Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Map of Winthrop Part #1

Rodne Alteon 3/19/09

Map of Winthrop-Part #1
Winthrop is a one-way street located in Prospect Lefferts Garden in Brooklyn, New York, that ends at Flatbush Avenue. My block is located between Bedford and Flatbush. It is a block comprised of mixed social classes, affluent and working-class people, with diverse cultural backgrounds. It feels great to be there because it is an extension of my actual home. People are generally friendly and some have built longstanding relationships. Many chat on their way to and from work just to see how everything is. The funny thing about the block is that it can be pleasant for those who are familiar with neighbors, scary for those who aren’t familiar, and isolating for those who do not take the time out to meet with neighbors or know the area. It can be delightful for those who sacrifice the time to reach out and communicate to fellow neighbors about the block or depressing for some depending on who they are.
Neighborhood demographics determine the diversity and give you a clear map of the block. Anna Penny writes about her experience in Bushwick in 2003 just as the neighborhood was on the verge of gentrification. She starts out by defining the term as “the renewing and rebuilding of a neighborhood; it is the influx of the middle or affluent classes into deteriorating areas, often displacing poorer residents” (78). Similar changes have taken place on Winthrop Street and Prospect Lefferts Garden as a whole. I moved on this block in 1998. Winthrop Street neighborhood demographics have changed socially and economically. It has changed drastically; at one point, before 2005, the only white and affluent people that lived on the block came from building 80 or the private houses. Now, more white and affluent people live on the block. The amount of white and affluent people pre-2005 was about 15-20. Post 2005 it more than doubled now about 50 or more live here. Many people have left because of rent increases, the refusal of landlords to continue section-8, and cutbacks on the community budget for affordable housing and other housing issues. The people who have left are colored lower socioeconomic families. The dynamics of the current community are more geared to whites and affluent people rather than middle, working class people. I have noticed that every time a house or apartment is vacant landlords prefer to give it to white or affluent people. For instance, in my building #55, we have had four neighbors move out in the past two years and only white and affluent people have been accepted into the empty apartments. Across the street in the joint buildings three neighbors moved out in the past year and a half after decades of living there and only white and affluent people have been accepted into the empty apartments.
The block is beautiful because of its fine architecture. It is a mixture of attached brownstone and freestanding houses as well as apartment buildings. It makes me feel safe because I know practically everyone on the block and where everyone lives. It has a few trees, some tall and some medium height. The tall trees reach so high they can no longer stand straight. They need pruning it seems the trees are leaning over. The medium height trees are thin in stature and held together by iron guards to keep it in place. Some houses and buildings have flowerbeds (variety of flowers) or grass beds in front and on the side of the properties. One particular building stands out the most to me on this block. It is an interesting, pre-war, six-story building, which has a very modern look to it given its construction date of 1931. To me the building is very different from the others on the block it follows an ancient theme. One of its most fascinating features is a sundial on the façade. On the top of my building at 55 Winthrop, the sundial could possibly represent how long the building has been around. In addition, there are about nine houses with nine basements (26, 24, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10) that have been around for more than 103+ years. Each of these houses are three story houses, including the basement tier. These are the historical, attached brownstone houses. Their designs are simple, but the history is complex.
Every time I walk down the beautiful street of Winthrop I feel like a tourist because the block has so much history. In between the two main avenues, Flatbush and Bedford, I pass attached brownstones, a housing project, a building with a sundial, and a brick co-op building in the middle of the block before running into a string of stand-alone colonial houses dating back to the early 1900s. One of the colonial houses, the middle red one at 92 Winthrop Street, was built in 1907. It has a front yard, backyard, sun porch and a row of flowers leading up to its front door. House owner Milton Benjamin, an active member in the community, and in the block association, says he has no intention of ever moving and has lived there with his wife since 1982. According to Benjamin during one of our block association meetings, “all prices are moving up and there are much younger folks coming in. There were many years when this block was really active, as far as, criminal activity and so forth. However, it is still a good neighborhood and it is finally getting better after all these years.” At 7:00 am every morning he is usually taking this morning walk and picking up whatever garbage he sees on the floor while saying hello to everyone going to work or school. This is why people consider him one of the friendliest and most dedicated neighbors, someone who cleans up the block in effort to enhance the quality of life for fellow neighbors.
Another house that stands out to me is one of the attached brownstones. 18 Winthrop Street is one of the most stunning houses on Winthrop Street. The 1905 one-family brick house has a pleasing symmetry to it, but the steps and elevated brick porch area look a little odd. They seem modified compared to the rest of the attached brownstones. It seems renovated and unoriginal, but nice. During an open house I saw the inside of the house. The interior was fascinating with parquet floors and a gorgeous stairway. The house has the added benefit of sitting on a 132-foot-deep lot. The nicest houses in Prospect Lefferts Gardens are now in the $1.3 to $1.5 million ranges so the $849, 000 asking price at the time it was on sale may have been a nice way in for those on slightly lesser budgets.
Across the street is the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association building (19) with its service houses next to it (3 houses- 23, 25, 27). CAMBA was founded in 1977 as the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association. CAMBA is a non-profit agency that provides services that connect people with opportunities to enhance their quality of life. CAMBA has continuously expanded its services in direct response to our block’s emerging needs. CAMBA has consistently responded to our community needs by creating individualized service-oriented programming for Winthrop Street. The CAMBA on this block only offers two of their six community cores: 1) HIV/AIDS services, which involves a complete range of services to affected families and individuals; and 2) housing services and development, which provide assistance in homelessness prevention, housing relocation, and emergency/transitional/permanent supportive housing. CAMBA’s presence affects the block with the impact of its service orientation, but also because our block association is able to conduct and hold meetings in this building. So it gives everyone an opportunity to come out and express his or her concerns.
According to Tim Cresswell “Place,” ‘place-making’ means making a place “to suggest ownership or some kind of connection between a person (s) or a particular location.” (83). One example of a “place-making” activity is when neighborhood organizations put pressure on people to tidy their yards or grow more trees in the community. For example, at my last block association meeting I heard complaints and suggestions from everyone about how to clean up the block. The main priority we all decided was to request from the city more trees and planting on the block to beautify our surroundings. One neighbor who actually studies how block beautification and more green affects the development of the block or neighborhood pointed out that the outcome of more trees creates a tranquil feeling. It is important because this type of feeling generates comfort and gives an incentive for more cooperation and communication amongst neighbors.
As we continue to survey the block we come upon five attached buildings, which have been around for about 100 years and have a driveway preceding the first house and a parking lot in the back. It resembles the format of the projects. Then we have five apartment buildings ranging from 40 to 105 units including one that is specifically for condos and co-ops. The other buildings are plain and the structure is simple. However, besides 55 building 80 looks newer. It is the widest building on the block and at night with all its lights on it resembles a mini skyscraper. Also, there are eleven other houses on the block; some well built and revamped while others seem haunted. Some of these houses look haunted because the homeowners have not renovated their exterior features. Some have deteriorating paint jobs, vines and leaves growing on the exterior walls, dying flowerbeds, wretched and smelly yards. It seems like these houses could probably be the oldest houses on the block, even older then the attached brownstones. Each house possesses individual characteristics of architectural beauty. Some have beautiful paint jobs, colorful decorations, wonderful nice smelling yards, and unique sculptures in front. This block seems like it has been preserved very well for the most part and contains extensive tradition.
Sidewalk life on Winthrop Street is very lively and exuberant. Sidewalk life on this block takes the form of a community center. In other words, every day the activities and the amount of people who attend or use a community center do things publicly. This is so since there is no actual community facility except CAMBA, which is used by others and only used by the block for purposes like meetings. There are usually many people outside throughout the day; many people interact while others seldom speak. Sometimes the block is so quiet, around 2:30am, you can hear the wind blowing and echoing multiple sounds at different pitches. It sounds like a natural harmonic musical symphony. The majority of people who have lived on the block for years are friendly, while some newcomers are anti-social. In other words, some neighbors just aren’t too friendly and do not seem sociable at all. It seems that they lack interpersonal skills. Some come and go about as they please with no intention of establishing neighborly relations. Among the new neighbors, some talk while others remain to themselves. Some make it their duty to reach out and form ties on their block, while others are reluctant or hesitant to do so.
On Winthrop Street there is a different lifestyle or culture of the street in the daytime and nighttime. There is a salient conflict between longtime residents and newcomers. The former are out on the block socializing and watching out for one another in the daytime and nighttime. In the morning, people are moving purposefully to work, school, or other destinations. These people on the go are also plugged into cell phones, IPODS, and other electronic devices. At 6:30 am the employees from the corner store, 683 Winthrop Street, are picking up their newspapers dropped off by delivery trucks. In the afternoon, a lot of people are coming from school and work. At around 5:00 pm everyone is outside. Everyone supervises the kids outside at the time and any other time even if the parents go inside to relax. Everyone functions like one huge family. There are many languages spoken in the community, especially Creole and Spanish. People are using community facilities from time to time depending on the circumstances such as CAMBA. For instance, we usually hold our block association meetings at CAMBA at 7:30 pm. At night, a lot of people are hanging out. People are walking in groups and by themselves. Usually at 8:30 pm before closing the business on the right-hand side (Resource House of Supply) at the corner of the block, 685 Winthrop Street, are putting out their huge amounts of garbage for pickup in the morning. For the past three nights around 12:00am I have been seeing this man who takes out the garbage for building 35. I felt the need to point this out because every night he would put the garbage out for pick-up in rows, the same pattern every day. This information reveals that this block is made up of multiple different people of various social classes. This is a block comprised of mixed social and economic criteria that is slowly shifting towards wealthier individuals. However, one conclusion I can draw about this block is it is very welcoming to everyone, wealthy or poor, if you take the time out to include yourself rather than exclude yourself from it and its ongoing activities.
“The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact,” Jane Jacobs emphasizes the sidewalk as a place of common interest and is the least respected for the power it holds in bringing people together. Jacobs shows the literal power that a simple sidewalk can possess and how it makes the difference between community ties vs. anonymous people. According to Jacobs; “Sidewalk public contact and sidewalk public safety, taken together, bear directly on our country’s most serious social problem-segregation and racial discrimination” (100). There are not as many possible ways to achieve “togetherness” in a place that lacks a sidewalk life is one of the main arguments Jacobs is touching on. This contributes to what she calls “narrow and accidental social life” (96). In other words, this happens because of the absence of sidewalk life. People are not up-to-date with the community because “Word does not move around where public characters and sidewalk life are lacking” (99). When an area or city lacks a sidewalk life, the people of the place must enlarge their private lives if they are to have anything approaching equivalent contact with their neighbors.
On Winthrop Street people use sidewalks and curbs to get around. They don’t have to walk far for the subway or the bus; it is only a block away. There are no bike paths, designated roads, or areas for bicycles. There are no places to park or secure bikes except street poles or building front gates. Every other street pole has a bike chained belonging either to people who reside on this block or who work in the area. There are multiple parking spaces when you can get them. However, at times there are never any empty parking spaces. One afternoon, I saw a man looking for parking for three hours. There are no meters and many people have cars. However, most people usually walk. There isn’t nearby access to a highway. The roads are about average and there are usually no potholes. Grocery stores can be found on each avenue, which are Flatbush and Bedford. There are enough grocery stores so people can walk less than two blocks and use their grocery carts. The grocery stores have a variety of foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. They carry all milk products. They offer non-alcoholic beverages. There are healthy options for food that are very affordable. There are low fat entrée options. Most of the markets are pretty hygienic. There are multiple ethnic food stores and restaurants such as pizzas stores, Chinese food, Thai food, Hispanic food, and multiple fast food chains like McDonalds and Burger King. The nearby businesses and restaurants are small and upcoming businesses.
There are five or more elementary schools in the community. From the early afternoon to the late evening young and old people hang out on the stoops, playing, talking, smoking, drinking, and watching their kids, and other peoples’ kids too. There are many open spaces. There are few community gardens mainly the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Currently, there are no community gyms and we lack cultural centers. We utilize the local park at PS. 92 (an elementary school) every morning around 7:30am and every night at 10:00pm for working out. There are a few non-profits like Camba. They provide people inside and outside the community with health and housing services as well as a meeting place for my monthly block association meetings. Some of the events posted inside and on the doors of the buildings seem to be of interest to the community. The segment of the community the event is marked to is everyone. They are affordable or at times free. The types of events are community service projects, community forums, block association meetings, and other community related issues.
The youth and newcomers remained isolated and unconnected until I took the initiative to lead the Winthrop Street New Generation Block Association being unanimously elected as President. It was a very new organization created to stray away from the past block association’s limitations, controversies, difficulties and lack of togetherness. The key turning point began with the addition of two words in the name to succeed the old organization “New Generation.” The position required one with great leadership skills, a sincere passion, an extreme dedication and a special aptitude for community organizing. An individual with charisma willing to serve and communicate to all with deep aspirations of strengthening neighbor ties while enhancing the quality of life on the block in all aspects. However, my immediate focus was the patterns that seem obvious to me, which are the misperceptions of each individual. There is an apparent gap between the youth and the adults. Empowered and motivated by my personal motto “Involve the Youth, We Know the Truth.” A young individual seen daily outside on the block at times to an adult does not seem productive. However, it is not right to assume because who knows what that person does when he or she is not outside. An older individual seen greeting certain people and not saying hello to everyone is viewed as someone who is not friendly. These are the overarching problems of stereotypes and unexamined assumptions.
The underlying forces that have lead to the changes on the block and contribute to what I perceive, as a lack of communication and interaction, at least among some community members was the sporadic violent occurrences on the block in the absence of a block association. The lack of communication and interaction was caused by the lack of the previous block association to publicize and encourage participation from everyone on the block. It seemed to me that the block association that existed years ago was more focused on attending to the needs of those who knew each other without the intention of welcoming newcomers or those interested. During those times the block was not stable because it was segregated and sectioned off into different groups. In the past, we have had violent occurrences such as robberies (armed and unarmed), assaults, fights, shootings, and a few murders. These were heavily caused by the lack of unity and strength of the block. There were many different social groups and little understanding of each group interests. There was more of a perceived conflict of interests instead of overlapping interests. The social characteristics of these groups that were mainly divided could be placed in two umbrella categories between apartment dwellers and homeowners. There are no apparent tensions between the apartment dwellers and the homeowners except a serious issue of age difference. They play out in relation to those of established residents and the newcomers such that the revived block association called “Winthrop Street New Generation Block Association” has bridged the gap. It has created a platform for everyone to express their concerns, suggestions and really get to know each other beyond their unexamined assumptions.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Street sign piccs!!

Sent from my BlackBerry? smartphone with SprintSpeed

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Meeting Rescheduled to next Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 at CAMBA, 19 Winthrop Street

Good Morning Neighbors,

Hope all is well with everyone.

I am posting this message to notify you of the Winthrop Street New Generation Block Association meeting rescheduled (due to a scheduling conflict) to next Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 7:00pm at CAMBA, 19 Winthrop Street. Please be there on time we will be beginning at 7:00pm sharp because we have a whole leap of things to discuss this meeting such as the Block Beautification Day coming up on September 12th, Back-to-school strategies for success, Fall Block Wide stoop sale (October. ??), and so much more.

***Has anyone figured out as of yet some suggestions on how to make the block greener on the block clean-up day??*** And anyone who can or can't participate the day of the clean-
up please make us aware so we can make a headcount of everyone.

We look forward to seeing you there. Spread the word and bring your
neighbors. Have a wonderful day and enjoy the rest of the week