Fall (unofficially) is here and depending on where you live in the borough, people are talking about the possible closing of Long Island College Hospital downtown, the Bay Ridge ferry, the Red Hook art scene, voter registration in Fort Greene, waterfront development in Greenpoint and ongoing post-Sandy reconstruction in Coney Island.
Interested in how Brooklyn’s summer ended? Read on.
The Metropolitan Water Alliance, a coalition that promotes ecological well-being and transportation in New York City’s waterways, is hoping that Bay Ridge commuters displaced by yearlong renovations on the R train will take advantage of a $2 ferry service between the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Bay Ridge and Lower and Midtown Manhattan.
“Fifteen minutes to Wall Street? That’s pretty incredible,” said Harrison Peck, a program manager at the Metropolitan Water Alliance.
Peck has been working with local community officials, including District Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), to lobby for the ferry service and to make sure the neighborhood knew it was coming. The service will be disrupted to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Though the current fare is enticing some commuters, he worries that possible price hikes—and winter weather—could deter riders from stepping aboard each morning and evening.
“Service has been extended to January 31 at a minimum, so we’ll see what happens with a new mayor,” Peck said.
Roland Lewis, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Water Alliance, is hopeful that, with time, more commuters will take advantage of the service.
“I think there is a very strong market for quicker transportation to downtown,” he said.
The shooting death of 1-year-old Antiq Hennis in Brownsville on Sunday came as a shock, even to a community that’s numbingly accustomed to violence. In a year that has seen the neighborhood’s murder rate improve considerably — Brownsville has historically been among the most dangerous sections of New York City — it was a horrific close to the summer.
Maybe inevitably, Antiq’s death quickly took on political overtones. Bill Thompson, a mayoral candidate in an increasingly heated Democratic primary, visited with the family on Monday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Daily News that the toddler’s death should underscore the need for the city’s controversial stop and frisk program and more stringent gun laws. Not to be outdone, Christine Quinn, also up for her party’s nomination, told the paper that Antiq’s death doesn’t make the case for more aggressive policing, but for “community-based efforts fighting retaliatory violence.” Another candidate, Bill DiBlasio, took a similar view.
Brownsville has been among the neighborhoods most impacted by the stop and frisk program, which suffered major setbacks in recent weeks, and has earned almost universal condemnation from this year’s crop of Democratic candidates. After a federal court ruling found that some aspects of the NYPD’s approach were unconstitutional, the City Council, over Bloomberg’s strenuous objections, passed measures designed to reign in the police. The administration is appealing the former, and intends to sue the latter.
And feelings in Brownsville are mixed. Many condemn the humiliation and fear engendered by a police force that they say is willing to detain and search nearly anyone with the thinnest of justification. Others just want something to be done.
Antiq’s was the eighth killing in the 73rd Precinct this year, down from fourteen in 2012. (Before the boy’s death, the 73rd was reporting a 50 percent drop in the murder rate from last year; that figure is now 43 percent, an illustration of the volatility of such numbers in this relatively small, close knit community of about 80,000 people.)
According to the NYPD, there were 760 stop and frisk encounters in Brownsville between January and March; a slight uptick from the last quarter of 2012, but down more than half from 2011, in keeping with a citywide reduction. The latest measures restricting the NYPD’s methods are expected to push that number lower. And as a relatively quiet summer comes to a close with a terrible jolt, many in Brownsville are wondering what the future holds.
Residents of Bushwick may well be getting a new neighbor: Read Property Group, LLC.
The company is seeking rezoning from manufacturing to residential for just over four blocks – including parts of Evergreen Avenue, Melrose Street, and Bushwick Avenue. Read is hoping to build 977 rental units, 24 percent of which will be designated for affordable housing.
Mitch Korbey, a Read representative, last night tried to assure Bushwick residents that the project “won’t be too big or out of context with the community.”
But in a tense community meeting in the auditorium of P.S. 120, residents voiced their concerns over, among other issues, the percentage of affordable housing units, parking and air pollution.
“Why was I not reached out to?” asked Liza Caraballo, the school’s principal. “I would have had this auditorium full.”
Community member Anthony Govina is also wary of the project. “It should be about the people in the community first,” he said. “And we need to make sure that we have everything in writing.”
The project, which has been in the works for four years, had been approved by Community Board 4. Still, District Manager Nadine Whitted said, “I would like to see the number of affordable housing units increased from 24 percent.”
In Coney Island, Maggie Lebron, director of Reaching Out Ministries, is organizing a three-day crash course this month in basic home construction for those still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. So far, over 40 people have signed up to take the course, which will teach skills in framing, dry-wall installation, flooring and painting.
It has been almost one year since Hurricane Sandy tore through Coney Island, although walking through the amusement park area of the neighborhood, there are few signs that it was hit at all. But Eric Levy of the Astella Development Corporation explained, “as far as the residential end goes, still a lot of problems.” Mermaid Avenue, one of Coney Island’s main commercial areas, he added, was “totally destroyed,” and according to his estimate, has a vacancy rate of over 10 percent. Similarly, many families and individuals remain displaced, unable to afford home repairs.
Until only a few weeks ago, Lebron and her family lived in a third-floor room in their local church because Sandy destroyed their house.
“I was lucky to have flood insurance and a husband who is a contractor,” she said. “But not all families have those resources.” She knows of families who live only in the upstairs portion of their house because they cannot afford to repair the ground floor; “they make make-shift kitchens in a corner.” She also knows of families living in damaged or hazardous apartments on the first floor of many high-rise public housing buildings. And she worries a lot about the undocumented immigrants in her community, of which, she estimates, there are around 400.
Lebron added that many live illegally in poorly ventilated basement apartments. Many of these residents and their landlords are afraid of the legal ramifications of publicly asking for help. But “we’re all in the same shoes whether or not we have citizenship,” Lebron said. So she is reaching out to these landlords.
The class is currently scheduled to begin Monday September 9th, although Lebron is hoping to push it back until Monday September 16th because she knows the first week of school is a busy time for most parents.
The West Indian Parade on Labor Day may mark the end of summer in Crown Heights, but the people who make it happen will not be resting this fall. In fact, less than 24 hours since Eastern Parkway was cleared, those behind Brooklyn’s Carnival were spending the day preparing for next year’s event.
Natasha Andrews, of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, helped organize the concerts behind the Brooklyn Museum this year. “I’m working now as we speak,” she said. “The office is open.” Andrews spends the year trying to find bands to represent each Caribbean nation.
Thomas Bailey, the association’s president, said he has little time to revel in the parade’s success. “Today we started 2014, even though we are not done 2013 yet,” he said. “We have a lot of things to do.”
Kenneth Antoine, the leader of one of the large, costumed dance groups, called a “band,” is also thinking about next year. Being a bandleader is “just part time business,” Antoine said, but it’s still a lot of work. As a bandleader, he will spend time this fall coordinating meetings with the police department, making arrangements for a truck and music for his group, and supervising committees that oversee costuming and fee collection.
Michelle Gibbs, who does marketing and press relations with the association, said she, too, will spend this week “getting ready for next year. Clear the books, take care of what needs to be taken care of, then we start marketing for next year in the next two to three days.”
The parade provides a huge boost to the local economy, making “a lot of money for businesses, but not a penny for us,” said Jean Alexander, a member of the association’s board. “But they expect to have a parade next year.” She works on raising funds to cover the costs of the parade’s insurance, which can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I have to do that a little earlier, because we’ve been told by most operations that for a sponsorship, we have to give them a package in September,” she said. “So that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow.”
Over two million people attended this year’s parade, including 10,000-12,000 people in the bands alone, said Alexander.
“The parade never ends for us,” she said. “We never have a lull.”
Downtown Brooklyn is waiting to see if it will lose Long Island College Hospital.
SUNY Downstate Medical Center, LICH’s owner, has been trying to shut the hospital down since February.
Local residents are pushing back.
They received some relief on August 16 when Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes ordered SUNY Downstate to “restore staffing and services which were available as of July 19.” These include an emergency department, intensive care unit, as well as laboratory, radiology, social work and pharmacy services.
The hospital claims that SUNY Downstate has left it understaffed and therefore not in compliance with the judge’s orders. Meanwhile, the hospital’s fate remains in limbo.
Dumbo is a hot property these days, characterized by old warehouses converted to tech hubs and theaters, eclectic events and hangouts and sky-high rents. It may come as little surprise, then, that the festivities that marked summer continue well into the fall in this neighborhood.
Justin Levine, the events coordinator at PowerHouse Arena Bookstore says several creative events are scheduled in Dumbo the coming weeks; the bookstore itself hosts three to four readings a week this month. “People are willing to attend the events in Dumbo spite of the commute,” he says.
In the last week of September, the neighborhood will host the 17th Annual Dumbo Arts Festival. Set against the waterfront and the Manhattan skyline, the three day long festival will feature more than 300 artists in the fields of visual arts, music and literature.
Kristin LaBuz, Director of Marketing and Events for the Dumbo Improvement District, said efforts to use art to improve public spaces in Dumbo are underway—a mural project at the corner of Adam and York streets, for example. Dumbo is a designated Historic District, and LaBuz emphasizes that renovations must always attempt to preserve the district’s history. For instance, in modernizing the streets, the cobblestone surfacing is preserved for its historic charm. “There’s a lot of stickiness in Dumbo,” she says, “People are motivated to engage with and improve the community, as there is a return on the investment.”
The Flatbush Nostrand Junction District is welcoming the fall with a facelift. Thanks to a $4.5 million grant from the City of New York and the Economic Development Corporation, the district is fixing up its sidewalks, installing benches, planting trees and replacing all light poles. The project will be completed by the end of September, according to Michelle McClymont, Executive Director of the Flatbush Nostrand Junction Business Improvement District—the organization spearheading the beautification.
In addition, some local businesses are participating in a storefront revitalization project. Eligible businesses will receive up to $5,000 to help fund facade painting, and new signage, awnings or security gates. The point, she says, is to boost the local economy and create “safer and more attractive streets.”
Chris Chrico, who has worked at Flatbush’s iconic Lords Bakery for the past 17 years, is happy with the plan. “Things are getting much better,” he says. “They are planting trees, building sidewalks and cleaning up the streets. This is bringing in larger businesses which attract more customers for all of us.”
-José Luis Muñoz
In Fort Greene, the race is on to get out the vote in a district where turnout is historically low.
Families United For Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) has been holding voter registration drives and sponsored candidate forums. Lucas Shapiro, an organizer at FUREE, said the organization has registered several hundred voters this summer.
Shapiro connects the low turnout to disillusionment among residents in the neighborhood’s public housing projects. “A lot of public housing residents are used to hearing candidates make promises, or NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) make promises about sweeping changes that are going to change their lives, and often that doesn’t come to fruition,” he said. “I can understand why people are cynical about the promises that are often made about their communities.”
A 2012 study by the New York Campaign Finance Board found that the 2009 mayoral election saw the lowest turnout across the city since 1969, with 29 percent of the 4.1 million registered voters casting ballots. In the area FUREE focuses on, about 24 percent of registered voters cast a vote.
If you are looking for something interesting to see in Gowanus, you just might want to slow down when driving past Douglas Street on 3rd Avenue, slow enough to see the big banner with the words Boycott the Marriott, which is draped around the Gowanus Arts building—directly across from the 17-story Marriott hotel.
The people of the Arts building are letting their walls speak for them in an ongoing dispute with their hotel neighbor, through an open contest for murals. A lawsuit was the only other option “and we don’t have the money for that,” explains Elise Long, who is co-owner of the building and the director of Spoke the Hub Dancing, one of several creative enterprises that the building houses. “So we were considering how else we could fight back and decided—‘let’s do what we do best; let’s have some fun and do some artwork,’” she says.
According to Long, the dispute started back in 2011 when the construction of the new Marriott franchise, Fairfield Inn & Suites, damaged the walls of the Arts Building. Long explains that the manager of the hotel approached them, offering to pay for the repairs and proposed the painting of murals that they would agree upon together. “I loved the idea,” says Long.
But things fell apart, over issues such as insurance and timing, and according to Long, the Arts Building has had to pay for the repairs out of its own pockets. This laid the grounds for a sour relationship, she said, which has since included noise complaints and letters from lawyers from the hotel, the Arts Building’s banner and now the mural contest. The Brooklyn Ink attempted to reach officials from Marriott International and their franchise in Gowanus, but they did not respond before deadline.
So the mural contest proceeds: Anyone can submit an idea by downloading a template on Spoke the Hub’s website, where creative and humorous takes on the conflict are more than welcome, because, as Elise Long puts it “This is the Gowanus, it’s a fun neighborhood and we think the mural should reflect that.” A Kickstarter campaign will be launched soon to help pay for the project.
David Webb has suggested using classical protest art and explains the thoughts behind his submission: “We take 3 famous paintings or photographs from Art History 101 that deal with destructive power and greed and blow the images up on the 3 sides of the building. Let the images speak for themselves.” Another submission suggests painting giant bed bugs on the walls—a proposal which has prompted a recent letter from the Marriott lawyers, according to Long. Long hopes to have the winning image determined by early October and then, start painting.
-Lene Bech Sillesen
In Greenpoint, debate continues on the shape, size and details of two massive development projects.
The projects, 77 Commercial Street and Greenpoint Landing, are both part of the 2005 Waterfront Rezoning Project. Community Board 1 member and Land Use Chair Del Teague says a major point of concern is the projects’ affordable housing offerings. While affordable housing units exist in the current plan, her committee report states they are not of a “wide enough range” to serve a broad enough population. Teague said the result will mean that “the housing needs of the people who worked so hard to make Greenpoint what it is today won’t be met.” This, she added, will lead to the displacement of long-time residents.
While Teague so far has only anecdotal evidence of the displacement, Kurt Hill of People’s Firehouse Inc., a North Brooklyn social service organization, has been applying for grants to study the number of displacements caused by the rezoning to make way for the projects
Prospect Lefferts Gardens
When teenage boys at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Prospect Lefferts Gardens return to school next week, they may well find themselves dancing.
More than most schools, Evers is determined to add boys to the ranks of its dancers. “You might get 20 or 30 boys in dance classes at a public school,” said teacher Valerie Mcleod-Katz. By contrast, she estimates that 100 boys and 160 girls are in dance classes at Evers.
The tradition of attracting male students, she says, began in 1990, when she grappled with an especially unruly group of 13 students, 12 of whom were boys. “They were bouncing off the walls,” she said. “So I started giving them push ups, sit-ups, dance moves and stuff to do.”
Today, Vladimir Cupidore, a senior, says his life changed when he started taking dance classes as a freshman. “Because I have that medium, I’m always good,” he said. “You’ll never catch me not smiling once I’m dancing. Once my leg rises, lifts off the ground, I’m good.”
Fall means the opening of Red Hook’s art scene.
The season at Pioneer Works, Red Hook’s self-proclaimed “center for art and innovation” at 159 Pioneer St., opens on September 14th with a group exhibition, Amor Fati, a Dionysian construction that, according to the center’s website will “expose the many iterations of irrational human folly, destructive debauchery, primal intuition, ecstatic revelry, reckless exploit and sacrifice.” Also this month at the center is Rodrigo Hernandez’s performance “I Want to Become Tarzan Before Sunset.”
Meanwhile, down the block at 111 Pioneer St., Amorphic Robot Works will open with Chris MacMurtrie’s “Robotic Church” – moving robots made from recycled items; “art with movement,” says publicist Anica Archip. The exhibit is more in the spirit of a workshop; the robots will be made by children, working with MacMurtrie. MacMurtrie will be appearing next month in a performance titled “Chrysalis” with his robots at Pioneer Works.
Bush Terminal Pier Park opens in October.
But, it remains to be seen how many people will make the trek to use it.
The $38.5 million park, designed to transform an industrial waterfront into green parkland, was first proposed in 2007 but was delayed by the financial crisis.
The hope is that, by adding an amenity, the neighborhood will attract investment.
Organizations such as the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation hope to push more new local projects forward.
“What we’re seeing now is a lot of trends around the innovation economy,” said David Meade, the corporations’s executive director. Former factories are being transformed into new retail spaces such as Industry City to house 3D printing companies, caterers and artists alike.
Local officials see the park as a remedy to the neighborhood’s paucity of green space. While much of Brooklyn’s waterfront has been rezoned for housing, Sunset Park fought to maintain a mix of industrial and parkland use.
“We have a very low amount of parkland per capita, and it’s also going to be the very first park amenity on the waterfront,” said Jeremy Laufer, Community Board 7 District Manager.
But, the location of the park could pose a challenge. Sunset Park’s waterfront sits at the edge of an industrial zone, which means that local residents will have to make a three-block walk to reach the park.