12/15/16 10:22am
Illustration: Laura Davies

Illustration: Laura Davies

“Bully” is a word I’ve never really used until recently. It felt juvenile, like children are bullies and adults are jerks, assholes, nemeses or perhaps enemies. I’ve always found other words more pointed, but now bully feels relevant.

I have been thinking about bullies a lot since the election. The past months have produced video footage that illustrates the mood in this country–a man standing in the aisle of an airplane, clapping his hands and hollering “we got some Hillary bitches on here… hey baby, Donald Trump is your president, every goddamn one of you, if you don’t like it, too bad.” Another cell phone video shows a white woman in the craft store Michaels in Chicago yelling at the staff that they are discriminating against her and that she voted for Trump. Another man in a Starbucks also claims he is being discriminated against and that he also voted for Trump. On the flip side there is no shortage of people being harassed for being black, for being Muslim, for being queer, for being female, for being.


While it feels like this is a singular moment for un-reason, there has long been plenty of shouting in American culture.
Bullies are nothing new.


This is the new world we live in and now it is time to deal. We cannot keep our heads down and hope to ride it out. There has to be a plan of action. Reason won’t work. “No ma’am, that cashier is not discriminating against you,” you may want to calmly explain. “She is working at the exact pace that her hourly wage dictates.” But this person who picks a fight in a store, or on a plane, or waiting for a dessert masquerading as a coffee drink doesn’t want to work anything out; her only desire it to dominate. Discussion has no place here.

While it feels like this is a singular moment for un-reason, there has long been plenty of shouting in American culture. Bullies are nothing new. Standing up to them isn’t either.

In 1996 I lived in Chicago and trained to become an escort for women’s clinics. The escort’s role is to create a shield between the patients and the picketers while maintaining the legally sanctioned buffer zone intact. (Buffer zones mark a specific distance from the clinic door that protesters may not come within. Their distance varied from state to state, but in 2014 the Supreme Court declared them an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.) Some moments required us to form a human shield around the patient to keep her safe and out of reach. (more…)

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05/12/16 11:29am
Amy Haimerl's Detroit home, mid-rehab. Photo: Amy Haimerl

Amy Haimerl’s Detroit home, mid-rehab. Photo: Amy Haimerl

As the former organizer of the summer film series, Red Hook Ficks, Amy Haimerl’s name often popped up in our inbox with word of the latest lineup. Her emails quietly stopped a few years ago, and then a few weeks ago we got another one from Amy about her new memoir, Detroit Hustle, which details her move with her husband to the Motor City, and their rehab of a 1914 Georgian Revival home in its West Village neighborhood. (Curbed Detroit recently featured all the pretty “after” photos.)

As any normal New Yorker with an overactive imagination about what life must be like in Detroit, I devoured her book–and was reminded often of Brooklyn. Putting down roots in a city with such disparate economic classes is a familiar story here, too, as couples and families make a home for themselves in gentrifying neighborhoods of Brooklyn alongside longtimers who can’t afford to do the same.

Obviously, things are much different in Detroit. The level of blight and poverty in the Motor City is unlike anything most New Yorkers have ever experienced. Nearly 40% live below the poverty line, and the median income is under $30,000 a year (compared to roughly $50,000 in NYC, which is closer to the national average). In one visit back to Red Hook, Haimerl and her husband are amazed at how much copper wiring, sheet metal, and shopping carts they see in plain sight, considering these things are so thoroughly scrapped from homes, neighborhoods and streetlamps in Detroit.

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It is pretty unimaginable to think that half of Detroit’s streetlights do not work because of scrapping and a lack of resources to replace them. But this state of affairs has also lent the city a phoenix-from-the-ashes appeal that we’re constantly reading about. We’ve all seen the Style section pieces about Detroit becoming a haven for artists, ex-Brooklynites and small business owners. Haimerl reveals this side of Detroit not as an onlooker, but as someone who’s become a part of its community. She also dispels a lot of its myths, starting with the fact that the dream of buying a home in Detroit on the cheap is just that–they’re incredibly expensive to repair and good luck getting a mortgage.

Haimerl also spends a good deal of time delving into the thorny issues of gentrification, too, particularly as a woman who grew up poor and worked her way to the middle class. Not the “middle class” of Brooklyn that can afford a million dollar brownstone and another $500,000 in renovations. But the middle class of Detroit, where you are lucky to have a well-paying job.

The questions are ultimately the same, though, in both scenarios. How do you become a part of a community when some members view you as a gentrifier? How do you make peace with the fact that you have the means to invest in a home when many around you cannot?

One of the pleasures of the book is the way Haimerl weighs these questions in her honest, compassionate voice. We asked her a few more questions about Detroit Hustle, below. You can also hear her tomorrow night in Red Hook, in a conversation with journalist Laura Holson. (more…)

05/19/15 3:30pm

415UdMBlLVLLast week, New York magazine ran an as-told-to account of a landlord who exemplified the worst of what we think about heinous real estate practices in New York. He was just one person, though–and really the most reprehensible one–featured in DW Gibson’s new book, The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century. Gibson spent three years interviewing people who are all involved in the story of how New York’s neighborhoods have radically changed over the past 15 years. He chose the most compelling personalities from all sides of the conversation–landlords, tenants, architects, developers, and activists–to deliver personal accounts that put faces on the established narratives surrounding gentrification, like the effect that market-rate renters have upon rent-stabilized tenants in the same building. We learn how a man who moved into his Crown Heights apartment in the first grade is later taken to housing court ostensibly because he upgraded his cabinets (just as the building’s landlord has offered him $30,000 to move); how one Bed-Stuy native jumps in front of headphone-wearing newcomers to get them to become more present; and how a Ridgewood architect sees the evolution of land use in New York as vital and as natural as the evolution of language.

It’s a truly absorbing book, and it sold out on Amazon in a matter of days. You can find copies on the shelves of local bookstores like Greenlight, though, where Gibson will be reading tomorrow night at 8pm. Below is an edited version of our interview.

Brooklyn Based: A point you often make in the book, and that you hear from the various people you interviewed, is that gentrification is not just an us-versus-them debate. There are many different types of gentrifiers. And it seems as though the gentrifiers that long-time residents get most upset about are the new residents who don’t seem to want to engage at all with the existing community. People who have just moved to a neighborhood simply because it’s cheaper.

If every new resident just engaged with their new community in a meaningful way, do you think gentrification would no longer be as loaded or as bad a word as it is?

DW Gibson: I would say yes. I don’t think it’s a panacea and it would fix everything, but to answer your question precisely, I don’t think it would be as toxic of a word as it is. This is one of the points in the book that I can speak to directly as an individual, as a New Yorker.

I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn, on a small street where it’s safe to say the vast majority of the folks who live on this block are Caribbean. They’re from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago. I’m very different from them on the surface. I feel conscious about that. I feel aware of that. And the best that I can do, and what I strive to do is simply to develop personal connections with all the people around me, my neighbors and the people down the street and introduce myself and get to know them and become involved in the community in any way I can.

I think if everyone was doing that type of engagement, it would be a first big, huge step toward taking away a lot of the animosity. Because I think there are issues with gentrification on a policy level and we need to talk about those in terms of the things we give developers. Then there are issues with gentrification on an interpersonal level–how we conduct ourselves on the street and how we do or don’t engage our community. (more…)

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04/24/15 1:15pm
Ryan Lammie, an artist and founder of the artist collective Radiant Hall in Pittsburgh, which he calls one of the most supportive arts communities he's been a part of. Photo: Ben Filio

Ryan Lammie, an artist and founder of the artist collective Radiant Hall in Pittsburgh, which he calls one of the most supportive arts communities he’s been a part of. Photo: Ben Filio

When the borough you call home becomes known as one the most expensive places to live in America, it’s natural to look around for better alternatives. For a hot, Internet second, Buffalo—which recently made that list of cities that young college graduates are moving to—looked like a fine choice, so long as you enjoy brutal winters and more economic initiatives than jobs. But there is another metropolis the 25-34 cohort is gravitating toward that is considerably more buzzworthy, filled with James Beard Award-nominated chefs, tech startups, and the cool factor of a soon-to-open Ace Hotel. The city that holds all this promise? Pittsburgh. It claims more brainpower than Silicon Valley, based upon the number of its college-educated residents, and offers good jobs and a low cost of living for its young transplants. Think Portland, Oregon, except half the size, and with higher employment.

To find out how Pittsburgh stacks up as a second chapter for Brooklynites in search of greener pastures, I spoke to seven expats. If they all sound a little boosterish, it’s not a coincidence. Pittsburghers seem to have a hard time finding fault with their city, despite being landlocked and getting twice the amount of snow as New York City (on average). Nearly everyone I interviewed who has relocated there speaks about Steel City as if they were on the payroll of the city’s tourism board.

“For so many years, when you said Pittsburgh, the first image that popped in people’s heads was this gloomy, dreary, smog-filled city, and that’s not who we are anymore,” Alexis Tragos, 32, told me. (more…)

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04/10/15 9:14am
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Lola RocknRolla and her band Megababe at Meow Mix bar, late nineties. Photo: Santos J. Arce

Jerre Kalbas is a lifelong New Yorker and a 97-year-old lesbian. When I tell her that there are only four remaining lesbian bars in New York, she literally drops her rice cake. “Four?” she asks. “That’s terrible. When I was growing up, there were so many.” I feel bad telling Jerre this news. I worry that my generation disappoints her. I want her to finish her rice cake.

Jerre was born in 1918, and was active during the 1940s, a time when “drinks were 10 cents” and police conducted raids on New York’s LGBT bars. I was born in 1983, and am active at a time when “Jell-o shots are $10,” and more women identify as queer than ever before. Despite this fact, there are currently only four active lesbian bars left in New York —Henrietta Hudson, The Cubbyhole, Ginger’s Bar, and Bum-Bum Bar. That leaves just two jukeboxes and eight public bathrooms for all of New York’s barhopping lesbians. Philadelphia’s last lesbian bar just died, as did DC’s, and San Francisco’s is on its way out. At just four bars, New York now has the most lesbian bars of anywhere in the country.

While New York is home to many more men’s bars than women’s, the decline has been felt by gay men as well. I estimate there are around 53 remaining queer bars total, in a city that just 30 years ago supported close to 86.  (This number comes from the Gayellow pages, which only includes published listings. The actual amount was very likely higher). That’s a 38% decline, despite a 16% city population increase. It’s even harder to pinpoint the number of women’s bars that used to exist, because some bars were run in basements, and no official statistics were kept. But anecdotal evidence is abundant, and the nationwide pattern is striking.

None of this is new news, and it’s nothing to celebrate. Imagine being the last four polar bears at the bottom of an endangered species list–it’s lonely. (more…)

04/03/15 3:31pm
"Brooklyn has 99 problems. I need to have 99 solutions," says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Photo: Office of the Brooklyn Borough President

“Brooklyn has 99 problems. I need to have 99 solutions,” says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Photo: Office of the Brooklyn Borough President

Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s first black borough president, has been in office for over a year now. Based upon the subjects of his press releases so far, he’s taken the largely ceremonial role of borough president much more seriously than his predecessor. When the bombastic Marty Markowitz was in office, his staff often sent memos noting that he was co-hosting events like the “Candidate Stickball Challenge” or performing various ribbon-cuttings. The statements coming out of BP Adams’ office, by comparison, are far less geared toward photo ops. Some of his ambitious proposals to date include the recent Access-Friendly NYC initiative that he unveiled to make NYC public buildings even more accessible than what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires; a series of town hall discussions he initiated to advance police-community relations in the aftermath of the Eric Garner decision and the assassination of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu; and the advancement of gun safety in New York through the adoption of pilot programs in the NYPD such as one using fingerprint recognition technology to fire guns.

While some are critical of the fact that he has taken up too many causes, Adams says he does not want to be known for just one issue. He is also working to connect Brooklynites in any way he can, from opening up Borough Hall to a wide range of groups from all over Brooklyn for events and meetings to broadening Wi-Fi coverage throughout the borough.

I sat down with the warm and welcoming Adams in a stately Borough Hall conference room in March to learn more about his plans for Brooklyn and beyond, including his interest in a future run for mayor. Below is the condensed version of our conversation–but you can listen to the entire 43-minute interview here. (more…)

03/26/15 9:00am
Reggie Roc

Brooklyn choreographer Reggie Gray is hoping his new Park Avenue Armory show, FLEXN, will introduce a new audience to street dancing and serve as a platform for social reform. Photos: Maria J. Hackett

When you think of street dance, Park Avenue is not usually the street that comes to mind. But choreographer Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray and director Peter Sellars are making the posh Upper East Side artery the place to see one of the city’s most exciting displays of physical expression with their new show, FLEXN, which opened at the Park Avenue Armory yesterday. For the next 10 days they will attempt to add a different type of cred to a street style phenomenon that up to now has had to rely on venues like subway cars and the steps of Union Square Park in order to attract an audience.

FLEXN centers around a street dance form called “flexing”—or “flexin” or “flexN”—a style pioneered by Gray that combines rhythmic movement and contortion. The form emerged from Jamaican dance halls and Brooklyn reggae clubs that were popular in the ’90s. Evolving over time, flexing hit the streets and began to gain traction around 2005, finding a home in dance circles all over the world.

“Our hope is to put street dance in a different lane,” says Gray. “To get street dance some different respect because the Armory has such a great reputation for displaying beautiful pieces of work. Flexing will be looked at in a different language and in a different artistic perspective.” (more…)

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03/13/15 9:00am
 stretch of houses down Catalpa Avenue, with St. Matthias Roman Catholic church off in the distance. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

A stretch of houses down Catalpa Avenue, with St. Matthias Roman Catholic church off in the distance. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

I’d like to preface this piece by assuring you that that this neighborhood guide is not a sly ploy to get anyone to consider leaving Kings County in favor of Queens. This is not the makings of a movement, or an attempt to reposition Ridgewood as the next big thing in real estate. On the contrary,  it is merely a gentle nudge, a reminder that just because you may call Greenpoint or Bed-Stuy home, that doesn’t mean you can’t meander north of Myrtle Avenue. Getting to know a new neighborhood is a luxury that’s afforded to pretty much anyone with a MetroCard, so why not take advantage? Ridgewood, Queens, with its effortlessly tranquil streets and homegrown sensibilities, is an excellent place to begin.

Ridgewood has long been debated territory, with is borders being disputed as far back as the 18th or 19th century. It lies precariously between the borders of Brooklyn and Queens, and often fights for zip code status with nearby Bushwick. Middle Village and Glendale surround Ridgewood to the east and south, and originally, it was the Dutch that settled here, making a living by farming before waves of urbanization began overrunning the area in the early 20th century. Following World War I, the rise of knitting factories and breweries (the remains of which can still be seen strewn across Ridgewood’s west side) attracted a flood of Eastern European immigrants, mostly Germans and Slovenians. Today, the community is an amalgamation of long-time, old-school Eastern European residents, a Hispanic community and younger artist types who are starting to fall under Ridgewood’s spell. Craig Hubert and Chloe Wyma, both journalists in their 20s, have lived in Ridgewood for five and three years, respectively.

“I love how relatively affordable it is (though unfortunately it’s becoming less so), and its sleepy, family-oriented vibe” says Wyma, with Hubert sharing similar sentiments. He notes that the neighborhood’s peacefulness is undoubtedly part of its allure, and that “it even gets eerily quiet at night,” making Ridgewood seem far removed from the city that never sleeps.

(more…)

03/06/15 9:00am
One of two rooms in Jennifer’s dungeon. Photo: Heather Dockray

One of two rooms in Jennifer’s dungeon. Photo: Heather Dockray

When Jennifer P.’s roommate moved out earlier this year, the 24-year-old Florida native saw an opportunity. While many people in her situation might choose to get a new roommate, Jennifer, who now had a full house at her complete disposal, decided to go a different route. In the front room of her apartment, she did something she had always dreamed about doing: She built her own dungeon devoted to bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (better known as BDSM).

While living in Florida, Jennifer (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) had Google searched “How to make money” and landed on a page about BDSM dungeons. She began reading about the business and started operating one part-time. Without a house to call her own, though, her dungeon struggled to turn a profit. Then she moved to Brooklyn, and temporarily gave up the business. But with her roommate now gone—and 1,750 square feet at her disposal—Jennifer decided to capitalize on the opportunity and re-open shop. At the time, she was paying $1,800 a month in rent for a three-bedroom duplex in Park Slope, and she didn’t have a regular source of income.

BDSM dungeons might seem out of place in the Slope—at the local coffee shop where we mostly spoke about dungeons over granola, multiple people kept turning around to stare—but Jennifer assured me that hers is not an anomaly here in New York City where, as long as participants don’t have sexual intercourse, BDSM dungeons are legal. There are multiple clubs in Manhattan (Pandora’s Box and Paddles are the most notorious), and informal kink parties pop up throughout the city. As Jennifer explained it, dungeons like hers are a great opportunity for people looking to make money in the sex industry “without actually having sex.” (more…)

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05/02/14 8:00am

Spring weather means picnics, concerts in the park and all manner of socializing after a long winter indoors with your Netflix. Which means you’ll need something to talk about (other than the weather). Before you head to the party, check out our 10 favorite in-depth Brooklyn tales from the past thirty days.

1. The Mama of “Marry Your Baby Daddy Day” Gets Cold Feet

(Illustration by Corrine Mucha / Narratively)

Illustration by Corrine Mucha for Narratively

Longtime Brooklynites may remember Marry Your Baby Daddy Day, a 10-couple wedding extravaganza at Borough Hall held a few years back. You might be surprised to learn what the woman behind MYBDD is up to now.

2. Brooklyn’s Weird Wacky-Tobacky Harvest of 1951

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Photo courtesy Brooklyn Public Library

In the summer of 1951, New York City was consumed by two things: the Subway Series and the city’s mysterious cache of 41,000 pounds of weed.

3. The Accidental Marathoner

(Illustration by Rachel Dukes / Narratively)

Illustration by Rachel Dukes for Narratively

Have you heard the one about the illegal immigrant who moved to Brooklyn, and on his first day here accidentally ran the New York Marathon?

4. Imagining a New Atlantic Avenue

Streetsblog wonders what Brooklyn’s most dangerous boulevard could be like if Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan actually encourages drivers to slow the eff down!
(more…)

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