The Q at Parkside

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

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts. 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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tenant Profiles In "Brownstone" Brooklyn

There are so many rich things to discuss in this report on the characteristics of renters in Brooklyn that I hesitate to open the worm-can. First, props are due to Ideal Properties for providing this in depth analysis. The purpose here is obvious - to encourage a robust rental market to keep up the heat. This is, of course, in Ideal's best interest and I take no issue.

The opening statement from Aleksandra Scepanovic lays out the framework. Note the phrase "Brownstone Brooklyn" and the fact that incoming tenant traffic is at "rates higher than ever before." I'll come back to that. And of course, I'm happy to see that a rebounding tech and media landscape have brought more jobs to our fair city. Her forward:
With national retailers courting Brownstone Brooklyn, and New York City making a sharp turn from a “Silicon Alley” to one of the nation’s prime tech hubs, the area’s rental markets absorb the incoming tenant traffic at monthly rates higher than ever before. And while the maturing of Brownstone Brooklyn’s rental landscape attracts a mixture of young, either creatively or technically savvy individuals, most tenants respond to the rising prices by opting to rent with friends or family members.

Park Slope and Williamsburg reign supreme as top rental destinations. Brownstone Brooklyn is also attracting tenants from out of state and from out of the country, further solidifying the reality those of us who live here witness daily: Brownstone Brooklyn is becoming one of the most exciting
boroughs of New York.

Aleksandra Scepanovic
Managing Director | Ideal Properties Group

Someone told me the other day that I'm "obsessed" with race. To which I replied "what makes you say that, white boy?" But what I find so interesting about this kind of report is how it leaves out the issue of race altogether.  With all the nosy demographic information contained in this report, why no mention of race or ethnicity? They even mention international origin in one graph, with fully 10% of new renters in "Brownstone Brooklyn" being internationals, presumably not mostly what we typically refer to as "immigrants."

And why not remain blithely unaware of racial realities? We're already discussing the mythological "borough" of Brownstone Brooklyn (that's what Scepanovic calls it - a borough - slip of keyboard?). Brownstone Brooklyn, as we find late in the report, consists of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Clinton Hill, Cobble Hill, Columbia Waterfront District, Downtown, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Red Hook, Vinegar Hill, and Windsor Terrace. The irony, of course, is that there are way more brownstones in Lefferts and Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights and East New York than in Red Hook, DUMBO, Gowanus and the creepy sounding "Columbia Waterfront District." But clearly Brownstone Brooklyn is a stand-in for something else entirely.

The defining face of these neighborhoods is the "sort" of people who find these places desirable and can actually afford to rent there, meaning lots of upper middle class young folks (look at the charts - even their parents' incomes get mentioned in the section on guarantors, showing how many grew up in comfortable households) who are, as most upper middle class young folks in this country are, mostly white and/or coming from nice universities. Like contemporary art I can't say what this demo "IS" precisely, but I know it when I see it, and you probably do too. It's not necessarily white, and it's not necessarily elite educated. And it's maybe artsy and maybe simply professional. IT most definitely owns a Mac. The word hipster is too unnecessarily derogatory in my opinion. My current verbose definition (see above) is more to my taste, though I'm clearly teetering along some strange line of my own creation that's probably not necessary anyway, because I've probably not lost anyone who is reading this blog, at least not until this unwieldy sentence.

Since, as David Gates of Bread is quick to point out in his gorgeous "If" - a picture paints a thousand words - so too I'll let this classic from the much-missed Stay Free do the do:

What we learn about "Brownstone Brooklyn" in the Ideal report is that it is becoming younger, richer, with more folks shacking up together to afford rent. Some will note that this report doesn't really discuss the buyers, who are increasingly paying super-top dollar for the pleasure of calling Brooklyn home. We do learn however that fewer and fewer folks are coming from Manhattan, and many more people are moving to Brooklyn as their first choice in NYC, from all over. I don't think that the buying crowd is the one that's really remaking the borough - we're too busy raising brats and panicking over schools to bake artisanal pretzels. But as I've noted many times before, the current building fever is primarily about rentals, studios and one-bedrooms, meant for young people in their urban experiment phase. This report documents the neighborhoods where such young people are able to use their guarantor AND make enough dough to essentially choose their surroundings and those they want to see at the subway station. So it stands to reason that folks renting further and further east are doing so to chase the lower rents, which is causing rents to rise, etc. etc. etc. Thus, the new faces at the Q at Parkside platform. And thus the dilemma for longtime Flatbushians, who are now experience at warp speed the changes that have been working their west since Jane Jacobs stuck her nose into the business of one Greenwich Village more than 50 years ago now.

It is, of course, inconvenient and probably illegal to note in such a report as this that the areas further east are becoming less and less black. A stand-in term for these areas, replete with all the tact of the phrase "white trash," is "ghetto," since the type of blackness we would be talking about is not Barack Obama and his enviable family. When I first moved here a guy on the street asked me what I was doing in "the ghetto." I suspect longtimers will take issue with the term, for any number of reasons, but his message was crystal clear. It was like a brag and a reproach at the same time. I also recall a plumber remarking on how nice and safe our neighborhood was, relative to East New York where he was living. It's enough to make your head spin sometimes, 720 degrees at the neck. (And let's face it, you have to be inadvisably sure of yourself and who you are to even delve into this stuff in print. Because at some point you're going to put your foot so far into your mouth you'll swallow a toe. Or at the very least never be able to run for public office.)

If the building boom leads to a new and permanent younger, wealthier, whiter borough, then it is this crowd that will define Brooklyn's next 50 years. If, however, a major event or crisis drives these renters away (say free tapas at happy hours in the Bronx, or a terrorist attack), then we will be left with a glut of apartment buildings and perhaps, finally, some relief for the would-be renter of moderate means trying just to stay in the City for longer than a New York minute.

And who knows, maybe those cookie cutter pop-up buildings will have retro charm by then.

The Tragic History at 109 Winthrop

The Q moved into Lefferts in 2003, so I hadn't heard of the terrible story at the corner of Winthrop and Bedford, the vacant lot I mentioned in the last post. The parcel was apparently sold in January, so we should expect an apartment building of some sort.

But the events of January back in 2001 are retold in a NY Daily News piece:

With flames licking at his feet, Sammy Williams was forced to make a terrible choice yesterday. Intense smoke and fire were forcing him off the porch roof of a Brooklyn house, where he stood with his 81-year-old mother, Ezerlene Armstrong. His screams for help were going unanswered - but he didn't want to throw his mother off the roof because that, the 46-year-old Flatbush truck driver believed, "would kill her automatically."
So Williams left his mother and jumped. He landed safely on the roof of a nearby car. But the flames thwarted firefighters' rescue efforts, and, tragically, Armstrong and Stephanie Livingston, Williams' 35-year-old fiancee, perished in the early morning blaze. "I've lost my baby," Williams sobbed. Investigators said the blaze broke out about 5:30 a.m. on the porch of the three-story house at 109 Winthrop St. and quickly spread to two alarms. Passersby alerted the occupants that the building was burning. Livingston died a heroine, investigators said, after running upstairs to rouse a boarder, who was rescued by firefighters with only seconds to spare. As fire engulfed the building, Livingston dashed up to the third floor and banged on tenant Samuel Hill's door. "We've got a serious fire here!" she screamed. "As soon as I opened the door, I felt the heat from the fire; the smoke was just overwhelming," said Hill, 54. He handed her one of three flashlights he kept by his bed and took another for himself. "You can't go back down!" Hill shouted. "The smoke is so intense.

" It was so thick, he remembered, he could only make out her hand. "She said to me, her last words were: 'I've got to try to go back down. "I never saw her again," Hill said. Hill barricaded himself in the kitchen, then kicked out a window screen and climbed out onto a ledge. He waved his flashlight urgently at an approaching fire truck. "You better hurry!" he yelled. Firefighter Joe Scarazzino climbed the truck's ladder and rescued Hill. "About 30 seconds later, the fire shattered all the windows, and that would have been it," said Firefighter Carlos Font. Deputy Chief Charles Blaich said investigators believe the fire started beneath a small freezer on the porch. The freezer had been sitting on an extension cord, probably for years, and over time the cord's wiring was exposed, sparking an electrical short, he explained. Later, Williams was asked why his fiancee would have risked going back down the smoke-filled staircase. "I guess she was just worried about me," he replied.

On the Way In To Work

Can't help but notice, after years of neglect, that the vacant lot at the NE corner of Bedford and Winthrop has been cleared. For what? Perhaps some of you lot-hounds can sniff it out?

And then on the other side of the coin, I'm surprised, shocked and dismayed but the horrible dump-like conditions of Flatbush along the Botanic Garden. My understanding of the law is that this is the property-owner's responsibility. And now that the BBG has closed down our beloved entrance at Empire, I'd surely hope they had the personnel to go out and pick up the dirty diapers and plastic bags. This picture hardly does justice to the enormity of the problem:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Kindergarten Freak Out - Lefferts Style

The notices went out. Some parents are pulling out their hair right now, some swiftly planning their panicked move to Sweden or Paraguay or Paramus.

Never fear. When the dust settles in September most of us will have found a place where we're comfortable, and our kids will be the ones leading us back towards sanity. In the meantime, I reached out to Shelley  Kramer about doing a Kindergarten Summit at Play Kids. We should set something up in the next week for parents feeling like the above lady. I can try to bring an expert to answer Q's.

Will let you know. In the meantime, don't fret. Folks always find a place eventually, though I know if you only got an invitation to Jackie Robinson you're probably feeling a bit loopy.

Green Roof Tops Neighor's House

You've heard of green roofs. Or "rooves" as I believe the plural ought to is. Did you know that a neighbor on Midwood between Rogers and Nostrand put one in herself, with a little help from her friends, and lived to tell the tale? Read the whole story on Lory Henning's blog. Perhaps if she allows camping up there and rents out the campground we might suddenly find some "studios" available in the neighborhood for less than $1,000 a month!

Some of the photos borrowed below:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hello All Renters - It's Al Jazeera Calling

A producer from Al Jazeera is doing a piece on the rent crunch in the U.S. Many of you I'm sure saw the NY Times piece on rents rising beyond middle class incomes?

Al Jazeera, of course, is the Qatar based news agency that has grown substantially into a worldwide powerhouse.  Most of us became aware of the network when it covered the aftermath of 9/11 and the Afghan and Iraq wars waged by the U.S. They often provided a counterbalance to pro-Western accounts. To its credit, the government owned Al Jazeera often surprised folks by going out of its way to produce "fair and balanced" reports, not always of course. But then even our own "fair and balanced" network doesn't always adhere to its dictates either.

The irony of course is that just a few months ago I posted my allegory of a mostly white middle-class neighborhood (Lefferts of the future) being overtaken by Qataris in search of cheaper rent near the Park - The Qatarification Quandary. The combination of these two thangs has made me think, in toto, of Qatar 100 times more than I ever had before, though I've always been fond of the Arab country's spelling, though of course it's no use in the traditional rules of Scrabble. On a semi-non-related note, I've always been annoyed by the use of the phrase in toto, when a nearly exact same sounding English phrase, in total, can be used. Sometimes, I guess, it pays to sound haughty.

Lori Gordon is the producer's name. If you or someone you know would be willing to speak to her for her piece on the rental crisis, please email me and I'll make the introduction. 

71st Precinct Newsletter - Let's Get Rid of Graffiti!

From Vinnie and the 71st. I reordered it so you can see the graffiti part first.

Please, if you see graffiti you want removed, email Richard Silverstein of Community Affairs. The City is offering us a great deal...take a picture and tell them exactly where it is, they'll deal with it. We need your help to get rid of the nasty writing on the wall and gates!


Best Regards From Your Council Leader

PLGNA General Meeting - All Welcome - April 28

A few years ago, five or so I believe, a group of your neighbors worked together to revive a 40-year old neighborhood association, pronounced PLeGNA. Anyone can be a member - I think I paid a $5 lifetime membership at some point, but that's not the point. A Board was elected and the group set out to address problems and set solutions in motion. Come to the general meeting on Monday, April 28 to hear what PLGNA's been up to, learn more about neighborhood organizing efforts, and elect new Board members. Your participation is what makes groups like this thrive and become more adept at representing your views on the City's many influential stages. This is a town where groups like PLGNA can wield great influence, when properly managed and supported. In a City this size, it's hard for individual voices to break through the static. A strong neighborhood org can get a seat at every important table. And various committees are busy addressing things that you may have an interest in. The meeting is open to all:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Way To Ruin A Perfectly Bad Paint Job

Someone decided to whip out their sharpie and give commuters at the Q at Parkside some harsh morning medicine. The following statements are not the mottos of a movement, so I would take them with a grain of salt. To the easily rattled I would say that our neighborhood is, as we've learned, the most densely populated in the borough, and the actions of any one person don't a movement make. And yet, you can't help but note the timing. Part of me wanted to ignore it on the blog, which of course is what's really warranted. But, for the sake of the history books, here's the gallery:

I don't mean to make light. But the double exclamations mean this one actually emphatically states that white people ARE allowed.

If I had to pick one this would be my favorite.