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Archive for July, 2009

I had the honour of being invited to attend a forum on the Brian Lehrer show called Dollars and Sense of Blackness in Central Brooklyn yesterday. I didn’t have much to contribute since I”m basically a part-time – if long-term part-time –  resident of New York and Brooklyn and the other people on the panel and in the audience had much more acute, pressing and pointed concerns than I would have done. However it was a good insight into the forces at work in Bed-Stuy and communities like Bed-Stuy and I’ll be commenting on the experience, and those concerns, in the days to come. 

Also, one of my photographs, ‘Girls Jumping Rope in Bed-Stuy’ appears on the website.

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Walking down Nostrand Ave, on a Saturday afternoon . . . 

Saw a black woman cop legging it up the Avenue, running across the street and down Hancock. 

Hancock’s a nice street of old brownstones, maybe some of the nicest in Bed-Stuy, built at a time when Bedord-Stuyvesant was home to Brooklyn’s middle and upper-middle and even upper classes. Anglos, Germans, Jews. A street that stayed middle class, even through the bad bad years in the 80’s and 90’s when Bed-Stuy was synonymous with ghetto. A friend of a friend  lived there for awhile and said there was so much hostility on the sreet from being white, that she had to move. 

Anyway, the black woman cop disappeared down Hancock, running up what looked like an alley halfway up the street. Then came one squad car, then two, sirens on, turning on Hancock, screeching to a halt and three or four white male cops jumping out of their cars and following the woman cop down the alley. 

Then came two more cars, then two more, until the whole bottom of the street was packed with squad cars. A black guy, maybe in his middle fourties, stood on the corner guiding the cars in. 

Then, suddenly, maybe ten more officers were legging it down Nostrand, following the other cops down Hancock into the alley. Big white guys, some of them so fat they could barely run. 

By now, I didn’t care if people yelled at me on the street for being white, I was too curious. I figured there had to have been a shooting or maybe some big robbery. Something. The alley was clear, but soon some cops came out, and ran down Hancock, evidently to block off another exit. An old guy on a stoop was pointing down the alley, showing the cops which direction the culprit had run and behind me, some teenagers were standing in their front yards, “Yo, that old man is ALWAYS finkin’ people out, yo – he’s just a FINK!’. People were out on their stoops all up and down the street, watching the show, but it was relaxed, and no one paid me any attention – in the middle of the melee, a white couple rode by on their bikes. 

Presently, the cops trailed out of the alley, some on their radios, some moving up and down the street to block off the entrances, but mostly they were relaxed, joking with each other. I walked back down Hancox in time to see a few cruisers circling the street. 

A lady came up. She was maybe in her 30’s, well-presented like maybe she worked in an office. She said she lived on the street, that she’d been there five years “and it ain’t the hood no more – it’s much more varied” giving me a pointed look on the last word. I asked her what was going on and she said it had been a kid who snatched someone’s chain. “Don’t even know why he’d want to do it. Not like you get any money for that anymore . . . not like in the 90’s when everyone wore them big gold chains . . . ”

There must have been a dozen squad cars, all for one kid who snatched a chain. Too much. That must have been one scared kid, when all those cops came after him. 

What a change from just threee years ago, when I was mugged on Clifton Place by two kids with a switchblade. It was the last day of school and the cops who came round said there’d been four muggings in their precint in the past hour, that I’d been lucky it had just been a blade because all the others had happened at gunpoint and you could tell they saw the worst of Bed-Stuy, probably the worst of humanity, every day of their working lives. Or fifteen years ago, when I’d been walking down Bedford on one of the random strolls I took in those days, and six kids had swarmed me – and the only thing that had saved me from getting robbed or worse, was the guy who came up and chased them off with a gun. He was a big guy, tough and ghetto hard, and he said he never left home without his gun, things were that bad, that just the week the before he’d been held up by two crackheads and shot one of them dead. “And I’ll shoot the other one too, if I find ‘im – I’m sick of those crazy motherfuckers.” 

No cops would have come then, even if I’d called them. 

So it’s amazing that now, even during the recession, Bed-Stuy, or that section of Bed-Stuy, has become important enough for a dozen squad cars to show up for one kid . . .

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Found this scene the other day, walking down to a friend’s place in Bedford-Stuyvesant . . . 

Girl Jumping in and out of skipping Rope in Bed-stuy

Girl Jumping in and out of skipping Rope in Bed-stuy

 

This was for a special occasion – a block party in the local community garden (for you non-New Yorkers – a block party is the practice of closing off a street for a day, and local people hauling out BBQs, sound systems, sitting on their stoops and hanging around in the street,  having a good time. In extreme cases they bring in entertainment, but more usually it’s just one street. You see it in some white neighborhoods, but mostly it’s a black thing. Why don’t we do this in Canada?)

   I don’t recall seeing little girls skipping ropes in white neighborhoods for many years, either in New York or Canada or Britain, but it’s a common enough sight in black neighborhoods, where little girls hold the rope and chant while someone jumps in and out. I remember it happening as a kid, but I don’t see it now. One of the many traditions us white folk are losing or have lost, and a sense of community and togetherness that, for all their problems, remains in black communities. 

And hey, it wasn’t just for the kids: 

Woman Skipping Rope

Woman Skipping Rope

 how about you readers, do you see kids skipping rope in your neighborhoods? Do you remember seeing kids playing skipping rope games when you were a kid? Did you skip rope yourself?

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Back to the old sod . . . 

Recession or not, Ratner Atlantic Yards project on hold or not, development continues apace. Downtown Brooklyn has not just one but several new condos/ office towers, including this one here, which must rate as one of the most hideous condo/ office towers I’ve seen in quite some time. Like a combination  roadside motel/ battleship . .. 

Condo/ office tower on flatbush ave.

Condo/ office tower on flatbush ave.

And in my old neighborhood, Fort Greene, another huge complex, which I’m sure will change the character of DeKalb for good, 80 DeKalb: 

80 Dekalb

80 Dekalb

Not to mention another tower going up around the corner from a deserted patch of Willoughby Street, courtesy of Land-Lease, the Aussie development company now in negotiation with London’s Southwark Council to ‘regenerate’ the Elephant and Castle in what will be the largest such scheme in all of Europe: 

Lend Lease Tower

Lend Lease Tower

Let’s face it. Downtown Brooklyn is a short subway/ bike/ car ride from lower Manhattan. People with families don’t want to live in Manhattan. Downtown Brooklyn, and the areas around downtown Brooklyn, are just going to get more and more expensive. The recession hasn’t slowed development any – even out in Bed-Stuy the condos are still going up. Two huge towers on Greene Ave, one ten or twelve stories high, the other four or five but covering half a city block. When these are filled, Bed-Stuy, or that corner of Bed-Stuy, will become a crowded place. 

The place to rent, I hear, is no longer Brooklyn, but parts of Manhattan like the Upper East Side, or even Chelsea . . .

But the recession has slowed development somewhat. The above-mentioned Atlantic Yards which, if it ever goes through, will make most of central Brooklyn unrecognizable. But also on Willoughby, around the corner from the Land Lease tower, is two blocks of total desolation.  Seems a development company called United American Land booted out the thirty merchants from Willoughy, Duffield and Bridge streets to build a $208 million dollar commercial and residential complex. But the recession kicked in, and the project is on hold. 

In the meantime, the company struck a deal with the Metrotech Business Improvement District and art-hoc an arts organization. to create Willoughby Windows, art installations in a dozen of the abandoned storefronts. From the Daily News: ‘Artwork Helps Brighten Gloomy Brooklyn street as construction stalls”

Storefront by Cycle

Storefront by Cycle

 

 

Wiiloughby Windows

Wiiloughby Windows

 

 

Kind of cool and everything, but but on the two afternoons I went down, one weekday, the other weekend, the street was pretty much empty. And anyway, what does this art really mean, when it’s sponsored by the very development company that is responsible for evicting the small businesspeople who kept the area alive? 

As always, artists and development/ gentrification are inextricably, inexplicably and inevitably linked . . .whether they want to be or not.

 

Close up - Cycle

Close up - Cycle

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