Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"THE NEW BROOKLYN What It Takes to Bring a City Back" By Kay S. Hymowitz

"THE NEW BROOKLYN What It Takes to Bring a City Back" By Kay S. Hymowitz

(Originally Published in the New York Times on  )

Words are always shifting in their meanings, but what has happened to the word “gentrification” is something of a special case. Not too long ago, it was pretty much a value-neutral term for the process by which communities exchange one set of residents for another. Now it is a term of opprobrium, a word that conjures up the cruel displacement of defenseless poor people by a greedy and arrogant professional elite.

There is a whiff of hypocrisy in all this, or at least a strong element of disingenuousness. Ask mayors what they wish for in their city centers, and they will give you similar answers — safe streets, bustling sidewalks, busy stores and restaurants, and a healthy and growing residential population with plenty of money in its pocket. Mayors and city planners spend much of their time maneuvering to create these things, but with one inevitable disclaimer: They don’t want it to lead to gentrification. What they choose not to admit is that the change they are seeking and the change they claim to fear are exactly the same thing.

As “gentrification” has become an increasingly dirty word, the volume of disingenuous posturing on the subject has increased dramatically, and the supply of balanced reporting has declined. One writer who has managed to speak sensibly above the din is Kay S. Hymowitz, a contributing editor at City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The New Brooklyn” is her admirably clearheaded assessment of the borough that sometimes seems the epicenter of American gentrification.

Brooklyn’s overall return to affluence in the 21st century has been a remarkable event, and it is one that Hymowitz describes with an unmistakable relish. “A left-for-dead city marinated in more than a century of industrial soot,” she writes, “became just about the coolest place on earth and the paragon of the postindustrial creative city.” But the core of the book is the portrait that she draws of half a dozen individual neighborhoods, and the subtleties that each of them reveals about the gentrification process.
After: Work and avocation have become more important to relationships here than geography. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times
Writing of now fashionable Park Slope, where Hymowitz herself lives, she makes some provocative sociological points that tend to get lost in the larger commotion. One is that class is now far more important than race: White gentrifiers with elite-school credentials and well-paying jobs get on famously with their well-educated black counterparts. The people they fail to connect with are their white working-class neighbors, most of whom were there before gentrification and have never been comfortable with it.

In a similar way, work and avocation are more important than geography. The relationships that matter most in Park Slope are those that link residents who share professional and leisure-time interests, not those of people who happen to live next door to one another. The days when neighbors bonded during long summer evenings on the front stoop are a distant memory. Today’s Park Slope citizens are oriented toward their backyard gardens and cedar decks; they may not know the family next door at all.

Park Slope is a neighborhood of elegant but formerly dilapidated brownstones now restored to its 19th-century glory. Nearby Williamsburg is something else entirely: an old working-class enclave whose industrial grittiness became pretentiously chic in ways that no one thought possible. In Williamsburg, the artists who arrived as pioneers in the 1980s resent the techies who showed up in the early 2000s, and both resent the Wall Street traders who moved in after them. All three groups are scornful of the huge condo towers that have sprung up on the Williamsburg waterfront as a result of rezoning in the past decade and, as Hymowitz puts it, erected a “massive wall between the community and the waterfront park.” Those towers are a dark side of gentrification, and Hymowitz candidly portrays them as such.

 The way for any collection of neighborhood profiles to succeed is to make fine distinctions between places that casual observers tend to consider similar. Hymowitz does that effectively in the case of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville, two neighborhoods widely perceived as outposts of African-American poverty and social dysfunction. Bedford-Stuyvesant hit bottom in the 1960s and 1970s, but more recently its architectural graces have made it attractive to middle-class newcomers, many of them black professionals. Brownsville, on the other hand, is an early-20th-century Jewish tenement slum that became an isolated fortress of public housing, a “dumping ground for the most welfare-dependent and least capable of Brooklyn’s black poor.” Gentrification has not touched it — at least not yet.

It is in discussing Brownsville that Hymowitz reveals her ultimate conclusions about the subject of her book. She challenges the local activists there who have voiced their opposition to the coming of the white middle class. “They’re making a mistake,” Hymowitz writes. “The difficult truth — and it is immensely difficult — is that gentrification would be about the best thing that could ever happen to Brownsville.”
And indeed, the thesis that emerges from the book, balanced as the author tries to make it, is that gentrification has been, on the whole, a good thing for Brooklyn. No fair-minded observer can deny, and Hymowitz does not try to deny, that significant numbers of poor people have been forced to leave Park Slope and Williamsburg, that this is happening in Bedford-Stuyvesant and that it will happen in more remote parts of the borough in the years to come.

And yet when one considers Brooklyn as much of it stood 40 years ago — once-vibrant communities whose residential blocks had become unsafe by day and by night; elegant brownstone homes that had fallen into dangerous disrepair; commercial districts with storefronts abandoned by merchants who could no longer make a living from them; job losses mounting in every corner of the borough — when one thinks back to those depressing days, and compares them with the Brooklyn of 2017, the ultimate logic of Hymowitz’s argument is compelling: Gentrification has winners and losers. Urban decline makes losers out of everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How Arthur Miller Found His 'View' By Nathan Ward, Wall Street Journal

Brando in "On the Waterfront"

How Arthur Miller Found His 'View' By Nathan Ward, Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal, January 27th, 2010

A biographical sketch of Arthur Miller's exploration of the Brooklyn waterfront which led to his writing The Hook which then became the "inspiration" for Bud Schulberg's screenplay for On the Waterfront directed by Elia Kazan.(Excerpted from original article.)

In many ways, it is Miller's best-observed work. Not only is the atmosphere based on his own dockside wanderings, but the play's scandalous crux—will Eddie, driven by his attraction to his own niece, do something disastrous?—turns out to be based on a true tale. It was shared with Miller by his friend Vincent "Jim" Longhi, who was then a Red Hook waterfront lawyer like Alfieri, the play's narrator that he inspired.
About a year after Miller's death in February 2005, and a few months before Longhi passed away, I happened to interview the lawyer about the old waterfront. Unlike his "portly" stage likeness Alfieri, Longhi was, at 90, a tall, trim and elegant man. Sitting in his Manhattan law office on lower Broadway, he recalled how his friend Miller, who lived in picturesque Brooklyn Heights in the late '40s, "often thought about that mysterious world of the Brooklyn Italian waterfront. . . . But he being an intellectual, who's gonna talk to him? Nobody." In his autobiography, "Timebends," Miller remembered wondering, on his daily walks, about "the sinister waterfront world of gangster-ridden unions, assassinations, beatings, bodies thrown into the lovely bay at night." But, he was forced to admit, "I could never penetrate the permanent reign of quiet terror on the waterfront hardly three blocks from my peaceful apartment."

That's where Longhi came in. They met during Longhi's 1946 antimob campaign for Congress in Brooklyn's 12th District. (Miller's first great success, "All My Sons," would open later that fall.) "How can I help?" Miller asked the young candidate. "Make a movie!" Longhi answered, and, working with the director Elia Kazan, they tried over the following months to make a waterfront film. Longhi told Miller tales of the criminal docks, and particularly of his great hero, the martyred rebel longshoreman Pete Panto. Miller remembered touring the homes of longshoremen, "tuning my ear to their fruity, mangled Sicilian-English bravura." When Longhi brought Miller down to Red Hook's Columbia Street to show him men lining up to be picked in the morning shape-up, the young playwright was thoroughly shocked. He saw men herded docilely together, "waiting for the hiring boss, on whose arrival they surged forward and formed in a semicircle to attract his pointing finger and the numbered brass checks that guaranteed a job for the day," Miller remembered. Reacting to another visit where men were "tearing at each other's hands" in "a frantic scramble" for the morning's last few work checks, "America, I thought, stopped at Columbia Street."

His script about Longhi's hero, Panto, was called "The Hook," and it might have been made by Columbia Pictures' Harry Cohn had it not been for some changes the studio requested that Miller found untenable. In 1950, reflecting the political climate of the time, Cohn had the screenplay reviewed by the FBI. The studio head offered to greenlight Miller's waterfront story as long as its controlling racketeers were recast as Communists. Miller refused and, according to Longhi, "threw the script into a trunk." (Kazan would soon find another docks project with writer Budd Schulberg—what later became "On the Waterfront." Many regard "A View From the Bridge" as Miller's personal answer to Kazan for his 1952 House Un-American Activities Committee testimony and for making a masterpiece without him.)

Miller first heard the story that became "A View From the Bridge" while on a trip with Longhi to Sicily in 1948. "Longhi mentioned a story . . . of a longshoreman who had ratted to the Immigration Bureau on two brothers," Miller wrote, "his own relatives, illegal immigrants who were living in his very home, in order to break an engagement between one of them and his niece." Longhi told me, "it happened to my client . . . who turned to me and said, 'I'm going to kill so-and-so,' and then it turned out that I figured he must be in love with the kid. And I told this story to Miller and he said, 'What an opera!'"

Read the rest of the article here
Mr. Ward is author of "Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront," to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in June.

Brooklyn: The Brand By Steven Stern, New York Times, December 15th, 2010

Illustration by Bruce McCall
Brooklyn: The Brand By Steven Stern, New York Times, December 15th, 2010

Published: December 14, 2010

For a place selling beer and pulled pork sliders, the Brooklyneer has provoked a lot of controversy. This new bar is dedicated to all things Brooklyn, particularly, the menu declares, the borough’s “newly-emerging food artisans.” There are Brooklyn hot dogs and Brooklyn pickles and Brooklyn whiskey. You can order toast points spread with Boerum Hill-made ricotta and Carroll Gardens-jarred jam, slam oyster shooters with Greenpoint-brewed kombucha.

The problem with the Brooklyneer? It’s in Manhattan. This strikes some as a particularly cynical bit of appropriation: a grass-roots food scene turned into a theme-park facsimile, just a few subway stops away.
The New York food blogs started sniping months before the bar opened. Last month, it inspired a mock-indignant rant in The Daily News, which saw in the new place “the end of Brooklyn cool.”

“We all think it’s pretty hilarious, the amount of press it’s generating,” said Aron Watman, an owner of the Brooklyneer. Mr. Watman and his two partners, Billy Waite and Neena Dutta, claim their motives are pure: they are Brooklyn residents themselves, and merely wanted to share the food and drink they love with the rest of the city. A Brooklyneer, in their lexicon, is “someone who admires Brooklyn.”
Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Horror at Red Hook' (1925) (Excerpt)

H. P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft and Sonia Greene

H.P. Lovecraft' sojourn in Brooklyn was not altogether a happy one. Brooklyn's polygot cauldron of humanity was almost too much for the author to bear while he lived in Brooklyn Heights at 169 Clinton Street away from his wife Sonia Greene. Lovecraft's delicate state of mind was all the more affected by his struggles as a writer in New York at the time.

Despite these pressures Lovecraft managed to write one of his greatest short stories 'The Horror at Red Hook' (1925), while living in Brooklyn. The story paints an exotic image of Brooklyn as peopled by strange admixtures of cultures beyond the pale of society and provides a vivid window into Brooklyn society of that time despite Lovecraft's rampant xenophobia.

H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Horror at Red Hook'
(1925) (Excerpt)

“ He had for some time been detailed to the Butler Street station in Brooklyn when the Red Hook matter came to his notice. Red Hook is a maze of hybrid squalor near the ancient waterfront opposite Governor’s Island, with dirty highways climbing the hill from the wharves to that higher ground where the decayed lengths of Clinton and Court Streets lead off toward the Borough Hall. Its houses are mostly of brick, dating from the first quarter to the middle of the nineteenth century, and some of the obscurer alleys and byways have that alluring antique flavour which conventional reading leads us to call “Dickensian”.

The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles. Here long ago a brighter picture dwelt, with clear-eyed mariners on the lower streets and homes of taste and substance where the larger houses line the hill. One can trace the relics of this former happiness in the trim shapes of the buildings, the occasional graceful churches, and the evidences of original art and background in bits of detail here and there—a worn flight of steps, a battered doorway, a wormy pair of decorative columns or pilasters, or a fragment of once green space with bent and rusted iron railing. The houses are generally in solid blocks, and now and then a many-windowed cupola arises to tell of days when the households of captains and ship-owners watched the sea.

From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of an hundred dialects assail the sky. Hordes of prowlers reel shouting and singing along the lanes and thoroughfares, occasional furtive hands suddenly extinguish lights and pull down curtains, and swarthy, sin-pitted faces disappear from windows when visitors pick their way through. Policemen despair of order or reform, and seek rather to erect barriers protecting the outside world from the contagion. The clang of the patrol is answered by a kind of spectral silence, and such prisoners as are taken are never communicative. Visible offences are as varied as the local dialects, and run the gamut from the smuggling of rum and prohibited aliens through diverse stages of lawlessness and obscure vice to murder and mutilation in their most abhorrent guises. That these visible affairs are not more frequent is not to the neighbourhood’s credit, unless the power of concealment be an art demanding credit. More people enter Red Hook than leave it—or at least, than leave it by the landward side—and those who are not loquacious are the likeliest to leave.

Malone found in this state of things a faint stench of secrets more terrible than any of the sins denounced by citizens and bemoaned by priests and philanthropists. He was conscious, as one who united imagination with scientific knowledge, that modern people under lawless conditions tend uncannily to repeat the darkest instinctive patterns of primitive half-ape savagery in their daily life and ritual observances; and he had often viewed with an anthropologist’s shudder the chanting, cursing processions of blear-eyed and pockmarked young men which wound their way along in the dark small hours of morning.

One saw groups of these youths incessantly; sometimes in leering vigils on street corners, sometimes in doorways playing eerily on cheap instruments of music, sometimes in stupefied dozes or indecent dialogues around cafeteria tables near Borough Hall, and sometimes in whispering converse around dingy taxicabs drawn up at the high stoops of crumbling and closely shuttered old houses. They chilled and fascinated him more than he dared confess to his associates on the force, for he seemed to see in them some monstrous thread of secret continuity; some fiendish, cryptical, and ancient pattern utterly beyond and below the sordid mass of facts and habits and haunts listed with such conscientious technical care by the police. They must be, he felt inwardly, the heirs of some shocking and primordial tradition; the sharers of debased and broken scraps from cults and ceremonies older than mankind. Their coherence and definiteness suggested it, and it shewed in the singular suspicion of order which lurked beneath their squalid disorder. He had not read in vain such treatises as Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe; and knew that up to recent years there had certainly survived among peasants and furtive folk a frightful and clandestine system of assemblies and orgies descended from dark religions antedating the Aryan world, and appearing in popular legends as Black Masses and Witches’ Sabbaths. That these hellish vestiges of old Turanian-Asiatic magic and fertility-cults were even now wholly dead he could not for a moment suppose, and he frequently wondered how much older and how much blacker than the very worst of the muttered tales some of them might really be.”
Read the rest of this story here.

Sources: Lovecraft's New York Circle edited by Mara Kirk Hart and S.T. Joshi

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

From Brooklyn’s Heights: An Early 19th-Century Artist and His Skyline View By Alexandra Peers June 15, 2010 |

View from Brooklyn Height (19th century) by J.W. Hill

From Brooklyn’s Heights: An Early 19th-Century Artist and His Skyline View
By Alexandra Peers for the New York Observer June 15, 2010

Who's the next hot young Brooklyn artist? How about collecting one of the first ones instead.
J. W. Hill arrived in America in 1819 at the age of 7 and learned much of his trade-engraving aquatints-at the Brooklyn studio of his father, British émigré artist John Hill
J.W.'s images, unlike Dad's, were of where he grew up, New York City and State. Turning into something of a Big Apple version of John James Audubon. Hill illustrated a sweeping tome on the zoology of New York State, among other natural history projects. And in 1837, he painted New York, from Brooklyn Heights, in a landscape that showed a couple and their young children gazing at the Manhattan skyline. From the family's spot at the apex of Furman Street, St. Paul's, Trinity Church, City Hall and the Fulton Fish Market are visible.

The image became famous and was eventually adapted by William James Bennett into a lithograph that was printed and widely distributed by the prolific publishing firm of Currier & Ives.
Read the rest of the article here

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mohawk Roots in Brooklyn - Reaghan Tarbell's "To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey"

From Reaghan Tarbell's "To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey" 1940's photo of Reaghan Tarbell's grandfather Wisa Diabo, Reaghan Tarbell's mother, aunts and uncle in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, 1040's. Photo credit: Reaghan Tarbell

Reaghan Tarbell's documentary film “To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey" is an extraordinary personal family memoir and history about the Kahnawake Mohawk people who settled in Brooklyn. Many Mohawk men worked as steelworkers on New York skyscrapers while living in Brooklyn and helped build important New York landmarks such as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge the Seagrams Building, and the Time & Life Building.

A common misconception is that the women simply followed their ironworker husbands to the city. The truth is many left the reserve by themselves to find work in Brooklyn, just like the Mohawk men. Reaghan's late grandmother, Ida Meloche, was one of them. At the age of 16, Ida moved to Brooklyn with her elderly mother in search for work and a "golden opportunity."

Reaghan’s film takes us on a journey back to the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve near Montreal, Canada on the St. Lawrence River where Reaghan’s family members still live. Mohawk women and men in Kahnawake speak about the Quebec Bridge disaster that took place on August 29th, 1907 when thirty-three Mohawk steelworkers died when the bridge collapsed. An annual remembrance ceremony is held in the Kahnawake Reserve for the spirits of the men lost on that tragic day. We learn how this tragedy caused Mohawk men to spread out in the 1920's to find work elsewhere in faraway places including New York and Brooklyn.

The Mohawk steelworkers as most New Yorkers know are a legendary presence in urban folklore. Mohawk men worked alongside other Native Americans as steelworkers on New York City construction sites on many large-scale projects.

The words of Reaghan's extended Mohawk family on the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve illuminate the complex difficulties that Mohawk women and children faced while adapting to life in downtown Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Mohawk neighborhood became know as Little Caughnawaga (a modification of Kahnawake.)

The Cuyler Presbyterian Church on Pacific Street held services in the Mohawk language led by Rev. Dr. David Munroe Cory who learned the Mohawk language. There was an exclusively Mohawk bar called the Wigwam at 75 Nevins Street, which was also like a community information center where Mohawk men could get leads on jobs, pick up mail and catch rides back to Kahnawake.

Most Mohawk families eventually moved back to the Kahnawake Reserve over the years preferring to live amongst their own people and to have their children retain their cultural roots.

Sources: New York Times article An Indian Community Flourished and Faded In a Section of Brooklyn
Published: December 28, 1996

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Brooklyn Accent; Fugehdaboudit by Burkhard Bilger, excerpted from: " Brooklyn, A State of Mind" by Michael W. Robbins and Wendy Palitz

The Brooklyn Accent

By Burkhard Bilger

Excerpted from Brooklyn, A State of Mind by Michael W. Robbins and Wendy Palitz
Copyright © 2001 by Michael W. Robbins and Wendy Palitz
Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York
All Rights Reserved

The Brooklyn Accent

By Burkhard Bilger

That cramped space, and the mass of immigrants within it, has turned New York into a linguistic witch’s cauldron. In the late 1600s, Dutch and Belgian settlers, forced to speak their conquerors’ English, probably gave Brooklynese its “muddas and faddas,” “deses and doses” - though some language experts attribute the d/th swap to the Germans and Irish. After the Revolutionary War, Yankees who relocated from New England encouraged Brooklynites to drop the “r’s” from the ends of words, yielding nuggets like “watuh” and “drivuh.” Then in the 1850s Irish immigrants continued the vendetta against “th” sounds. In their mouths, “think” became “tink” and “thumb” became “tumb.” Over time, the “oi” sound in the middle of words became similarly endangered, giving us “liar” for “lawyer.”

Finally, Southern settlers gathered up all those orphaned “oi’s” and found new homes form them in words like “noive” (nerve) and “woim” (worm.