Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New Brooklyn Blog in the House: Brooklyn Ramblings

Gowanus Lounge would like to be among the first to welcome a cool new Brooklyn blog to the block. It's called Brooklyn Ramblings, and it's from Sonja Shield, whose work might be familiar to GL's readers and to fans of her photography on flickr, where she posts as shield. The blog has some news about her upcoming exhibition of Brooklyn photos in Providence, RI, that will be held at the Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House. (Nice to see the brand name has hipster marketing appeal outside of NYC.)

Sonja's abstracts of graffiti and other elements of the Brooklyn streetscape absolutely rock. GL looks forward to seeing her words and photos, and is especially glad to know that she is fond of mapping projects. We know we're going to be seeing some cool map mashups from Sonja on Brooklyn Ramblings.

Ratner Has a Good Day and Wants You to Know

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner has been winning the development war but taking it on the chin in the war for the hearts and minds of Brooklynites from his vociferous and resourceful opponents. (Celebrities signing on to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the less than enthusiastic welcome for Miss Brooklyn, etc.) So, in Ratnerian terms, yesterday was such a good day on the PR front that he issued a press release about it.

You probably already know the good news (for Ratner): A five-member panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled in his favor by reversing a Supreme Court disqualification of the Empire State Development Corporation's environmental attorney on the basis of a conflict of interest. And, it upheld the demolition of five buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint that Ratner argued posed a "danger" to the community. (Not that it mattered. The buildings have met their maker.)

On the PR front, Ratner's Atlantic Yards News trumpeted a Daily News column that made light of "Hollywood millionaires" that oppose Atlantic Yards and talked up "neighborhood celebrities" that support it.

A sample from the column:
Develop - Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the most prominent group opposing the proposed $3.5 billion Atlantic Yards project, recently unveiled a 33-member advisory board chock-full of famous authors and Hollywood types who live in Brooklyn. The cavalcade of stars includes Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez and "Brokeback Mountain" stars Heath Ledger and his wife, Michelle Williams.

The celebs hate the idea of building a sports arena and nearly 7,000 units of new housing in Prospect Heights. "Heath and I moved to Brooklyn for light and space and air," Williams complained in a press release.

God forbid that anybody should block the light that shines on Hollywood millionaires.

Williams and other newcomers - she and Heath have been Brooklynites for about a year - should get to know some of the neighborhood celebrities who already live in the area and support Atlantic Yards.

No. 1 on the list is Constantin (Gus) Vlahavas, the proprietor of Tom's, a diner that opened in 1936 and was once named by the Daily News as the best restaurant in New York City. " This will be a shot in the arm for us," Gus says of Atlantic Yards.
Etc. And so on.

Point taken. Gowanus Lounge understands that there are people in Brooklyn that support the project and the promised jobs and housing. Most of the opponents we're familiar with don't take issue with that. The objections revolve, instead, around the incredible mass and bulk of the project and about 16 or so highrises in low rise neighborhoods. It ain't about the light being blocked. It's about several communities threatened by excessively dense development and all of its spinoffs.

Back off on the mass and scale of the thing, and even some of those "Hollywood Millionaires" would probably like a courtside seat at a Nets game.

In other Atlantic Yards news, Editor & Publisher takes a look at the interesting and tangled relationship between the New York Times and Forest City Ratner. And, an interesting New York Observer article looks at why City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was out front in fighting the West Side Stadium, is maintaining radio silence on Atlantic Yards.

Gowanus Lounge Photo of the Day: Ice Cream Versus Unisphere

Okay, so it's Flushing Meadow Park and the 1964-65 World's Fair Unisphere, but Gowanus Lounge finds something appealing about this juxtaposition of the marketing of soft-serve ice cream and the big globe that is one of Queens' symbols.

Last we heard from around Flushing-Corona way in early May, a group was making noises about launching a new bid for another New York City World's Fair, but nothing has been heard since. No such silence from Mr. Softee and all of his competitors. That's a sound we'll all be hearing--over and over and over and over and over--all summer long, although we must say it was cool to grab a soft serve in the vast openness of Flushing Meadow.

Addendum: We noted this afternoon that Mister Softee has died--well, the co-founder of Mr. Softee, James Conway, anyway. And with Mister Softee's passing comes a nugget of knowledge that we were to lazy to discover for ourselves: The words to the Mister Softee Jingle. You know, the one that goes, Ba-dink-da-dinkity-dink-da-dink. Ba-dink-da-dinkity-dink-da-dink. Turns out it has words! Specifically:

The CREAM-i-est DREAM-i-est SOFT ice CREAM
you GET from MIS-ter SOF-tee.
FOR a re-FRESH-ing de-LIGHT su-PREME
LOOK for MIS-ter SOF-tee....

Now we know. RIP, Mister Softee, and eternal peace to you, full of soothing celestial sounds and free of, well, the Mister Softee Jingle.

Why Has the Coney Island Development Corp. Come Out of its Winter Coma?

Maybe Gowanus Lounge hasn't been paying attention, but the Coney Island Development Corp., from which nothing has been heard since redevelopment plans were announced last September, seems to have gotten a new lease on life. First, they announced on Tuesday that they're seeking proposals for 150 units of affordable housing and a community center. (Does this mean that something requiring them to make nice with the community is coming up? Call us cynical, but it often does.) Then, they put out a press release noting that they've hired the Doe Fund to "provide supplemental sanitation and clean up services" on Surf Avenue and on the Boardwalk.

Okay, so maybe CIDC is simply doing what CIDC was created to do. Or, perhaps, as noted above, they're making soothing cooing sounds in the hope of masking the noise they're about to make. (Check back in three-four weeks.)

Now, about the subject of santiation, take a close look at the icky photo above so that you can judge the noxious state of sanitation in Coney late in the afternoon on Memorial Day. Yes, it was crowded. And, yes, people were busy stuffing their faces with hot dogs, fries and every other clog-your-arteries fried thing around. But, why in the name of (fill in your personal Higher Power here) wasn't anyone picking up the garbage? Did people have the day off? For the love of (fill in your personal Higher Power again, here), boardwalks--especially Coney Freaking Island--are one place where you don't observe national holidays in summer.

As for the Doe Fund, it's a worthwhile undertaking, despite the fact that the CIDC is probably just trying to soften up the community for the kill of a final development proposal and all that will go with it. It's a transitional housing program for the homeless that provides jobs and social services for its residents. Eight people from the Doe Fund will be working Coney on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 9-5, cleaning up sidewalks and the boardwalk, emptying trash bins and doing other clean up work.

GL can only say one thing to the Doe Fund people: Coney Island needs you. Badly. Also, do you think you could talk to someone at the Development Corporation, now that they seem active for the summer season about the deplorable state of the boardwalk itself? Maybe they need help finishing the renovation before someone gets hurt on the thing?

Meanwhile, with a revised plan due by July 1 from Thor Equities, we're guessing we haven't heard the last of the newly revived CIDC. One senses that they're probably doing speed typing and emailing exercises in the CIDC office to get ready for the challenges ahead.


Prospect Park Crime Spree: Here Comes the Task Force

Nothing like bad publicity about a rash of nasty muggings by gangs of teenagers in one of Brooklyn's most affluent nabes to get action. After yesterday's story in the Post about "teenage wolf packs" terrorizing people in and around Prospect Park, the NYPD announced a Task Force to stop the crimes. (There was a rash of stories yesterday, including all of the local TV stations. Channel Two: "Police: Gangs are Not Terrorizing Prospect Park") At least 30 cops are being assigned to the park (and hopefully to adjoining streets like Prospect Park West, where many of the gang muggings have happened.)

The Post reported yesterday that nine people had been mugged in the most affluent reaches of Park Slope over the past six weeks. Three of the muggings took place in the last ten days. The first victims were teens. Some of the latest victims were adults. Some of the crimes took place at night; some happened in daylight.

As anyone familiar with Prospect Park West will tell the NYPD, very large groups of teenagers enjoy hanging out around the park, especially along Prospect Park West. A seeing eye dog could find them. Hopefully, the publicity and the police presence will help stop the muggings. If not, there's always yesterday's suggestion by Gothamist: Volunteer patrols organized by angry real estate agents that understand that getting mugged on one's front stoop by roving gangs of teenagers can act as a depressant on property values.

Still Smoking in Greenpoint: What Kind of Reception Will New Towers Get?

Yesterday, we posted and wrote on Curbed about new renderings of plans for the site of the flambéed Greenpoint Terminal Market. A spiffy drawing passed along to Curbed by a reader appears to the right.

This morning, we heard from architect Karl Fischer's executive assistant, who pointed out the drawing is an old one and that he is not working on the project. The Perkins Eastman website also features several Greenpoint renderings, but they may not be current either.

In all truth, the Perkins Eastman plan (below, right) is much more visually interesting, but still suffers from many of the same ills, most notably that the project is both very, very tall and very massive too. Needless to say, it will add thousands of residents to Greenpoint, which is served only by the lowly G Train. (Not that a G with bigger trains and something that looked like real subway service wouldn't be a workable solution for some.)

In the Fischer original, top, two of the towers were in the 30-40 story range. Two were 20-30 stories. And two were 10-15 story buildings with six story boxy structures wrapped around them. In the redone version, we have two 30-40 story towers and two that look to be in the 20-30 story range. Again, they are surrounded by five-to-ten story buildings. The Perkins website puts total square footage a 2.6 million square feet. One big plus of the new design is that there appears to be quite a bit of waterfront park space, and several piers.

It appears that almost nothing of the original Terminal Market is preserved, which is interesting in the sense that half of the Terminal Market was left standing after the fire, despite the spectacular and destructive nature of the (maybe deliberate, maybe accidental) blaze. So, we're assuming that most of the surviving buildings would fall to the wrecking ball (rather than the fire gods).

Whoever the architect turn out to be and whatever the details of the design after the project goes through multiple revisions, the issue is and will be sheer size of the project and the fact that it will overwhelm and swallow up the surrounding community and tax the infrastructure beyond capacity.

Now that everyone in Greenpoint is in a foul mood because their community was almost engulfed and buildings that some wanted to preserve were turned to rubble before the process could play out, do you think any new plans--even if these aren't even close to a final proposal--that include a half-dozen waterfront highrises and no trace of the Terminal Market are going to be greeted warmly?

We thinketh not.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New York's Newest Trend: Parks on Landfills and Cleanup Sites

The New York Times digs a little deeper today into recently announced plans for a big waterfront park in Sunset Park, so we thought it as good as an excuse as any to unearth this photo of a tagged-up and abandoned caboose near 39th Street and the water.

The new park site is currently a contaminated landfill with rotting piers and excellent harbor views. Landfill activity was halted in 1978 when it turned out the contractor was using "questionable material." (We don't want to know what that means.) The $36 million plan would clean up the site (arsenic, lead, industrial waste) and remove the piers to create open space, ball fields, fishing areas and--you have to love the irony--an environmental education center.

It's been quite the few days for waterfronts and parks, what with the announcement of a plan to create a beach on the Hudson after the Sanitation Department vacates its waterfront land in Chelsea and the nifty write up on the future plan for Fresh Kills in Staten Island in New York.

GL doesn't want to poop any parties, but are there any sites being considered for big parks in the city that aren't former landfills or Superfund sites? Just wondering, is all.

We knew all along that waterfront development in New York City in the 2000s means, in many cases, dealing with environmentally-challenged sites, but for whatever reason, the full picture didn't form until now nor did the fact that it's a trend. (And, yes, we know the waste dump history of Flushing Meadow Park and some other spots.)

Coney Island Memorial Day Mini-Photo Gallery

Fleet Week Comes to Coney Island.

Gowanus Lounge spent some time on the Everyperson's Riveria, aka Coney Island, late in the afternoon on Memorial Day. With a final redevelopment plan due from Thor Equities on July 1, and a push to get approval so that construction on the huge $1 billion hotel-retail-housing complex can start in 2007, this could really be the last year (or next to the last) to get some of the Old Time Coney Feeling. We await Thor's plans, and hope that Charles Sitt--the moving force behind the redevelopment and a native Brooklynite--gets it right.

Interestingly, the Coney Island Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the redevelopment plans that has been silent so long we were wondering if it had vanished, sputtered back to life today with an announcement of a competition for a community center and 150 units of affordable housing on city-owned land (some distance from the boardwalk redevelopment effort).

Meantime, these photographs of people in Coney offer a little bit of Coney Island flavor in case you were someplace less Brooklyn like Amagansett.

Eating on the Boardwalk.

Watching a Michael Jackson impersonator near Keyspan Park.

Don't Do This: High Heels on the Boardwalk.

The Memorial Day Crowd.

On the Boardwalk.

What it Looked Like in Late Afternoon.


Stories to Sour Your Morning Latte: "Gangs' Terror" in Prospect Park

It was a little bit of a shock to Gowanus Lounge's system to open this morning's Post and see that "teenage wolf packs" have robbed nine people in and around Brooklyn's Prospect Park in the past six weeks. (The specific headine, is: "Gangs' Terror in the Park: Propsect Park Rob Blitz"). Three of the robberies happened in little more than a week.

We'd noticed a couple of stories in the Brooklyn Papers and other local crime roundups, but must say we hadn't put A, B and C together. Most of the victims of the ongoing crime spree were teens victimized by big groups of other teens. On Wednesday, though, a 53-year-old man was surrounded by eight teens, pushed to the sidewalk, kicked and robbed. The cops have added patrols and even busted eight people in five of the attacks, but the mugging spree has continued. (The most recent one was May 24.) The robberies are happening inside the park and around Prospect Park West.

Quickly rising to the task, Gothamist suggests that if the cops can't stop the teens from terrorizing the community, then a consortium of real estate agencies will start a neighborhood patrol. (Who wants to get mugged by fifteen-year-olds outside their $300,000 studio apartment?) Somebody should be able to get a handle on it. Anyone with eyes can see the quite large packs of teenagers hanging out in and around the park on any given night, especially on Prospect Park West.

The park photo above is from Frank Lynch's superb flickr photostream.

Coney Island Boardwalk Repair Mystery

Answer us this: How is it that the repairs to the Coney Island boardwalk, which have been underway since the dead of winter, aren't complete yet? In fact, the badly-needed boardwalk upgrade seems to be so far from done that it appears it will be going most of the summer. (Or, maybe there will be a miracle push to finish the work between now and July 4.)

That, at least, is Gowanus Lounge's conclusion after a Memorial Day visit to Coney revealed the boardwalk work that we figured would be done in time for the summer season is still ongoing, with a big chunk of boardwalk in front of Astroland torn up and boards that originated in Peru (marked "New York City, USA") sitting piled behind the fencing. (Now we know where boardwalks come from.)

Worse than the ongoing repair work--we suppose boardwalk repair is a tedious job--is the fact that the unrepaired portions of the boardwalk are a hazard. Boards are splintering. Boards are loose. Some boards are kind of like teeter-totters--you step on one end and the opposite end goes up. (Free fun for the kids! They really seem to dig it.) GL watched at least two people trip on some of the nasty boardwalk boards within 60 seconds.

So, several questions: Is the world's slowest contractor at fault or are Parks Department employees doing the job? Or, is the work actually supposed to take all summer? And, how many trip-and-fall accidents and lawsuits is the city going to be dealing with by, say, July 4. (Attention ambulance chasers: Hang out between Astroland and Shoot the Freak. You'll be glad you did. This is a sure thing.)


What's at the Bottom of the Gowanus? Computers!

What is at the bottom of the Gowanus Canal? Dead body and gun jokes aside, an awful lot of things. Gowanus Lounge shot this photo on Memorial Day of an unrecycled computer at the bottom of our favorite drink. The computer in question (manufacturer unknown, but we're betting it's a Gateway) is in the water on the north side of the Carroll Street Bridge. It's a fairly recent addition to the Underwater World, as GL doesn't recall seeing it there last week. Yes, we pay close enough attention to some parts of the canal that we know these things. Draw your own conclusions.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Gowanus Lounge Memorial Day Salute: The South Brooklyn Seine!

As we speak, people are carrying the world's biggest coolers of food and liquids into Prospect Park for Memorial Day barbecues. Us, we're thinking about taking the the grill to the Big G where the crowds are sparse and the atmosphere is more post-industrial. Why not? Gowanus is one of several city "waterfront neighborhoods worth your salt" that are profiled in a "shore guide" in the Village Voice. The other spots that merit profiles are City Island, Long Island City, Rockaway and Staten Island. (What, no Coney Island? No Sheepshead Bay? No Brighton Beach? What's up with that?)

Here is some of what the Voice has to say vis a vis Gowanus (okay, so it's laced with sarcasm, but press is press):
Used condoms bob on its oily surface and it often smells like old sneakers, but South Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal has become an unlikely sanctuary for a growing number of New Yorkers. Creaky row houses, graffiti-tagged brick factories, and old-school Italian eateries like Monte's (451 Carroll Street between Nevins Street and Third Avenue) and 2 Toms (255 Third Avenue at Union Street) surround this two-mile-long relic of the neighborhood's industrial boom. For almost a century, the canal was a stagnant soup of raw sewage and toxic waste. But in the last eight years it's been flushed daily with clean water; crabs, ducks, and other wildlife are cautiously returning. To witness this rebirth up close, climb into a canoe or kayak with the Gowanus Dredgers club...Walk over the charming Carroll Street Bridge, built in 1889, and head down 1st Street to the Empty Vessel Project, a busted Navy rescue boat turned experimental floating public art space...
Did you notice the writer calls the Carroll Street Bridge "charming"? GL's Memorial Day is complete.

Gowanus Lounge Photo Du Jour: Fun with Spraypaint

This van has been around Williamsburg for a bit, primarily on Driggs Avenue for the last two weeks. It originally belonged to the Park Slope Geriatic Day Center, which can lead one to a lot of commentary about North Brooklyn versus South Brooklyn, but we won't go there. One can only assume that the van was sold, rather than liberated, and turned into a work of tagged-up street art. The bus, in its original iteration--taken directly from the Park Slope Geriatric Center's website appears to the left. Ironic art? Symbol of class war? Gowanus Lounge hasn't caught the van's current owner on the street, so who knows? We say that it's time for Park Slope moms to head for Williamburg with their children and cups of chalk in hand and let the little buggers go wild on North Sixth Street.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gowanus Lounge Memorial Day Weekend Salute, Sunday Edition: Coney Island!

Gowanus Lounge loves Coney Island, especially the ease of getting there on the F Train. Who cares if the water is more New York Harbor than Atlantic Ocean? For 2006, all of our favorite attractions--like Shoot the Freak and Cha Cha's--are back., saved from the wrecking ball of redevelopment by Thor Equities for another season. Sometime in June, the Parachute Jump should benefit from a new lighting system that's been installed. And, there's the Mermaid Parade on June 24. We don't need no steenking Southhampton. Surf's up!

In Williamsburg, the Finger Continueth to Rise

Slowly but surely, the infamous Finger Building continues to rise on North 8th Street in Williamsburg. Work was halted for some time on Ye Olde Finger after permits were violated. Then, new plans were submitted to the Department of Buildings scaling back the building from 16 stories to a mere 10. Construction activity resumed and the Finger Building--which gained the nickname for what it does to the surrounding low-rise nabe--is now significantly taller than its surroundings. The only thing, in fact, that makes the Good Old Finger look diminutive is that a 20-story crane towers over it.

The Finger is designed by Scarano and Associates, whose principal Robert Scarano is behind many Brooklyn buildings, including a number of highly unpopular ones. Mr. Scarano is the subject of a Department of Buildings investigation concerning his tendency to put a lot of "mezzanines" in his buildings. Mezzanines aren't counted toward a building's square footage. (Details available in a Park Slope Courier article about another controversial Scarano building that would have blocked the historic view from the statue of Minerva in Green-Wood Cemetery to the Statue of Liberty. That building is now rather, um, dead.)

The Finger, however, won't look like such a Big Bird Flipper once the all the Williamsburg waterfront development starts poking ten and fifteen stories into the air or--God help us all--Williamsburgh Square is approved and built. Yup, the time will come, after a few of those 40-story babies go up, that The Finger Building will look like The Pinkie Building because it's only a third as tall as The Edge on Kent Avenue and its neighbors. Talk about giving the Burg the finger.

Gowanus Lounge Outdoor Living Series

What better time than a sunny and warm Memorial Day weekend Sunday than to dig into Gowanus Lounge's collection of brand new photos and bring you our latest installment in the Outdoor Living Series.

We call this one "Making Creative Use of Brooklyn While it is Under Construction."

Today's version of Outdoor Living features simplicity at it's finest. Some used up office furniture that has seen better days, a bottle of liquid refreshment (already consumed) and a bit of oh-so-nice shade provided by construction scaffolding, allowing one to avoid those nasty UV rays.

This vista comes from Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, but can easily be replicated anywhere in Brooklyn.

So, with the temp heading for the 80s, get that furniture out on the sidewalk, put the Strokes or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the MP3 player accessory sound dock, drag out the grill and celebrate Memorial Day Weekend Sunday the right way: Out in the streets.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Our Memorial Day Weekend Salute: Rockaway Beach!

What better way to say Memorial Day Weekend than a photo that brings to mind all that Queens beachy goodness in the form of Rockway Beach and assorted neighbors? (Except for, perhaps, the waterfront dinner in Sheepshead Bay that GL enjoyed last night. Swans and sailboats in Brooklyn! Sadly, it was raining by the time we hit Coney.)

Now, if we could only find a way to get to Belle Harbor and skirt the exclusionary parking restrictions--at least, in the Hamptons, you can buy parking permits--we'd be complete. We know. We know. Jacob Riis Beach and Fort Tilden Park, but those don't hold the special thrill of going someplace where you are clearly not wanted. And, while we're at it, how about the super private enclaves at Breezy Point? Somehow, taking the A Train and, then, commuting to your Queens beach of choice by bus, takes the romance out of it.

All of which brings us back to New York City's non-exclusionary beaches: Rockaway and Coney.

Meanwhile, on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg

Gentrification, Kent Avenue, originally uploaded by rsguskind.

We found this little juxtaposition of construction and unhappy commentary on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, where the Attack of the 40-Story Luxury Condos has begun. This is the site of "The Edge" a multi-tower project that is now clearly under contruction. To the left is the now emptied 184 Kent, due for a significant alteration as part of its next life as a luxury condo. Check back next Memorial Day Weekend, and the view from here should by very, um, edgey. Can you say, Battery Park City?

Gowanus Weekend Photo Feature: The End

end gowanus canal, originally uploaded by Shield.

A look through the new flickr photos of our favorite photog, Sonja Shield, reveals this beautiful shot made where First Street meets the (now officially hipster) Big G. We call it "The End," based on its simple, yet elegant, home made message. Very cutting edge. Check out Shield's photostream, where you will find much post-industrial beauty and many shots of some of our favorite Brooklyn nabes. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Belatedly, A Map of the "Next Hipster Haven," AKA Gowanus

We love a cool map, so we figured, why not post the map of Gowanus and information that went with Mary Huhn's wonderful Gowanus story in yesterday's Post, about which we enthused at length yesterday both here and on Curbed?

As you can see "Next Hipster Haven" (has a cool ring to it, no?) covers some of the happening spots in the nabe, including the Box Factory where Proteus Gowanus is located and the Empty Vessel Project.

Also noted are the Gowanus Dredgers, who will happily let you explore the Big G via canoe if you're brave enough to strap up with a life vest and get in there.

Then, come the planned developments, including Gowanus Village, the Toll Brothers development and, our favorite and most anxiously-awaited, the Whole Foods on Third Street, even though the Red Hook Fairway does scratch the itch quite nicely.

Check out the map online.

Atlantic Yards Tidbits: "Culture of Intertia" and More Density Than Battery Park City

In case you haven't ruminated upon Atlantic Yards in the last 24 hours, here are a couple of tidbits to keep you busy while you stare at traffic on the LIE or gaze at the water from the boardwalk in Coney Island:

Item One: Sen. Charles Schumer, according to the Brooklyn Downtown Star, says that opponents of Atlantic Yards and other developments are part of "the culture of inertia" and a "small group of self-appointed people." Casting the debate in terms of growth versus no growth, the Senator says, "If we do not grow, we will die."

Item Two: Norman Oder, Bruce Ratner's bête noire, reported in today's Atlantic Yards Development Report that the project will include "more than twice as many apartments per acre than Stuvesant Town and Battery Park City, and thus a much more dense population--one that would surpass the turn-of-the-century Lower East Side." It makes quite the interesting read.

Williamsburgh Square: How Many Heavyweights Does it Take to Screw a Community?

If you’re going to pitch one of the most outrageous, neighborhood-killing projects in all of Brooklyn (and there are a whole bunch that could claim the title), it helps to use heavy artillery. Quadriad Realty Partners, the folks who’d like to build the hideous monstrosity known as Williamsburgh Square (four towers of 12, 20, 36 and 38 stories on Bedford Avenue at North Third), have done just that. At the top of the neighborhood-violating pyramid is Henry Wollman. He heads the Newman Institute at Baruch College that has advised New York City on restructuring zoning. (Fascinating.) Then comes Herman Badillo, the former Member of Congress, Bronx Borough President and Republican mover/shaker. Also in the mix is Maurice Regan, whose construction firm built the new Bloomberg LP headquarers. A wonderful Village Voice dissection of the Quadriad team also mentions a City Planning Commission member, Richard W. Eaddy, as the project manager. (He told the Voice his name was put on documents “prematurely” and that he has had nothing to do with the development.)

The sales pitch for the Monster Buildings on Bedford is that in return for building big, the developers will toss in affordable housing and goodies like space for a charter school. Wollman tells the Voice it’s a way to “incentivize the private market.”

Since Williamsburgh Square will require big zoning changes, (Paging Mr. Wollman. Paging Mr. Wollman), Quadriad is trying to sweet talk community members by saying, in effect, if you want a park or a school, work with us to get more stories approved. In a different neighborhood and context, developers tossing in amenities in return for building more square footage would make sense. In the context of plotting the murder of Bedford Avenue, it is asking residents to hold the gun and aim while the developer pulls the trigger.

It's all enough to make you wish that someone would lock these people in a room and force them to read Jane Jacobs until they are reeducated, or beam them to another town so that Brooklyn is spared the fruits of their labor.

Still ho-hum about it? Have Atlantic Yards and the wall of tall buildings going up on the North Brooklyn waterfront have already beaten you down? The Quadriad prospectus mentioned in the Voice notes “a series of upland sites” nearer the BQE and into East Williamsburg. “If Williamsburgh Square does work out in some way, it's certainly an idea that should be applied to other parts of the north side and other parts of the city as well,” Wollman told the Voice.

In other words, if Quadriad gets away with this act of planning and architectural violence on the Burg, it will only be a dress rehearsal for bigger and better things to come.

Outdoor Living Series: Chair and Cadillac

It's warm today, and the weekend should be decent, so the Spring Weekend Edition of our Outdoor Living Series bring Gowanus Lounge to Metroplitan Avenue in Williamsburg, the site of this wonderful example of La Vita al Fresco that includes chair, bottle of Saratoga and big black Coupe de Ville. Let's hope that old Old School Gas Guzzlericus Americanus doesn't need too many fill ups.

Williamsburg Not Feeling the Clear Channel Vibe at McCarren Pool?

It was only a matter of time before indie-minded Williamsburg objected to media conglomerate-produced concerts at McCarren pool. "Clear Channel paid off the parks department to take over the McCarren Park pool site for a series of 6-10 $30 concerts (+ $14 service fee) this summer," writes one emailer from the Not an Alternative arts collective. Objections run the range from the obliteration of the graffiti that made the pool one of Brooklyn's more post-apocalyptic spots to the lack of community events. Quoting:
So it brings 6000+ folks, mostly NOT local, to see Tom Petty and "alternative rocks acts". They pillage our hood, our culture, make bank, we see none of it, there goes the neighborhood (again)...What about local bands?? Why can't Todd P book shows there?? What about the Polish or Latino communities...shows that they would come to? Or discounted seats for locals? Or how about WHAT THE FUCK IS CLEAR CHANNEL DOING IN OUR PARK? Williamsburg is an incubator for the indie rock scene. There's so much good talent here. The community fought to save the historic pool from demolition, and to preserve it as a community arts venue (or a pool again). Now local talent and the local population don't benefit, Clear Channel and the promoters do. And we had no say in the matter. How many of us can afford $44 tickets??...Call the parks department and Councilman Yaasky to complain. He's running for congress, so now's a good time to pipe up. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, (212) 360-1311. Councilman David Yaasky, 718-875-5200.
Gowanus Lounge does not come to this with clean hands. We admit gladly taking in "Agora" at the pool last fall. Even worse, we copped tix to see Bloc Party in late July at McCarren. After service fees, "convenience charges" and the like, two tickets came to a few cents under $100.

Memorial Day Fun: Water Taxi Beach Reopens for the Season

Okay, so Water Taxi Beach--the big parking lot on the East River in Hunters Point in Long Island City into which sand was trucked to create an urban "beach"--is last year's news. But, as of 4PM today, the Beach is open for the season. Ah, summer! Hours on Memorial Day Weekend are Noon-Midnight. Admission to the "beach" is free, but depending on when you show up, you may have to pay for parking (if you go by car.) It's at 2-03 Borden Avenue in Long Island City, across from the old power plant (which is no longer the landmark it was after its smokestacks were removed last year). If you can find high rise buildings across from Gantry State Park, you're practically at Water Taxi Beach. You can also take the 7 Train or the G to Long Island City. Otherwise, you can take--what else?--New York Water Taxi. (There's new service to Fairway in Red Hook too.)

There's a beachy burgers and fries menu (veggie options) with drinks. No outside food allowed. Needless to say, no swimming. (But, you can head to one of the piers at Gantry State Park and fish if a desperate self-destructive urge motivates you.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Accepting Reservations in Gowanus: King Bed, Non-Smoking, Canal Vu

A visit to the Holiday Inn Express website reveals that the long-awaited Holiday Inn Express on Union Street, between Fourth and Third Avenues, is now taking reservations for arrivals after July 15. Amusingly, since Gowanus and/or G-Slope seem to lack that certain cachet, the hotel is alternately described as the Brooklyn Holiday Inn Express or the Park Slope Holiday Inn Express. (All of which gets back to the issue of what is Gowanus and what is not, but that is another subject.)

Rooms at the Gowanus Holiday Inn Express (115 rooms, nine floors) start at $129 and run up to $143, which will make them quite the NYC lodging bargain with the budget conscious traveller. In Holiday Inn's own words:
Hotel features include complimentary deluxe continental breakfast buffet, free wireless high speed internet access and free local phone calls...We have also created the world's best tasting cinnamon roll...Visit Brooklyn, NY and stay smart at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel.
Gowanus Lounge is tempted to check in for a night, just to get a upper floor room with a nice view of the South Brooklyn Seine. Too bad there's no rooftop pool.

Ikea Demolition Porn Update

Gowanus Lounge's Monday post on the weekend demolition derby at the Ikea site was wrong. We predicted all the Todd Shipyard buildings would be gone in a week or so. By the look of things, they could be toast before we fire up the $5.99 hibachi from the Red Hook Fairway for Memorial Day. Gothamist brings us "Demolition Porn" in the form of photos (like the magnificent shot above) shot by blogger extraordinaire Alexis Robie of Lex's Folly that show the buildings coming down as fast as the Greenpoint Terminal Market (but without the attention-grabbing flames and billowing smoke.)

While we're on the subject of Gothamist, they've got an excellent neighborhood take on the McCarren Pool concert controversy. You can also check out our own McCarren Pool concert posts from a couple of weeks back on GL or on Curbed.

"Hip Deep" in Gowanus: Post Calls Gowanus "The Next Hipster Haunt"

Pick up today's New York Post and you will find Mary Huhn's take on Gowanus: It's hip. It's now. It's happening.

Huhn, calls Gowanus "the next hipster haunt," and even quotes Gowanus Lounge a bit. Going to the copy and paste, Huhn writes:
Though it sounds ripe for a joke (and smells ripe, too), the Gowanus Canal is the next frontier of gentrification - a place where the displaced artists and musicians of Williamsburg and DUMBO already are taking refuge in the refuse...Big developers are poised to change the landscape from a foul-water wasteland into a sea of high-cost residential housing. "It's not a question of what should or shouldn't be developed. It will be," says Robert Guskind, host of blog Gowanus Lounge and contributor to real estate blog Curbed. "The developers clearly think there is significant money to be made, and ultimately they'll be proven right."
Huhn offers the following roundup:
Developers Leviev Boymelgreen, who has ground-breaking plans for a 450-unit Gowanus Village, and the Toll Brothers, luxury home builders from Horsham, Pa., already have acquired blocks of property along the canal. Whole Foods is expanding to the neighborhood, although construction on its Third Avenue site has been delayed due to the area's toxicity. It's also started the classic New York neighborhood battle - with artists, preservationists, developers and longtime residents battling over the transformation.
The story ends with our own take on the future of Gowanus: "We'll come back in 10 or 20 years and it will be hard to recognize," says Guskind. "Will they do it right? That's the $100 million question."

The story makes an excellent read. Check it out.

Fun Post-Greenpoint Fire Bedtime Reading: Burn Baby Burn

Burn Baby Burn: A Brief History of Fire in New York City is the title of an article in the new issue of L Magazine that follows up on the Greenpoint conflagration with a nicely researched discussion of--what else?--fire (of both accidental and deliberate causes) in NYC. An excerpt:
The Greenpoint Terminal Market fire is but the latest in a long line of enormous fires that have changed the face of New York City over the last three centuries. From the burning of the South Bronx in the 1970s to the citywide conflagrations of the Draft Riots, Gothamites have always had a peculiar predilection for setting things alight—more often than not, just to see them burn.
GL had almost forgotten that New York in the late 70s was the arson capital of the universe, which is why we always appreciate the historical perspective. Kudos to justiNYC for blogging it and linking to it. (The amazing photo above comes from L, via the FDNY.)

Oh, and while we're on the subject of L, check out this wonderful appreciation of Frank O.'s Miss Brooklyn, "Bridezilla Hits Brooklyn--Frank Gehry to City: 'Drop Dead.'" GL never tires of Fill-in-the-Blank to City: Drop Dead headlines or, lately, of love notes to our favorite starchitect.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Meet the Most Outrageous Development Proposal in New York: Williamsburgh Square

Many developments in the city vie for Gowanus Lounge's attention in the "Most Outrageous" category, particularly in Brooklyn, where in some neighborhoods you can hardly turn a corner without your blood pressure spiking. Yet, Williamsburgh Square--the project that a group of well-connected developers would like to build on Bedford Avenue at North Third and North Fourth streets--absolutely wins the prize for the title of super-sized project that would single-handedly destroy a neighborhood. News of the project isn't brand new, but the proposal is so egregiously offensive that it deserves repeated airings. (Yes, if you've been on Bedford Ave. in the last five months, you've noticed the land being cleared--the image to the right is what might go there.)

There is no way to overstate the awful wretchedness of Williamsburgh Square. It is nothing less than development pornography, something so graphic that you can see it screwing the neighborhood.

Although a long and very, very nasty battle lies ahead, developers have already cleared half the parcel (which is an entire square block) and are hard at work demolishing the low-rise industrial building occupying the other half. The 675,000- square-foot development would feature four towers of 38, 36, 20 and 12 stories. In addition to housing, there would be a charter school, a daycare center and two floors of retail. The Monster that Ate Bedford Avenue would also include (you have love this) a "semi-public" park and 360 parking spaces! (Nod the community, one supposes, the school and daycare.)

It's worth remembering that one of the stated reasons for rezoning the waterfront to allow high rises was protecting the low-rise character of the rest of the neighborhood.

You could write this off an Albert Speer/Robert Moses-like exercise in delusional thinking, except that the prime mover behind Williamsburgh Square is former Congressman and Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo, and he has lined up people with significant political juice to stand with him as partners in Quadriad Realty.

One would expect Williamsburg residents to take to the streets to protest this abomination of architecture and planning, and they will certainly have their chance. Getting this puppy built will require a major zoning change, as the property is limited to a maximum of six stories. Hopefully, residents of the Burg haven't already resigned themselves the nabe's inevitable transformation into the Next Battery Park City.

For Sale on Atlantic Avenue: Small Luxury Studio, All-Metal Fixtures, Rooftop Exercise Yard

First, there was a suggestion to put retail in a re-opened Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue between Smith Street and Boerum Place. Now, Dumbo developer Jed Walentas is proposing knocking down the closed 760-bed Big House and replacing it with a luxury building and a new jail, according to the Brooklyn Paper. Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections is still sorting through proposals for the prime property (Boro Pres. Marty Markowitz wants to develop the property for more than inmates) and looking into plans to reopen the House of D (as a jail), with retail at street level. (The excellent photo of the Atlantic Avenue slam comes from Funtime Ben's flickr photostream.)

The interest in jailhouse conversions (of the condo kind) is chronicled in a New Yorker column, which offers helpful pointers on how best to convert a jail into luxury housing. (Tip Three: Remove any fixtures that say "penal institution.") New Yorker also offers this advice, since some lockups are still lockups: "Keep an eye out for prisons with potential, even if they haven’t been vacated. The Bayview Correctional Facility, on West Twentieth Street, for instance, has a rooftop garden, and, on a clear day, residents can see the Statue of Liberty. The Lincoln Correctional Facility, on 110th Street, has an exercise area on the roof with a panoramic view of Central Park."

Views? Did they say, views?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Censored Brooklyn College Student Art Show Reopens Tomorrow in Dumbo

The Brooklyn College MFA thesis exhibition that was shut down by the Brooklyn Borough Parks Commissioner and then damaged by school employees is reopening tomorrow at 70 Washington in Dumbo in space donated by developer David Walentas. The show is now called "Plan B Prevails," and will run from May 24-June 16. The student exhibition--which includes art with gay themes--was deemed not "appropriate for families" when it was ordered closed.

Gowanus Lounge admits to being deeply biased against anything that smacks of censorship and to being livid at reports that some of the art was, in effect, vandalized as it was being removed from the Brooklyn War Memorial. We are happy to note that the show is likely to have a far, far larger audience now than it would ever have had if it hadn't been shut down. Note to censors: If you want to art (or music, writing, etc.) to have a huge audience, then by all means (please, please, please) condemn it, shut it down or otherwise try to ban it. You will only ensure that it attracts a very large audience.

Kudos, then, to Parks Commissioner Julius Spiegel, unlikey hero of art and to the Brooklyn College employees that trashed the art when removing it. GL salutes you!

The show includes new works made in response to the censorship; it is free and is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6 pm. GL looks forward to seeing it.

More Things to Worry About: It's "Hurricane Preparedness Week"

Just when Gowanus Lounge was bemoaning the lack of alarm about the chance that a hurricane will render the Gowanus Canal an extension of New York Harbor, come the latest predictions of 2006 hurricane activity and word that this is Hurricane Preparedness Week. "Did you know that one in four New Yorkers lives in a hurricane evacuation zone?" notes the NYC Office of Emergency Management. "Hurricanes can affect New York City....Due to regional geography, hurricanes can cause even more damage in New York City than hurricanes of similar strength in the southern U.S. Residents should understand the coastal storm hazards they face and know how to respond. Hurricane hazards include storm surge, high winds and tornadoes."

One in four of us in hurricane evacuation zones, huh?

OEM suggests finding out if you live in an evacuation zone, having a disaster plan, keeping an emergency supply kit stocked and having a "Go Bag" with essentials if you need to run. (To review, in the graphic above, areas in orange flood in any hurricane, areas in yellow in a Category Two and areas in green in a Category Three or Four.)

Meanwhile, Gothamist summarized survey findings yesterday that say few New Yorkers are prepared. And, AP ran a story that painted a nasty little picture of the sort of thing that might happen in New York City. A couple of choice excerpts:
In 1893, a hurricane came ashore in Jamaica Bay, near where JFK airport sits today. A cluster of saloons, casinos and resort hotels on a sandy spit of land called Hog Island was completely washed away. Even the island disappeared. A few miles west of the hurricane's eye, almost every building on Coney Island was destroyed. There was extensive flooding in Brooklyn and wind damage to many of the city's innovative new skyscrapers, including the just-finished Metropolitan Life building. Meteorologists estimate that the 1893 storm was only a category 2 hurricane.

"A 2 in New York City is bad news," said Nicholas Coch, a professor at the Queens College branch of the City University of New York. "A 3 is a disaster and a 4 is a catastrophe."

Coch earned the nickname "Dr. Doom" more than a decade ago for his insistent warnings about New York City's vulnerability to hurricanes. He envisions hurricane-force winds stripping glass, antennas, air conditioning units and water tanks off tall buildings and sending them crashing into the streets. People trying to escape the bombardment by retreating into the subway would soon find the tunnels flooded.
On the bright side, the MTA is drafting a new evacuation plan that will let everyone take their pets on buses and subways in case we have to run for our lives.

Fifth Avenue: The Gentrification Wave Rolls South

Evidence abounds of the spread of retail gentrification south on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, particularly between Ninth and Fifteenth Streets. Discount retailer Dee & Dee closed down last year and is being replaced by a Bank of America branch (pictured to the right), which is ready to do battle with the Washington Mutual branch across the street that has been open for more than two year. (Do banks get Community Reinvestment Act brownie points for opening on Fifth Avenue?) For evidence of the changing character of the nabe, however, look no further than the spot that was once home to the Salvation Army store at the corner of 13th Street and Fifth Avenue. This is said to be the soon-to-come new home of a Baby Gap.

Gowanus Lounge shot photos of the site last week, but is shelving them in favor of a different photo (to the right) that was posted by the blog Bag of Rocks that, um, speaks to some of the conflicted neighborhood feelings about more chain retailing coming to this part of Fifth Avenue. (There already is some in the form of Foot Locker, etc., but does the Gap provoke more of a reaction?)

"We don't want no baby gap up in here," Bag of Rocks writes in a post titled "Also sprach Fifth Avenue" of the spot "where the BG is rumored to be gestating as we speak."

Several bakeries and other local establishments have also been forced out by rising rents, and one wonders how long other local businesses are going to be able to hang in there, especially as leases expire and rents are jacked up significantly.

Addendum: A reader notes in the comment section that the rumored Baby Gap may be "BS" and that everyone's being cagey about the identity of the new tenant. One thing we can say with certainty: It won't be Salvation Army or a 99 cent store. Hmm.

Gowanus Canal Photos of the Day

empty vessel panorama, originally uploaded by e-liz.

This panorama which of the Empty Vesel Project boat on the Gowanus comes from a cool set of photos taken on Sunday and posted by Elizabeth Weinberg, aka e-liz, on flickr. The shot is from the foot of First Street at the Canal, where the boat is docked. (It's best at full size.) The shot below, which we call, "On the Big G" was taken by e-liz inside the boat, which hosts events, classes and workshops every weekend. Check them out.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ikea Photo Gallery: Anatomy of a Demolition

As noted earlier, Gowanus Lounge hit Red Hook this weekend, and shopping at the new Fairway wasn't the only thing on the agenda. We had intended to get a look at the state of the ongoing Ikea demolition and were surprised to find it going full swing, even on traditional days of rest. The Brooklyn Rule of Demolition applies here: Get it down as fast as you can, because once you knock it down, no one can stop you.

In any case, the photos show that most of the buildings along Beard Street have been reduced to steel skeletons. The cranes around the graving docks that Ikea will fill in for parking are now visible through the old buildings. Within two weeks, everything should be gone.