninformed consumer.

Jaywalkers Take Heed

In yet another sign of vigilance to come, the 71st has issued an unambiguous statement on jaywalking, though it mysterious chooses not to name it as such. Let this be a warning...other precincts are cracking down, and we may be next. And let me tell you those little pink tickets are super-annoying. You have to go to Red Hook and get lectured about being a better community member. Trust me. I've been twice!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Guy Walks Into a Barbershop

The Q needed a haircut. It's 9pm. Problem? Not in Lefferts! I put on my jacket and walk up the Flabenue to see if Nelson is in (on Parkside just off Flatbush). He's out, stuck in Rockaway. Time to see if the doctor's in. Dr. Cuts, that is. Desmond Romeo is Dr. Cuts, and the new president of the Flatbush Merchant's Association, now known as The Flatbush Empire. He's a great guy, I've talked to him a bit and he always seems upbeat and welcoming, and the Q's always enjoyed looking in through the bright floor-to-ceiling windows and seeing guys laughing and jawing sometimes til well past midnight. As a white guy I figured it was sacred space, meant for Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer but not Clark Kent and Clarkson FlatBed (seen them in the same place at the same time? hmmm?) But my buddy Duane encouraged me to break down the wall and bust in on the yuck-fest at Nelson's, so why not try the Doc? My hair has DEFINITELY not been itself lately. You might say it be illin'

Desmond is a true blue philosopher-barber, who just happens to be heading into dentistry. He's finishing up his coursework now to enter dental school. But don't expect Dr. Cuts to turn into Dr. Teeth. He'll be running both practices, though only one will take insurance. Born in Trinidad, he's been a successful business owner on Flatbush for over a dozen years. He's been able to buy a place in his homeland that his mom lives in (must she be proud!) He's been part of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health's program to share information with men who are often much less likely to visit a doctor once a decade than a barber once a week. It's a brilliant idea when you think about it, and Desmond will launch into a treatise on prostate cancer while cutting your locks, and he'll school you just enough that you'll be heading to his colleague Dr. Jellyfinger for a yearly checkUP. That pic up and to the right is a picture of Romeo speaking at an AAIUH gala.

And if the question on your mind is, can he cut a white guy's hair, I'll let the pictures below be your guide, the first taken earlier this evening at an open mic night and the last taken just moments after returning home:


123 On the PARK

After many, many years of sitting fallow, the once rugged Caledonian Hospital is set to return from the dead like a great Scottish Lion. That is to say, rather than having to become ill or heavy with child to take up room at the Great Inn of Caledonia you can now rent a studio, one, two or even three bedroom apartment for (probably) anywhere from 2 to 3 thousand Simoleons, who knows maybe more. And while literally thousands of Brooklynites breathed their first sweet breath in the building now dubbed 123 on the Park, it was never a beautiful building. But it what it does have in spades is an abundance of front lawn. That lawn, divided from the Castle by a two-way moat named Parkside Avenue, is known to locals as the Park of Prospect, and in the following video from the newly operational website, you can see that it is the SOLE reason at this point to consider buying a condo therein. Take a look:

Nary a word about the building, the laundry room, the price, the size, no floor plans or ceiling plans, nor even closet sizes nor whether there's on-site parking. Just pictures of the front lawn in all its warm weather glory. Makes you wonder if they're renting apartments or campsites.

But I did capture the rendering, poorly, one night a couple months ago, so we do know that the end product will look something thusly, though probably less blurry and reflecty:

Unless the development has been led by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, wrapping the building in, say, Saran wrap, it will likely NOT have a shiny transparent plastic veneer as above. It IS however an 80/20 building in the sense that 80% of the residents will be skinny tall white women (pictured) and the remaining 20% will be set aside for "other." Overweight humans need not apply, but there will be a certain set-aside for fat pets.

There's still room for more building (I haven't investigated what's happening with that - last I heard there was trouble getting permission to build a new second structure), but no politician or power-broker ever expressed any interest in engaging the buyer Chetrit in any way. Where the mere mention of an out-of-context dormer might cause ear-shattering gasps on the Slope side of the park, you could hear the sucking sound as you exit the air lock into outer space as the world basically said "really? they're going to do what with that? are you serious? who? why? okay, whatever" and moved on to talking about the latest culinary "find" along Vanderbilt or Dekalb or Franklin or somewhere in Bed-Stuy. Despite it being one of the most major projects along the second greatest urban park* in the world in decades, 123 has flown pretty much under the radar. This to me a sign of what has long been Flatbush's backwater status, that the building would go from hospital to poorly run medical arts center to abandoned property to luxury apartment building without so much as a whimper from pols or outcry from block associations or community boards or anyone getting up in arms about the trash and graffiti over the last many years. I mean am I overstating it? It's really, really odd.  In a certain way, this building has been a stand-in narrative of what was and is and will be of Brooklyn herself. From its old-world beginnings as an outgrowth of the post-turn-of-last century's gentry's concern for the health of their poor countrymen (the Scots), to its new post-turn-of-this century's concern for the health of the new gentry (the Hips), Caledonian has lived a century of change.

In fairness, this is about as good a turn of events as one could hope in the current environment of, ho hum, laissez faire blah and blah. Roughly 100 years ago folks of means were scrounging together coin to create a hospital for mostly indigent immigrants (check out this wild page from The Caledonian) to build the hospital below, the first structure of which was basically a converted house and eventually the building to be luxury condos as we know her today:

Early in my Brooklyn years a friend was rushed to the E.R. here. Ah, the memories!

*guess which is might be wrong!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Earthquake? Frost Quake? What WAS That Anyway?

Last Thursday and Friday many residents in the vicinity of the 626 Flatbush demolition were freaked the eff out by what felt like a seismic event. I've heard from a number of people near the site that they experienced a crazy rattling of their houses that scared the bejesus out of them. From a neighbor all the way on the other side of Flatbush:

It actually happened on Thursday and Friday. The worst was on Thursday, the 6th. Just before noon there were loud booms sounds that shook the house. They sounded like they were coming from my roof. I would liken it to the sound of very close-by pile-driving. Or as if someone was banging (hard) against the side of the house. Literally, the roof was shaking and vibrating, the cabinet doors to my closet were rattling as did the windows. This went on repeatedly for at least an hour to an hour and a half. I thought that our roof joists were in structural failure and that I should perhaps evacuate my house. I did actually back up the important files I was working on, just in case.

These subsided for the rest of the afternoon until around 5pm when they started again for about a ½ hour. It was during this time that I was talking to my mother-in law who had just read a story it that day’s paper about these strange frost quakes that have been happening in various places around the Midwest and Ontario. It was an AP story that was picked up by many news organizations. The descriptions and weirdness seem to jive as well as the fact that they happen after a rapid dip in temperature. These booms happened again on Friday about 11:45 for about 15 minutes and around 2 pm for a few minutes. My next door neighbor was home on Friday and she felt them also.

Frost quakes? Y'all know what the heck happened? Did you experience this too? Was it related to demolition? And why is there now a Stop Work Order at 626? Please share any and all!

Friday, February 7, 2014

I Lurp, ULURP, We All Lurp For Islip

Folks have been asking what went down at the ULURP (Universal Land Use Review Process) committee mtg this past Wednesday, and well, let's just say it got a bit convoluted and confusing by the end, so much so that I spent some time on Thursday and Friday tracking down folks from the meeting to double-check I got things right, and that the notes to the meeting were logged properly. Now that the dust is settled, I think it's all pretty clear, at least in my mind. It should have been clear to begin with, but the problem is...let me explain as simply and concisely as I can manage, since I'm by no means an expert and have had to ask experts at many steps along the way. And as always Pearl Miles is there to help guide the process along.

As I've been "reporting" here over the past few months, the building at 626 Flatbush has galvanized a sizable portion of Leffertsonians to confront what they see as an unwelcome (literal) development. The 23-story luxury tower (okay, 20% go to affordable housing due to public financing) on a previously six-story only stretch (okay, Patio Gardens being an exception) from Empire on down has struck many as out of context. It mirrors a previous star-crossed development that folks fought a few years back, a similarly-sized glass tower to go on Lincoln Road where the current more modest development is rising next to the Prospect Park Station. The economy killed that one, though the opponents specifically asked City Planning to rezone the area to prevent such future buildings. They said no, they're broke. Okay, we've got all that straight, right?

The reason 626 can build 23 stories is that the zoning, dating from WAY back, allows it. R7-1 they call it. The developer Hudson maxed out its legal ("as of right") options and built as tall as it could on the plot of land that they bought. And what could be wrong with that? Technically nothing. Accept for the fact that they received public financing which required an "environmental review" which should have included a detailed study of the effect of their building on the surrounding area. They clearly didn't do that. AND it's been brought to my attention that they didn't pay attention to other not so minor details, though it may just be technicalities unworthy of lawsuit. Folks are looking into that. Oh, and there IS a lawsuit.

So FAR so good. (that's a little zoning joke by the way, and if you got it, you're ready to slurp up some ULURP baby!)

Now comes the meeting on Wednesday. The group PPEN and others were there to demand immediate change to the zoning. Downzoning in fact, from R7-1 to something more contextual. That process, we learned through Richard Bearak of the Borough President's office, takes time. A good deal of time. And study. And money allocated by the City and affected council members. Enter ULURP process and blah blah blah. So, concurrent with this request, the group is asking (pretty please) for a moratorium on NEW construction that is not contextual. The committee figures the only way that can happen is by Mayoral decree, SO we all figured if you want something from the Mayor you might want to ask the new Borough President Eric Adams to go to bat, since (no offense sir) our council person don't know shit from shinola and certainly doesn't know how to lead on this kind of stuff (where was he, or at least a representative?) nor does he have any clout with anyone in City Hall anyway. (For more fun on him there's this from today. The bit about him is halfway through the column.) Given the fact that PPEN had written a letter asking Adams for the moratorium, and given the fact that he had vociferously voiced dismay at the tower, I figured I'd send him a note asking for a meeting and he politely agreed. A bunch of us are meeting with him sometime next week. Who knows what will come of it, but at least we'll make some noise and ask for attention and maybe even some kind of sanity to the building process. And it'll be nice to see our old friend Eric in his new digs!

Now here's where it gets kinda weird. At this very same meeting came a plea from the head of the Jewish Community Council of Crown Heights, Eli Cohen I believe, representing 60(!) synagogues in the NE quadrant of our Community Board 9 that is known as the international home of Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Hasidim, since that's where its beloved rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson led the sect out of 770 Eastern Parkway. (To those who go or are thinking of going to PS770 The New American Academy, the number was chosen by founder Shimon Waronker for that very reason. Hey, and the DoE gave it to him! What baitsim on that guy!).

What was ironic was that they were asking for UPzoning in their neck of the woods, from R2 and R4 to R6. A lengthy conversation ensued on precisely what this meant, and I've since come to understand that Jewish families living in mostly single and two-family dwellings along blocks like Carroll and Union east of New York Avenue have been trying desperately to add on to existing structures to accommodate bigger and bigger families, but they've not been allowed to do so by strict building enforcement. Mike Cetera, the ULURP committee chair "running" the meeting, explained that all sorts of creative means to maximize livable square footage have been employed, and it's to the point where many houses are practically R6 now by default. I don't know from R6, but I can certainly see the JCC's point. Though it's pretty much the OPPOSITE concern that you hear expressed by landmark districts! The JCC wants to build all manner of up and out to the classy old townhouses, and landmark folk want to keep them as is. It's a funny mixed up world. But like Rodgers and Hammerstein said, the Farmer and the Cowman can be friends. Or the Hassid and the Brownstoner can be friends. O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A Oklahoma. Yow! Or Crown Heights-Lefferts. Oy!

Folks from an area called Dodgertown (SE quadrant, like Winthrop out toward Utica Ave) want to downzone to preserve their cute houses (check 'em out some time) because ugly tall buildings have started to crowd in and they're worried about developers buying up two or three of their houses and putting them up right in the middle of their nifty development. Nostrand Avenue could soon look like a mini-4th Avenue in Park Slope without a downzone. In this hot market, anything is possible, and now, not later, is the time to get this process moving.

If you come to this month's full Community Board meeting, we'll be voting on whether to formally request the moratorium on new construction along Flatbush, and whether to add the JCC's recommendation and PPEN's recommendation to our proposed areas to be studied by the City Planning Commission. Other areas that need to be looked at, now's the time to do it. I'll try to post the newly developed zoning map as soon as possible so you can see where your area stands. But dag nabbit it'll only be for CB9. I wish I had three brains and six legs so I could do CB14 too, but I'm sure Ditmas Park Blog will keep us up to date on all that.


So Long 111 Clarkson

Before it gets torn down to make way for a new apartment building, the Q would like to pay his respects with this lovely photo, sent to me by neighbor Brent. Addio amore mio, sniff sniff...

And for good measure, the interior, circa 1978:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Q's School Tool: Part 9: PS770 New American Academy

What can the Q say? Parents and kids love this school. The teachers get universal raves from parents I've gotten to know from the playground. The principal, Jessica Saranovsky, was one of the first "master teachers" at Shimon Waronker's brave experiment in team-taught 60-kid giant classrooms, and by all accounts she's smart, hands-on, and super-accessible. If you're considering the school for pre-K or kindergarten next year, it's time to get on the ball and go check it out. Just three more open houses before the February 13 public school kindergarten online sign-up deadline. Here are the dates and times at PS 770, otherwise known as The New American Academy:

February 6 at 5:30 pm
February 11 at 10 am
February 13 at 10 am

View Larger Map

If the day's decent, it's a half hour walk, or a 10 minute bike ride from Tugboat, due east. Or take an Empire bus, or the B-12 along Clarkson, or an IRT to Utica and walk down along Lincoln Terrace Park. Think this is too far east for you, in that way that east means trouble? Just wait a couple years. With Utica the next express stop on the 3 and 4 trains, you can already see this is the next area to "pop." I'm told speculators are already buying up buildings, and yes you already see young college grads moving in out there. Lordy lordy, who would've thunk.

If you want to email Principal Saratovsky, here you go.

I've discussed the NAA a bunch in the past, so I kinda feel like I'm treading on old linoleum, but the fact is I've done a fair amount of follow-up with parents to see whether the good news of an actually strong school in District 17 (I know, quite a shock) was actually true. The Q spent a good deal of time talking to founder Waronker, whose Harvard PhD studies led him to the conclusion that the "Prussian Model" of education is too rigid and conformist and that a new "flow" needs to be cultivated. Frankly, he may be stretching the extent of New American's breaking of new ground, but he's clearly a thinker and puts nearly all the emphasis on instruction and supporting it. He's got four teachers in each grade, working together, with the master teacher making a decenter living that your average DOE teacher, via a special arrangement with the union. The team teacher deal is that rather than teaching in isolation, the four get together every morning to plan and assess and divide and conquer (well, divide and facilitate would probably be a better phrase). The school is economically diverse (yes, that's a PLUS silly) and despite being practically to Brownsville the neighborhood is not unlike Flatbush so no need to invest in a suit of armor. School buses are provided for those in district and more than 1/2 mile away.

So what's the downside? Well, for one, it's a young school, and not all the pieces are in place. The PTA is up and running, but money for the extras is tight. I know just how they feel, with my kid doing pre-K at PS705, a school even younger than 770. You really start to realize how much work goes into getting a school to the level of "established." What do you need to do that exactly? Well, you need a great principal, great teachers, a committed parent body, a decent facility, students eager to learn, and at least enough money to keep the ball rolling and retain some talent. Though a lot of times it's the principal who can retain the talent through great leadership and encouragement and support, not just the dough. You need too, in my view, a commitment to the arts and extra-curriculars and after-school, and safety, and a PTA devoted to building community and raising some money. Does 770 have those? You bet.'s a bit of a hike. Yeah, that matters. No parent who's being honest will deny it's heading the WRONG WAY! Even if it's only psychological, we're all oriented towards Manhattan, or at least downtown Brooklyn, and for years the mental calculus was to fear the east. East New York, Brownsville, even East Flatbush, seemed to be where the negative energy was. And yet, a lot of those stereotypes seem just that once you move to central Brooklyn and actually live among real people instead of watching them on the 10 o'clock news.

Look, I'll level with you. I've done my homework and PS92 and PS375 out and out suck. We need new leadership in both of them and the sooner the better. I've got plenty of info to base that on, and anyone who reads this blog knows that our superintendent for district 17 is a piece of work, and has been under investigation (I even got called for questioning.) I'm not going to lie to you...we've got a lot of work to do over here. But between the lefferts charter school, 770, 705, 249 (don't argue with me, it's a great little school and the parents who go there give it raves, it just might not be a gentrifier school...yet) AND  don't forget that tons of folks go to other schools not too far away in other districts that DIDN'T lie about their addresses, and, well, it's not really so bad as all that. 

For those craving details, here's some more on the methodology of NAA:

 1Four Person Teaching Team: P.S 770 teacher teams work with the same 60-65 students within a grade-level cohort. In addition to a Master Teacher, each team includes licensed Special Education and English Second Language (ESL) teachers. Research has shown that four or five person teams provide the optimal balance between too many and too few voices. Teams allow for transparency, positive peer-pressure, multiple perspectives, and a diverse range of skill sets. Team-based models are common across a diverse range of sectors from the military to healthcare, and are being used with great success in schools across Victoria, Australia. Education, particularly in urban neighborhoods challenged by low socio-economic status, is a complex task deserving of the same professionalism that is now standard in other sectors.
2) Looping Cycles: Looping allows for the development of trust and meaningful relationships between students, parents, and their teaching team, and have been proven to improve student learning both nationally and internationally. The relationships developed encourage greater parent involvement, student-to-student interdependence, and allows for targeted and differentiated teaching. Our students loop with their classmates and teaching team for five years, with a constant of at least one teacher each year. Moreover, looping allows the teacher/s on a team to inform new teacher members of students’ learning profiles so that instruction can begin on the first day of school without having to spend weeks to get to know students and acculturate them into the classroom. Looping also provides a powerful and organic accountability system, as each teacher team will ultimately be directly responsible for their students’ scores in the testing grades.

3) Mastery-based Career Ladder: Research has shown that a quality teacher is the greatest single determinant of student academic success. Unfortunately, teacher ability and development is often not recognized or rewarded. A career ladder provides a continuum for teacher growth that is both supported and incentivized. The TNAA four-step career ladder (apprentice, associate, partner, master) is based on demonstrated ability, culminating with the Master Teacher. P.S 770 teachers receive higher salaries than their DOE counterparts with Master Teachers earning $120,000. This attracts and retain quality teachers and ensure that the most talented teachers can remain in the classroom directly supporting student learning.

4) Multi-dimensional Teacher Evaluation System: Good teaching is complex and nuanced. TNAA teacher evaluation system draws upon a diverse range of indicators, including student testing data, peer review, and Danielson-based classroom observations to create a holistic and accurate measure of teacher performance. Our teacher evaluation will allow us to promote and reward those teachers who are effective and to remove those who are not.

5) Lower Teacher/Student Ratio: Each four-person teacher team works with a group of 60-65 students. A 15:1 teacher student ratio has been shown to increase student achievement .3-.45 standard deviation per year in grades K-210 and allows for more personalized attention for every student. By flattening our organizational structure and by redistributing external resources to the classroom we are able to have four fully licensed teachers per team.

6) Embedded Master Teacher: Each four-person team includes a Master Teacher. Earning $120,000, these highly skilled professionals provide support to all students in their classroom and serve as mentors to the three other members of their team. Master Teachers provide minute-to- minute coaching, support, and feedback and ensure best practice and appropriate rigor. Integral members of each team, they are in the classroom all day, every day. In addition to raising the quality of instruction team-wide, an embedded Master Teacher also ensures that inexperienced teachers are never left alone to “sink or swim” at the expense of student learning.

7) Five Week Summer Training Program: Our five-week summer training program begins with a week-long seminar at Harvard. Created in collaboration with Professors’ Barry Jentz, Katherine Boles and Eileen McGowan of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and Professor Baruch Bush of Hofstra University, this seminar goes beyond standard professional development to focus on in-depth communication, reflection, and listening skills. Critical for any team-based environment, these skills enable our teacher-teams to maximize their collective potential and to avoid the interpersonal pitfalls and misunderstandings that often hamper collaborative efforts. These skills are then practiced throughout the next four weeks as teams create their curriculum maps, management systems, and curricula for the school year. Our five-week summer training program forms the foundation for our professional development program that continues throughout the year. While newly formed teams will participate in the entire five-week program, returning teams participate in two weeks of summer training and in an annual school-wide curriculum planning week that takes place at the end of each school year.

8) Six-Step Hiring Process: Effective hiring and retention is the foundation of organizational well- being. The TNAA six step hiring process includes a written application, phone interview, group unit building activity, panel interview, reference checks, and demo lesson. As candidates progress through this process they are observed and assessed by parents, teachers, and administrators. This ensures that the candidates who are selected have been vetted multiple times and are a good fit for the school community.

9) Reflective Practice: Reflection is the key to improvement. We reflect as a community, as teams, and as individuals to improve our practice. In addition to the daily ninety minutes of conference time each day, every team has one and a half hours each week dedicated to group reflection.