Confessions of a Neighborhood Blogger

"I Love Franklin Avenue": A blogger's-eye-view of the Cobble Hill/Williamsburgzation of Crown Heights

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Nick Juravich moved to Crown Heights in 2008 to work as Brooklyn Coordinator for the New York Road Runners' Mighty Milers Program, a youth health and fitness program. That job had him walking, running, biking, and riding subways all over Brooklyn, and he started a blog--I Love Franklin Avenue--as an effort to make sense of his new home.

In 2010, Juravich left NYRR to pursue a PhD in U.S. history at Columbia University, where he is now writing on the history of community activism, education and labor in New York City in the 1960s and '70s.  

He narrowed the scope of his blog from a general overview of not only Crown Heights but all of the surrounding areas and Brooklyn in general to hyper-local community events, neighborhood change, and local issues in western Crown Heights, where Franklin Avenue is the main commercial strip.

Most of the posts are announcements about upcoming events and reportage on happenings around the neighborhood. Longer posts are typically about neighborhood gentrification, which garner healthy debates and interesting conversations in the comment threads of the blog.

1. What would you tell someone moving in?

Get to know your neighbors up and down your block. Crown Heights has a long history of block-level activism--lots of block clubs, community gardens, and the like. The folks who've been here a long time have a lot of wisdom to impart.

The Crow Hill Community Association (CHCA) is our local community association (they meet every third Tuesday of the month), and their meetings are a great place to start.

2. Where are the best deals in the neighborhood in terms of real estate? What about in terms of dining/entertainment?

Rents and home prices are rising like crazy in Crown Heights, so I'm not sure there's a deal to be had anymore.

Food and drink have gotten a little more costly up and down Franklin Avenue, but there are still plenty of places where a decent meal can be had on a graduate student budget. The best cheap food and entertainment combo, now that spring is here, is a pattie from any of the local West Indian places and a stroll down Eastern Parkway. 

One thing you'll find on Franklin that can't be had anywhere else is classic Panamanian food from Kelso Restaurant, which has been serving it up since 1969, back when the area was still the nation's largest Panamanian neighborhood (and every October, it still hosts the Panamanian Independence Day parade).

3. What's the most coveted location within the neighborhood to live?

The most coveted locations in the neighborhood are certainly the rowhouses on the side streets just north of Eastern Parkway between Franklin and Bedford (St. Charles, St. Francis, St. John's, Sterling, Park Place, etc). They're close to all the new businesses and the Franklin Avenue 2-3-4-5 stop (express and local trains), and blocks are some of the most meticulously preserved in Crown Heights.

4. Do you have a dream building in the neighborhood?

Everyone loves the side-street brownstones and row-houses (the ones along Park Place between Bedford and Franklin are now landmarked, so perhaps they're tops). 

5. Any buildings that feel out of place with the feel of the neighborhood?

Quite a few new condos have gone up, most of which are of the glass-and-steel variety. They've sparked a landmarking effort. 

There are several along Bergen Street at the north end of the neighborhood, but the daddy of them all is 341 Eastern Parkway at the corner of Franklin, an address that was an empty pit but is now well on its way to being a massive new building that will really change the way that whole corner looks and feels.

6. Any real estate-related controversy brewing or currently happening in the neighborhood?

We've got plenty of controversy. There's an ongoing battle between local organizers and a local real estate office around the question of affordable housing that's resulted in several protests and a lawsuit, and we're also in the midst of a rezoning process. The controversies all go back to the same thing--Crown Heights is an increasingly expensive place to live, and that means people are being displaced. 

The rezoning downzones the sides streets, requiring contextual construction for the most part, but upzones a long section of Franklin and the immediate lots on the side streets. The upzoning (which does have a cap at 8 stories, though most of Franklin is 3 or 4) includes incentives for affordable housing, but developers don't have to utilize them, and even if they do, they're only building 20% affordable units in most cases, which may provide a bit of immediate relief to families who get into them, but doesn't do much about the current trends, which are pricing people out faster than these units will get built, if they do.

7. How has the neighborhood changed in the past five years? Any projections on how it will change in the next five?

I've been blogging for five years, and the pace of change has been remarkable. Franklin Avenue has added close to 60 new businesses in that time (it's lost somewhere in the vicinity of 20 or 25, some of which have opened and closed in that five-year span). In terms of the next five years, I don't see this slowing down, though I imagine the sorts of changes we've seen on Franklin will be replicated on Nostrand and Kingston to the east.

Everyone's always looking for that pivot business, the one that announced the arrival of gentrification. It's more of a process than that, but the neighborhood draws comparisons to Smith Street/Cobble Hill and even Williamsburg today, and that's new as of the last year or two.
 
In terms of things to come, Brownstoner has partnered with Goldman Sachs on a $30 million development at the north end of the neighborhood, 1000 Dean St that will be opening soon. This development, along with 341 Eastern Parkway, is new both in terms of size/scale and in terms of the buzz it's generating (they had a big story in the Times awhile back). That's new, and I imagine it will continue. 
 
Rumors always fly about a Starbucks coming to Franklin, but those have gotten more frequent recently. I can't confirm them, but I'm sure if and when it does arrive the local blogosphere will explode.

8. What do you think your "sister" neighborhood might be?

The NYTimes says it's Carroll Gardens if you're talking real estate, but Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy (just across Atlantic Avenue) have been connected through community activism for a long time, and today they're linked by the challenge of turning those strong traditions of organizing toward the particular challenges of rapid change. 

In fact, friends who live in Bed-Stuy describe the current changes along Bedford north of Atlantic--small shops and restaurants opening in formerly empty storefronts, more foot traffic--as "Franklin circa 2009."

9. Would you stay in this neighborhood forever if you could?

I've got a lot of friends here. I love it here.

10. What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the neighborhood?

That it's Prospect Heights (or something else). We had a local tiff about that a few years back when the Wall Street Journal ran a quote from a real estate broker suggesting that his firm was hoping to rebrand the area as "ProCro."

It never caught on, but it did lead to a lot of local arguments and even a bill in the state assembly from Hakeem Jeffries to prevent rebrandings of this nature. It was a bill that was never going to pass - how would you enforce it? - but Jeffries, now a Congressman, used the process to point out the way that these kinds of naming exercises privilege certain people and their visions for the neighborhood over others.


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