Friday, May 10, 2019


"... ice cream cones and spiders and nails and feathers and cigarette butts and roses and orchids and flamingo birds and cardinal birds and blue birds and blue ferns and dancing girls and skeletons and fringe and tassels and lace and linoleum and ribbon and Dristan and toothpaste and the Infant Jesus of Prague and bottles caps and bottle openers and beer cans and cookies and babies and chocolates and rosaries and Christ and necklaces ..."

                                                Joe Brainard (from Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard, by Ron Padgett)

Joe Brainard - 100 Works, at the Tibor de Nagy gallery, until May 26

Thursday, May 9, 2019


I opened the window to put in a screen and there it was lying in the gutter.  I brought a chair over, so I could reach out and bring it inside.  It weighed nothing.  Then I took it down to the yard, laid it down on a paving stone and took a couple of pictures.  My knowledge of birds is minimal, but an expert -one of the finest wildlife photographers I know - told me it looked like a Northern Parula.  The poor beauty.

Monday, May 6, 2019

After the Meeting

The meeting at John Jay concerning the incoming homeless shelters coming to 535 and 555 Fourth Avenue was a disheartening affair all round.  There was a predominantly negative response to the shelters, but the nature of the opposition was a tangled, complicated business.  It was hard to separate the business of the shelters themselves from the buildings that will house them, and a Fourth Ave. corridor that has changed almost beyond recognition.

The avenue has been the victim of relentless construction for over a decade, a result of rezoning that failed to mandate inclusionary housing.  As a plethora of new, substandard, market-rate buildings rose along Fourth, displacement radiating out from Fourth accelerated. This SW area of Park Slope (bordering Gowanus and Sunset Park), was the last part of Park Slope to gentrify, and though its diversity today is much depleted, it is still more economically and racially mixed than most of the Slope. It also appears to be the most expendable to the brownstone-heavy powers-that-be of CB6.  Demolition & new construction are the norm here. Its blue-collar history is lightly valued, but long-time residents remember its working class roots, its good and its difficult times in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and its affordability.

Both newer and older area residents spoke out at the meeting. It was especially hard to listen to a couple of long-time residents on the brink of tears as they described the structural damage developers had inflicted on their home.

It was equally sad to hear the numbers of people, new or old, who avowed great sympathy for the homeless in an abstract sense but recoiled at the idea of homeless families coming to live anywhere near them.  Nothing new here; sadly, location compromises many a noble sentiment.  Many of us are guiltier than we'd like to admit.  Specifically expressed fears involved the size of the two adjacent shelters, and the prospect of increased crime, declining property values, and the impact on the zoned school, PS 124, nearby. Were other fears at play here? Supporters of the shelters, though vocal, were in the minority.

The meeting confirmed a general sense of how poorly served we are by our public officials, and how powerless we feel. We New Yorkers are pretty cynical when it comes to City Hall.  With good reason. Our Council & Assembly speakers spoke well, as did the DHS & WIN officials, but the discrepancy between their oral statements & the printed handouts we received (eg as concerned numbers of security staff at the shelters/ percentage of kids attending local schools) was so marked as to be ridiculous.  Not a good look for any of them.  The audience response was disquieting too. Cutting deals with local developers is a sleazy business, but at the same time the expressions of concern re construction at 535 and 555, and thus their suitability as shelters, often felt less than altruistic.

Perhaps those who are against the homeless shelters will mount a successful campaign to keep them out.  More likely the shelters will open anyway, and then it will be time to support the new families as neighbors, as individuals, and not as some stereotyped demographic. When the shelters open here, it will be time for welcome.  It galls me that here in Park Slope problems of housing, affordability and homelessness get conveniently shoved to the edge of the neighborhood, but truthfully, we have a lot of heart down this end, & would never trade places. Let's put a couple of the new buildings on Fourth to some good use. Let's do this thing right.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Green-Wood Offering

Here at the edge of the mortal world, objects drift over from either side and trade places.  Love-you-forever plastic markers, food-smeared napkins, exhausted balloons.  And then there are those that sit right at the portal, quietly intentional. Like this little offering. A bunch of carnations, plucked from their stems, and a plum, purple as a bruise.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Lights Out

March 19

April 27

The pedestrian light at the SW corner of Sixth Avenue and 15th Street has been out since early March.  I've reported it three times now.  According to a status update it was supposedly fixed last Wednesday but I passed by on Saturday and it's still not working.  I'm becoming obsessed with getting this damn thing working again. If you call 311 about it you'll be asked if it's an emergency, by which they mean has there been an accident.  No, you say, no accident, and thus the situation becomes low priority, but surely the emergency should be the prevention of an accident.  I know there's a triage system viz-a-viz complaints, but there's something farcical about this kind of exchange. 

If you live near this intersection, and the light's still out, try calling 311 anyway.  Maybe more complaints will get some action.

April 28

Thursday, April 25, 2019

More Information on the Incoming Shelters

Priority for both facilities will be given to families who currently live in Brooklyn. Based on Win's data, about one-third of school aged children will attend local public schools and the rest will be bused or take public transportation to schools they were previously attending. More than 42 percent of the children living in Win shelters are under 6 years old and more than 50 percent of the organization's clients are employed, Win said.
                                                                                                                           (Park Slope Patch)
Read the whole thing.  Sounds positive.

Monday, April 22, 2019

New Shelters on Fourth Avenue

Last week Bklyner reported that two homeless shelters would be opening this fall at 535 and 555 Fourth Avenue, between 14th and 16th Streets. The shelters will be operated by WIN (Women in Need) which is run by former Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn.  Current plans are for 148 units to house homeless families at 535, and 105, along with 29 permanent housing units, at 555.

535 and 555 are familiar to the blog.  Both belong to Adam America/Slate, who have been active developers in the neighborhood. Last year they sold a nearby rental building, at 237 11th Street, for $81M.  Farther afield, they earned notoriety for their involvement in the controversial Rivington House sale, having bought the property from the Allure Group, who allegedly defied a deed restriction on the sale of the nursing home.

Adam America/Slate  bought 535, formerly the premises of Strauss auto repair, for $22M in 2014, and acquired 541 - 555, a parcel of eight three-family rowhouses from Anshel Friedman and Ariel Karpan in 2016 for $25M.  The two new buildings remain unfinished, and have been mired in construction woes. In 2016 an SWO was issued at 535, when structural forms at the top of the building were damaged by wind and partially collapsed.  Two floors of the building were  subsequently removed, along with partial slab work on lower floors.  535 has been issued a long list of serious construction violations; eight of them, dating between 2016 and 2019 are still open. 555 was recently issued a partial SWO (still in effect) and a number of other violations remain open.

Given that the boom of higher-end construction on Fourth has yielded next to no affordable housing thus far, and given the need for a more equitable distribution of homeless shelters throughout the city, it seems reasonable enough to put additional homeless shelters in affluent, liberal Park Slope, even if the shelters proposed (just like the higher rise condos and rentals on Fourth) are conveniently distanced from its brownstone heartland.  WIN appears to have a decent record of services and management. The CAMBA family shelter that opened in Kensington in 2015 has settled into the neighborhood without any serious issues and with the general support of the community.  It is, of course, considerably smaller than the buildings on Fourth Avenue.

Homeless shelters are not a solution to the city's massive homeless problem.  But they are a necessity.  And it's just not right to concentrate them in the poorest parts of the city.  Every neighborhood must play its part.  So I say, let's welcome the ones on Fourth, if the right conditions and support are met.  A few thoughts to start off:

Transparency.  What's the nature of the deal between the City and Adam America/Slate?  When did negotiations begin?  Are the buildings safely constructed?

How about increasing the number of permanent housing units? (A better option than the current plan, maybe, would be to have 535 as a WIN shelter & 555 as a mix of permanent housing for formerly homeless families & deeply affordable housing for other eligible applicants.  Doubt that will happen though, given the City's likely deal with the developers.)

Community engagement.  Let's learn more about WIN & its specific plans for the Park Slope sites.  Let's find out about the programs, and ways to develop good relationships between new & established residents.

School placement.  Is there good planning in place for placement in nearby schools?  The proposed shelters are right next door to PS124, a thriving and diverse elementary school, but it hardly seems equipped for such a potentially large influx of new kids.  Nor does it seem fair.  How will schools be selected to take in new students, bearing in mind zoning, the current numbers in schools right now, and the best learning environment for new pupils? (This might be an opportunity for some of the wealthier, whiter schools in Park Slope to help out, and open their doors to some of the kids).

As the Bklyner article mentions, there'll be a community meeting on May 1st to discuss the new shelters.  There'll be lots to talk about, and lots to learn.

Community Meeting To Discuss 535 & 555 4th Avenue Shelters
Wednesday, May 1, 6:30pm to 8:30pm
John Jay Educational Campus, 237 7th Avenue

Friday, April 19, 2019


Shards of glass from earlier decades continue to emerge from the dirt.  There seems to be an inexhaustible supply.  Who were the household residents of forty, fifty years or more ago who drank all those sodas and beers?  The other day a marble pushed its way through, mottled but whole.  A common little thing.  A planet hardly had more mystery.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


The Comfort Inn on 20th Street (Third/Fourth) opens in a couple of months.  I punched in a random midday date for June and $279 came up as the best price.  I hope that includes expressway views.  When the Stephen Imports warehouse was there, the block felt less dense.  And I realized the other day that the height of the warehouse and the line of barbed wire fencing on top blocked a sideways view of the building next door.  I'm sure there's an architectural term for the structure and the style of this facade, but I don't know it.

It's got a kind of mission or southwestern, feel.  Or is it Italian in intention?  At any rate, I like its stage-set duality.  On top of a regular looking house, it's a real facade.  And perched on the cornice, a devil/gargoyle and heraldic lions guard the home.  This is the kind of building that expresses a distinct creativity and pride.  Someone put their own stamp on the place.   

Industry fades as office spaces and hotels are deemed acceptable substitutes.  BrooklynWorks has co-working-spaces here, and there are (nice one) dance studios and an OT gym for kids.  Permanent Records was here for a while but I think it's closed now.  Some of the old businesses are still around - auto shop, air conditioning, heating, metal, glass - but the metalworks and Tony Cuonzo's Golden Anvil sculpture smithy at the corner are long gone.  There are warehouse vacancies. Residential's mostly frame.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


The facade on the building is only a couple of years old.  In 2003, according to DOB records, a section of an earlier facade "approx 20' x 20' collapsen to the sidewalk crusing a dangerous conditiion to public." A vaguely medieval description.  Other structural defects are on record.

The new facade does not inspire confidence.  There's an open permit for work not conforming to approved documents and amendments (2017) and a related SWO issued a year ago.  Bricks are missing, and cinderblock repairs are evident.  You'd be wise to cross the street or walk by swiftly. 

Cue music.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Ten Years On

There isn't an abandoned couch or worn-down armchair that doesn't make me think of the discarded beauties on author Robert Guskind's Gowanus Lounge blog.  It's a reflex action. Just over ten years after his death (the Brooklyn memorial was on April 4th, 2009) his influence lingers.  Reading his obituary on the Gowanus Lounge website, I'm still touched and impressed by the tributes of local bloggers, journalists, photographers, artists and activists - of all varieties and combinations - that were influenced by his writing and encouraged in their own work through his generosity of spirit.  Do take the time to read it, and while you're there, dip into the three years-worth of entries preserved on the site.

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Far Cry from Brooklyn

It's hard to keep track of that elusive world traveler Carl Douglas, who every so often surprises us with a comment on the blog or photographs from distant parts.  Taken last week, El Paso: streets - & Wall.