It was difficult to ignore the fluttering signs at last week’s Bushwick Community Plan meeting. Sure, they were black-and-white, only about as big as two sheets of computer paper and just as flimsy, but there were tons of them. As City Council members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal touted their community-driven alternative to developer-led change, almost everyone sitting in front of them seemed to be holding a flyer reading: “EVICT THE RICH.” The rallying cry may have been more Mao Tse-tung than #BushwickBerners, but the Brooklyn Solidarity Network (BSN) couldn’t have been more serious.
“We’re here to make sure we give the people the opportunity to make a decision on what their neighborhood’s going to look like in the future,” City Council member Antonio Reynoso told the crowd at a Monday meeting at Ridgewood Bushwick Youth Center. Among the areas of concern: population growth, demographic shifts, the loss of affordable housing, an influx of luxury housing, private interests, and businesses that cater toward the moneyed. In other words, gentrification.
Thomas Roma, the author of In the Vale of Cashmere, is featured in the first iteration of a new video series spotlighting photographers and their work produced by the Steven Kasher Gallery, where Roma’s accompanying exhibition runs through December 23. The photographer, a Brooklyn native and founder of Columbia University’s photography program, has spent the last few decades of his career documenting Brooklyn with an inexhaustible passion for the people who make the borough such a diverse and fascinating place.
When Joshua Alvarado drops his son off at Public School 16 in the mornings, he often notices busy construction activity at the brick row houses on Wilson Street, across from the school. But he’s never expecting what happened this morning. At 9:15 a.m. firefighters rushed to the scene of a construction disaster at 146 Wilson Street on Williamsburg’s south side. After an illegal excavation project went wrong, the basement-level collapsed, injuring three construction workers.
A controversial new luxury building is trying to attract foreigners to the Lower East Side — but not the type of immigrants the neighborhood is used to. We’re talking about the well-heeled jet set. Yes, that’s literally a Gucci bag in one of the renderings for Extell Development’s skyscraper at 252 South Street.
The company has quietly released a brochure, meant to appeal to foreign investors, that outlines the outlandish amenities inside of what opponents say amounts to an 80-story gated community.
Karen Platt has been channeling her frustrations through the satisfying scrape of chalk across concrete. After years of living with dust, noise, and health hazards caused by construction, repeated and seemingly relentless service cut-offs, and what she says are intentional moves by her landlord to clear her (and other rent-regulated tenants like her) out of her longtime home at 522 East 5th Street in the East Village, Platt’s sidewalk messages reveal she has reached a breaking point: “Lack of services is harassment” and “Enough is Enough.”
As Platt explained to B+B, since Icon Realty Management bought her building, things took a turn for the miserable. “I’ve lived in New York my whole life and I’ve never, ever been treated like this,” she said.
Like many Brooklynites, Prospect Park is my go-to, but the awesomely named Vale of Cashmere– a relatively isolated area on the east side of the park and the subject of photographer Thomas Roma’s new book– didn’t sound familiar at all. To outsider eyes like mine, the Vale (depending on your taste) is either a beautifully wild or pitifully neglected patch of land, overgrown with disobedient trees and untamed plants, at the center of which there’s a once-elegant fountain clogged with weeds and fetid puddles from years of neglect. Park staff have planted shrubs and flowers there too, lending the area a rotting romanticism.
But the Vale has another history: it’s long been a cruising spot for gay men, but especially gay men of color. Until recently it was considered an open secret, and one that many park powerfuls have decided not to engage, despite demands from elsewhere that they do so (in various ways). While Roma’s series is ultimately a personal exploration of friendship and loss, it’s nearly impossible to unravel his images from questions about what kind of impact a looming project will have on the community that has made this space its own.
I first met Jify Shah back in 2014 when things were looking up for the owner of Cameo Gallery, a venue that became a mainstay in the Williamsburg music scene after it opened in 2009 on North 6th Sreet. It was the beginning of the summer and he’d just opened a restaurant featuring tropical cocktails named for figures in the Brooklyn music scene (“Losing My Edge,” with jalapeño-infused vodka) and food inspired by the stuff he ate as a kid growing up in Curaçao, a small island in the Caribbean.
Only a year later, rumors surfaced about the future of Cameo, which had quickly become one of the last remaining DIY institutions in the area. At first, Jify was hard to reach and clearly unwilling to talk about what was really going on. I was hoping his silence indicated Cameo would remain open for a little bit longer before Williamsburg is entirely overtaken by shadowy LLCs and glittering towers. No such luck. “I never thought it would’ve become what it did,” Jify told us.
The Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning transformed the East River waterfront area (and other pockets, including along parts of the BQE) from “mixed use” industrial districts to solely residential ones. Things may have proceeded quickly since 2005, but the transition has not been a seamless one– a new interactive resource, the Greenpoint-Williamsburg ToxiCity Map tells us why.
The map, spearheaded by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG), a community group with a long history of fighting environmental degradation in North Brooklyn, reveals the sometimes toxic remnants of the area’s industrial past as a colorful barrage of moveable dots and lines. “A lot of factories were there, operating with a lot of chemicals, a lot of spills– I think that’s important to remember,” explained Rita Beth Pasarell, a board member at NAG. “For good old history, but also because there are a lot of health impacts associated with the chemicals, and in order to avoid them we have to know what chemicals are where.”
It was more than a little depressing to see the first North Brooklyn Farms get clobbered by bulldozers last fall, even if everybody knew it was coming. But as of this weekend, the farm is back and better than ever with Sunday night dinner parties, a fireworks viewing, and a host of other community events extending through the tolerable months. But best of all is that North Brooklyn Farms, now the Farm on Kent, will be an accessible plot of nature for the neighborhood’s residents.