That whole “shit X people say” meme trend has come and gone, but I just found some hand-written notes I must have written at some point in 2012 when I was still living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Here’s my own attempt at “Shit People in Crown Heights Say:”

  • “Goddamn it car alarms”
  • “I love you Queens but the G train is just not a real train”
  • “You’re in the Bronx? Uh, I just assumed the Brooklyn Botanical Garden”
  • “Take the 3 to the S to the B/Q” (a la this SNL skit about Los Angeles freeways!)
  • “I’ll just double park on Bedford Ave. while you run in”
  • “Fucking dog shit everywhere when it snows”
  • “Are you really eating a fish sandwich on the B44 bus?”
  • “No free Jehovah’s Witness bible, thanks though”
  • “Are you Jewish?” “Yes, but no thanks”
  • “I’ll take four doubles with extra tamarind sauce”
  • “Our mouse lives behind the stove”
  • “Do you use T-Mobile or Metro PCS?”

Not even sure these are relevant anymore as the neighborhood has fully gentrified, as evidenced by the presence of a STARBUCKS.

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My latest article is up at The Jewish Daily Forward. It’s a profile of a prominent community leader in the predominantly Russian neighborhood of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve been working on this piece for ages, and I’m so happy to finally have it see the light of day.

An excerpt:

Located on the main stretch of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach Avenue, among numerous Russian delis, Russian-language bookstores and a shuttered Russian travel agency, the Brighton Neighborhood Association stands out. Its window is one of the few on the block with signs predominantly in English, and it’s one of the few storefronts near the elevated tracks of the B and Q trains that doesn’t actually sell anything.

This doesn’t stop people — and definitely not elderly Russians — from strolling through the glass front door, unannounced, on a regular basis. Some mistake the office for a thrift store and start lifting up, one by one, the porcelain and enamel elephants, gifts from friends and other tchotchkes on the desk of Pat Singer, founder and executive director of BNA, a not-for-profit social service agency in Brighton Beach, a neighborhood that stretches for one mile along the Atlantic coast.

Singer has to break into her limited knowledge of Russian to shoo them away: “Not magazin, this office! Not for sale, nooo! Get your hands off my desk!”

The full article is online here. Also in print. Not sure where they are sold, to be honest. Try your local synagogue?

Over a year ago, I wrote:

There are hundreds of small presses cropping up all over the country, publishing in small volumes, often using handmade or letterpress technologies…One notable example is Ugly Duckling Presse (UDP), a Brooklyn-based small press that makes chapbooks, broadsides and artist books in their one-room studio. They’ve published over 200 titles in the last ten years and many of the ones they put out have some handmade element, whether it be a letterpress cover or a hand-stitched or rubber band binding. UDP books are well-made objects that encourage you to read more slowly, to really look at each page.

Last month, The New York Times shot a video about small and independent literary presses in Brooklyn, NY, and they featured Ugly Duckling Presse:

Go support UDP now, and you can say “I knew them when they were still underground…”

grafitti that reads "bronx" on a wall in brooklyn, ny

Photo licensed by Creative Commons. By bitchcakesny.

Interesting article in The New York Times Magazine (an installment of Adam Davidson’s always-interesting economics column) about the Bronx economy and why it hasn’t prospered in recent years like parts of Brooklyn.

Why has Brooklyn gentrified and experienced “phenomenal economic growth” while the Bronx continues to be known for “unemployment and rampant prostitution”? Why do “nearly a third of [Bronx] residents over age 25 lack a high-school diploma”?

Davidson argues that housing stock has a lot to do with it:

Brooklyn and Queens were once collections of independent towns whose homegrown economies were rooted in Long Island agriculture, not Manhattan mercantilism. Local elites built expensive town houses on tree-lined streets. These neighborhoods fell on hard times during the 1970s, but their expensive stock was perfectly positioned for revitalization as the Manhattan boom of the past few decades pushed young professionals across the river. The Bronx, however, never developed its own economic drivers. It became, by the late 19th century, a haven for immigrants attracted to (but unable to afford) Manhattan. The borough developed far fewer wealthy areas, and many neighborhoods became devoted to less-gentrifiable housing units.

All this means that not only are upwardly mobile people not moving in, but the current residents make their money and largely do business transactions (a.k.a spend money and fuel the economy) in Manhattan, not the Bronx.

The Brownstoner blog adds a relevant statistic that Davidson left out:

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated 29 Historic Districts in Brooklyn and only 11 in the Bronx. Landmarking is largely responsible for preserving large swaths of attractive housing stock in Brooklyn during tougher times and for preventing the construction of “less-gentrifiable housing units.”

Obviously, improving the local economy should not rely on the investments of gentrifiers and inevitable displacement of low-income and working-class people. What about improving the lot for people who already live in the Bronx?

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is attempting to spur local jobs by building “an indoor mall that could bring 2,000 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent positions.” He’s also hoping to lure a developer to build a luxury hotel near Yankee Stadium so travelers crash there instead of in Manhattan.

One piece missing from this argument is that even Brooklyn’s economic development is piecemeal. Areas like East New York and Brownsville continue to struggle and aren’t seeing the median income level in their neighborhoods rise. Indeed, as Brownstoner points out, “Brooklyn’s recent boom has been a rising tide that has not lifted all boats.” Let’s hope that the Bronx model doesn’t replicate the disparities.

A new Oxygen network show (“Brooklyn 11223“) is focusing on people of Italian descent living in Bay Ridge, the waterfront district of southwest Brooklyn. Too bad the neighborhood is increasingly made up of a mix of immigrant communities, including Chinese and Egyptians.  Watch the trailer below:

I’ve already written about “Russian Dolls,” Lifetime network’s short-lived show about Russians in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. I’m not surprised that just as Brighton locals protested the Lifetime show, Bay Ridge locals (joined by local councilmembers and politicians) are protesting this new Oxygen release for degrading women and portraying their community in a negative light (the show’s tagline is all about “betrayal”).

Producers are calling Bay Ridge a “small, close-knit community” in the same way that “Russian Dolls” producers called Brighton Beach a “mysterious” and “highly protective community.” I called their bluff  in my review of the show.

It seems that TV producers keep trying to recycle the same cliched tropes in the hopes of reaching Jersey Shore or Real Housewives levels of success and fame. How far can you go on shoddy production, weak story lines, forced drama, and a fetishizing of a neighborhood that is nothing like the show’s depiction? Let’s see how long this one lasts…

This is the kind of writing I love (and I know my friend Josephine loves, too). This quick blog post from the Village Voice is about a particular type of gentrification happening in parts of Western Queens:

​It was only a matter of time (and rents) before this happened, but little bits of Queens are starting to look like little bits of Brooklyn. Case in point is the newly-opened Salt & Fat, a restaurant whose name points towards the similarly pared-down North Brooklyn nomenclature favored by certain North Brooklyn establishments (and points a middle finger in the direction of Mayor Bloomberg’s nutritional agenda).

I lived in Astoria for a year or so and much of the areas in Western Queens that I frequented had an interesting mix of old-time residents and newcomers. But this was never a Williamsburg or Greenpoint form of gentrification. In Astoria, the old-time European (Italian, Greek) immigrants lived alongside new folks who can’t afford Manhattan. But there was never really any bohemian element to the new residents in those parts of Queens like there are in Brooklyn.

I mean that Brooklyn’s gentrification often takes the form of grunge and racial replacement. White people in formerly people of color enclaves. In Western Queens (Jamaica and Jackson Heights don’t follow this trend, so I’m really talking here about Astoria and Sunnyside and Woodside), the newcomers and the old-timers are both largely white and the newcomers don’t particularly espouse hipsterism.

But apparently this is starting to change. I guess it was only a matter of time.