One neighborhood, multiple identities

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen today’s New York Times article on the gentrification (and not) of certain Brooklyn neighborhoods. It’s a puff piece, reporting what residents of unchanged neighborhoods think about those that have gentrified, instead of investigating the underlying causes or looking at the tensions that manifest when population turnover begins. I guess that sort of historical deep-digging and analysis falls on others.

The article did get me thinking more about my trip to Tompkins Park North, which was my most diverse neighborhood yet. From hipsters whining about the lack of food options to a small Indian enclave, from Hasids walking past Italians working on cars to a throng of black kids and their parents waiting for a pool to open, this place is a nonsensical mishmash of cultures. Yet I didn’t see any altercations, nor have I read of any between the various groups. Everything seemed to mesh well, which you might expect from a community with a hand in its gentrification.

I took this walk with my friend Joel, who lives in Bushwick. Let’s start with the map:

Joel and I met at the Bedford-Nostrand Avs station off the G train, which was equally inconvenient for both of us. Our first stop was Dough, a donut shop (and a sign of gentrification). We had blood orange, coconut, and lemon-thyme. It was tough to make a pick from all of the mouth-watering options, but the real treat was the pastry itself. If it weren’t so difficult to reach via subway, I would make regular trips here to calorie-load in the most delicious way possible. Yet another argument for getting a bike.

Dough is across the street from the Lafayette Gardens Houses, giving us our first odd juxtaposition of the day.

Herbert Von King Park used to be known as Tompkins Park, the source of the neighborhood’s name. It little resembles Olmsted and Vaux’s original vision for the park, although there are few places for activities with clandestine purposes to take place. The park has a very nice baseball diamond and an amphitheater.

Across Lafayette Avenue (677 to be exact) is the home of the Magnolia Tree Earth Center and the Green Guerillas, both started by Mrs. Hattie Carthan to promote sustainability and green space in Bed-Stuy. Outside is a magnolia grandiflora tree. One of two landmarked trees in the city, it was planted in the 1880s as a seedling from North Carolina.

Even after those donuts, walking for a while made us work up an appetite. Enter Tiny Cup on Nostrand Avenue, an eccentric shop (one of the shelves had a row of test tubes). I had a “Bedford”: seasoned tofu with avocado and tomato on multi-grain toast. It was a hot day, and – unfortunately for us – the water vessels were true to the name of the establishment.

How hot was it? Fire hydrants don’t lie.

From today’s Times article: Ms. Avena, 35, [of Gerritsen Beach,] said the greater availability of organic vegetables or sustainable, grass-fed beef in a place like Park Slope holds no appeal. “If they think it’s healthy, it’s fine with me,” she said. “But it’s not for me.”

Perhaps Ms. Avena should take a trip to Hattie Carthan Garden to see how sustainable agriculture can work almost anywhere. (It’s also better for the environment – as is not driving a car everywhere, as people in Gerritsen Beach tend to do – but I digress.) I was so impressed by this place – a huge community garden in Bed-Stuy – that I’m going to devote an entire post to it later this week. Here’s a preview:

Kosciuszko Pool must have been going through a shift change when we passed. Scores of kids walked by still dripping from the pool, while over a hundred more waited outside to be let in. A group of lifeguards was on the bleachers overlooking the empty facility. It was just north of here that we encountered a block with what appeared to have a strong Indian presence.

Hey, what’s that smell on Myrtle Avenue? A whiff of one-hit-wonder, perhaps? … oh, it’s Sex and Candy. (Sorry. Even if the band is from Minnesota, it had to be done.)

The playground takes up an entire long block.

I was impressed by the amount of wall art in the neighborhood. I even saw one painted by the same person who did the Twilight Zone mural in Brownsville. Here are some of my favorites – as if this post weren’t dangerously cheesy enough.

We also made some new friends in the heat.

Northwest Bed-Stuy has a lot in common with Wallabout: namely, it’s industrial. This is one reason I don’t like visiting neighborhoods on weekends: you don’t get a feel for what happens during the week. (In touristy neighborhoods, visiting on weekends can be even worse – in the other direction.)

The area northwest of Myrtle and Nostrand teemed with Hasidic Jews. In essence, it is an extension of South Williamsburg. Joel pointed out that many of the buildings had bars covering the windows. My guess is these are to prevent children from falling out; I will roll this into my research for that neighborhood unless someone has insight.

We also strolled through a Kosher supermarket on Flushing Avenue. We were the only non-Hasid customers, but were matched in that regard by a few of the staff (including a sushi-preparer). I picked up a box of matzoh-ball mix. We’ll see how those turn out.

Our last stop was the Marcy Projects, home of Jay-Z (and for fans of Chappelle’s Show, of Ashy Larry). The buildings are much shorter than most of the other public-housing projects I’ve seen so far. They’re also older: these date from 1949.

Over the six hours I spent on this trip, I learned at least two valuable lessons. First: doing visits in the middle of the day in the middle of summer results in poor lighting for photos. Second: these trips are better with a partner. Joel spotted several interesting items that I had missed, and had neat takes on some of the things we saw. If you’re intrigued, apply within.

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2 Responses to One neighborhood, multiple identities

  1. hjdole says:

    I like the pictures from this week. I didn’t know the Jay-Z fact. I wonder if he gives back to the community in any way.

  2. Jackie says:

    I love Dough!! Great post, looking forward to hearing more about chickens.

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