Gloom and Loom at BBG

Gloom and Loom at BBG
Artist's rendering of proposed development along eastern perimeter of BBG

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

VOTE SUPPRESSION in the coming Primary

I seem to have been the only one in our very active block association to notice that yesterday's mailer from the Board of Elections notes that our polling place has been moved.

Not only has it been moved (from the Jackie Robinson School to Medgar Evers College), but the address provided at the top is for the Accessible Entrance, not the VOTER ENTRANCE, which will be at 231 Crown Street.

Some might call it Vote Suppression. I sure do. Be advised.

Monday, August 7, 2017


As a housing activist in Crown Heights, I read Richard Kahlenberg's piece in this week's New York Times Sunday Review very closely ("The Walls We Won't Tear Down")and I applaud him, and the Times, for shining a light on abusive housing policies rightly characterized as "exclusionary," the subject of a new book by Richard Rothstein, "The Color of Law." It's on my reading list.

Here in Crown Heights, though, and throughout the city of New York, low income neighborhoods are being taken from longtime residents of color and low income in the name of "Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning," an Orwellian response to the problem Mr. Kahlenburg describes.

MIH was rejected by over 90% of the community boards citywide because New Yorkers overwhelmingly understood the real intention behind the program, which is to displace current residents in favor of wealthier, white Americans OR to launder the filthy money of the world's thieving oligarchs.

The metrics of MIH are based on average median income calculations (AMI) that conveniently include wealthier districts outside the district targeted for luxury development.

While all the other neighborhoods facing Prospect Park, all white, were down-zoned during the Bloomberg administration in order to protect them from high-rise development, Crown Heights was repeatedly told that the Dept. of City Planning had too much on its plate to address its concerns. That lasted until the real estate market took off, when an attempt to up-zone the area in a matter of months was undertaken.

For three years, Black Crown Heights has succeeded in holding off the rezoning and the lying, the corruption, false and broken promises, targeting of activists that have accompanied the effort. Our fight is far from over, however. We have a Councilperson, Laurie Cumbo, who has sworn to "up zone [this] neighborhood myself if I have to." We intend to unseat her, despite the fact that she has more than $200K from Big Real Estate and another $100K from the hotel industry in her election coffers.

When does Inclusionary = Exclusionary? Under the current mayor's Affordable Housing plan.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Threat to BBG Update: Cornell Realty Meets ULURP

Cornell Realty made their presentation to the ULURP committee of CB9 on Wednesday night. A strong majority of the committee and perhaps all residents in attendance are opposed to allowing the "spot rezoning" Cornell is seeking, one that would negate the single down-zoning that has ever been provided this beautiful neighborhood and done in order to protect the Botanic Gardens. Assuming the sun and the earth continue to have the same relationship, why would the threat posed by tall towers along the Garden's eastern perimeter be any less now than in 1991?

The lawyer for the developer tried to play it like his client has no preference as to whether Cornell would be allowed to build as-of-right to 6-7 stories or 175'(17 1/2 stories). Cornell further claimed to have no interest in the extra 15' it would get from participation in the FRESH program, though they reserved the right to apply for it at a later date. That would be after they submitted a shadow study at 175' when 190' is, safe to say, the plan.

The lawyer for Cornell Realty, Ray Levin was, besides dissembling, shockingly inappropriate in his tone, exasperated as he was with questions, which he belittled as he dismissed them. ULURP chair Michael Liburd felt compelled to remind Levin of the need to be respectful. Is this how Levin gets results for his clients?

Neither Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo nor anyone from her office was in attendance despite the enormity of the issue. I give committee member Tim Thomas credit for calling her out on it, for being conspicuous only in her absence. Looking forward to voting for Ede Fox come November.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bedford Armory? KILL THE DEAL

According to a spokesperson, EDC has solicited public comments concerning the Bedford Armory development thru March 17 in order to make the project "even better." That is a very low bar, because what is proposed is throughly objectionable.

I have attended pretty much every public meeting regarding the Armory. In the beginning, we were told that since the land is city-owned, the profitability equation was different, making it possible to have all affordable housing built on the site. As opposed to the luxury housing that has displaced 10,000 people from the neighborhood to date (including 1,600 families evicted from the Ebbets Field Houses in the last year).

That was Lie #1. Now the proposed ratio of so-called affordable units to market rate is the same as any other luxury construction in the city. This is unacceptable. By what logic are we mortgaging what we already own??

Residents have repeatedly been asked what they want to see happen with the Armory. None of us ever asked for luxury development or any studio apartments. Neither is of use to the residents of this community.

We asked for a recreation center and office space for local non-profit organizations. In fact, we would rather no housing be built at all than to be further displaced by what is proposed.

2. The recreation space depicted in the BFC drawings tells the truth about who the Armory is being developed to serve. Why is the extreme height of the drill hall not being divided into two or more storeys in order to maximize the space available to local organizations and educational institutions?

I'll tell you why. It's so that the elite living in the luxury development can practice their Downward Dog under an 80' ceiling, with the sun streaming in, the moon passing overhead. It's the kind of wasted space that tells a person s/he's special. It reveals that no thought whatever has been given to the needs of the community. We have a college so short of housing that classes continue to be held in trailers and some students – 80% of whom are single parents – are reportedly living in their cars. Yet the developer can envision nothing more useful for this space than a yoga mat under the stars. It's offensive to the core. It's institutionalized racism.

And are we really to believe that the wealthy residents of this luxury housing are going to share the pool with kids from the neighborhood? Will there be separate hours for Armory residents and the rest of us? Will the water be changed between uses? Asking for friends.

Why is no one able to say definitively that use of the recreational facilities will be free to neighborhood residents? The word "discounts" is bandied about. Once again, affordability is the issue. The brand new Lakeside Skating Rink in Prospect Park was re-priced specifically to keep our kids from congregating there. Our suspicions are well-founded.

Who plays soccer in New York City? Not black kids in Crown Heights. Yet a full third of the facility is to be dedicated to soccer.

3. Then there's the matter of the Lease. Two million dollars a year! Sounds like a lot of money? But THE AMOUNT NEVER GOES UP over the 99-year term. Wow! Who doesn't wish that they were paying the same rent on their place as was paid 99 years ago?

4. Then there's the recent entry into the picture of the ex-con Clarence Norman, Jr. and his generically named Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights. We're told that BFC has given Norman $500,000 in "seed money" to establish a fund to develop affordable housing elsewhere in the neighborhood. Other money "may" be donated to the fund in the future. May!

What does $500k buy in this market? Perhaps 5-6 apartments could be renovated for this sum, assuming the building was extant. sound, and free of charge to the developer. It's a scandal that a convicted fraudster should even be invited to share in the bounty the Armory portends​ or that anything meaningful could be built for such a sum​.

I could go on. KILL THE DEAL.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Give 'em some FLAC!

A new activist group was formed the other night, FLAC, Flower Lovers Against Cornell (Realty), the lead developer seeking a spot up-zoning along Franklin Avenue, roughly between Tivoli Towers and Ebbets Field. They argue that tall towers are contextual for this reason.

In so doing, the developers are conveniently omitting that the area was specifically down-zoned in 1991 in order to protect the Botanic Gardens from unsightly, light-stealing towers, intrusive in terms of both sight lines and shadows. This was 30 years after the citywide rezoning of 1961.

The ULURP Committee voted to tell the developers that they may only build as-of-right, 7 stories, but of course, the decision ultimately rests in the hands of Councilperson Laurie Cumbo, a person who demonstrates only as much knowledge of the community's opposition as her intentions allow. She had the nerve to ask a Council spokesperson to present his "Land Use 101" powerpoint to those in attendance at her public meeting on the issue at Medgar Evers. Really? You think you need to explain what the letters F-A-R stand for to this community?

The super-confident Ms. Cumbo doesn't even prepare notes for her presentations (I attended the meeting about the future/fate of the Armory too). She prefers to wing it, and is prone to ask herself aloud, "What's the best way to say this?" or "What's the best word for that?" The Armory meeting drew an audience unanimously opposed to the plan the Councilperson presented. It turns out that in contemporary New York it doesn't matter whether the land costs $1 or 50 million dollars; the ratio of "affordable" to market remains the same and no matter what there will be tens of thousands of applications for every so-called affordable apartment. Growing exasperated with the very vocal opposition, Cumbo blurted, "Maybe you all would like it if we just had a recreation facility," only to find that everyone would in fact be very happy with "just" a recreation facility.

Let me dwell on the design of the recreation facility. The drill hall ceiling is probably 100 feet or so at it's highest point. Available recreation space could be doubled by making the drill hall a 2-story space, an idea I guarantee never occurred to the architects. This is because the architects' clients are the market-rate folks, the fancy people, or "whitey," in my lexicon. And if there's one thing fancy people really dig it's huge vaulted ceilings under which to perfect their Plank pose. I guarantee never a thought was given to the benefits to the existing community presented by a doubling of recreation space. My shouted question was, "Who's gonna drain the pool after Community Swim?"

Then there's the matter of the lease. The question was asked, "How much will the developer have to pay for the land every year. What's the rent?" Two million dollars! Gee! And the rent never goes up over the 99 years? Wow! How much does anyone wish they were paying the same rent on their pad as was paid 99 years ago? Everybody?

Cumbo pointed out that she's never voted for any up-zoning in the community, only to be reminded that she voted for MIH in defiance of the community-supported CB9 recommendation, a unicorn moment if ever there was one. She said she hasn't supported MIH in her district but thought it was an important tool to be used elsewhere. The City Council approved MIH in defiance of the recommendations of over 90% of community boards citywide, so Cumbo is hardly alone in failing to represent her constituents in this matter.

Councilperson Cumbo is up for re-election. Give her some FLAC!

Thursday, January 26, 2017


I traveled to DC in an unexpectedly pink bus filled with overwhelmingly white New York artists, many, perhaps all, of whom were aware of the overwhelmingly whiteness of our group and the challenge to feminism that that color line represents. After I got back, I saw this photo in The New York Times of my friend and fearless leader, anti-gentrification activist Alicia Boyd, founder of MTOPP, the Movement to Protect The People, in Crown Heights. Alicia is a former kindergarten teacher and a 1000% force of nature who intends to continue to see "people who look like me" when she steps out her door. I want to continue to see people who look like her when I step out my door a few blocks away, too.

Alicia was photographed at a protest in front of the Whitney Museum on Inauguration Day where the gathered unfurled a banner that declared, “Resistance against fascism is the best art.” Alicia is not an artist, but I expect at least some artists heard about the dust-up she and other gentrification activists created and sustained against the Brooklyn Museum last summer, a chain of events set in motion by the museum's hosting the city's annual real estate developers jamboree, an event scheduled long before Anne Pasternak took office weeks before, in fairness.

The image at the top of this blog shows the response from MTOPP, EqualityForFlatbush and other groups on the day of the event. Pasternak shortly afterward offered an olive branch also covered in the Times (click on link), which was to have MTOPP etc., participate in their ongoing Agitprop! exhibition.

But it proved thorny for the museum to allow an active activist group to use their wall space (I was stunned to see a section of the MTOPP display dedicated to a statement I'd made at a meeting months before) as opposed to displaying the artifacts of past protests. So when the museum tried to re-write the terms of the agreement they'd reached with Alicia and the other organizers – regarding public forums to discuss and otherwise agitate about the displacement of longtime area residents by luxury rentals and condos – things got riled up again, and up and down they went.

A short time later, she and I and dozens of others participated in a BDS occupation of the Museum's "This Place" exhibition, funded by organizations and individuals who fund the Israeli settlements, featuring many famous photographers including Stephen Shore. We placed stickers with the ancient name of each photographed location beside the photos while someone spoke briefly of the history of the site. It was really a wonder. The Museum was freaked; mission accomplished. The main drivers were the We Will Not Be Silent folks and Andrew Ross at NYU. Incredible day.

So while we artists, statistically all white women, rode to DC together, this black woman, not an artist, was holding artists and museums to task. Some kinda wonderful. I haven't seen her since this all went down, so no details, just the photo and a para. But food for intersectional thought, I'm sure you agree.

It seems to me, thinking about the composition of the DC marchers and marchers everywhere, that we have an opportunity to build a movement that for the first time in this nation's history includes a possible actual majority of white people in solidarity with all historically marginalized Americans. I have long held the conviction that the only people who can lead this "white man's country" out of the mess it's in and hold us to the high standards of our founding documents are those who have been most brutalized. Nina Turner said recently that we may not have all come here on the same ship, but we're in the same boat now. I think she missed an opportunity to acknowledge that white people came here in ships too and also occupy the same boat now. Let us acknowledge that commonality now. It may well be the last chance we get.

March with a group you don't identify with! If you're straight, march with the LGBTQ crowd! If you're white, show up for Black Lives Matter!