By Joel

About Joel

Help write/make; Boulevardiers, a novel based on the industrial history of Greenpoint: part of Arts & Culture Committee, Brooklyn For Peace; support the Greenpoint Soup Kitchen! @jlchaffee

“Presumed Inevitability of Gentrification” in Greenpoint: Not The End Of The Story

Two new articles about gentrification and environmental activism in Greenpoint, appearing in The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, argue that the neighborhood is challenging the typical narrative that gentrifying neighborhoods will inevitably force out all long-term residents to make way for a gold coast of newly arriving gentrifiers.

The articles, by Winifred Curran (Department of Geography, DePaul University) and Trina Hamilton (Department of Geography, SUNY University at Buffalo) advocates a “just green enough” idea that “makes room for continued industrial use and blue-collar work, where cleanup does not automatically or exclusively lead to the ‘parks, cafes, and a riverwalk’ model of a green city.”

“Just green enough” coincides with “just clean enough,” wherein “as much of the environmental hazard as possible is removed in order to assure community health while still allowing for industrial uses on the waterfront for the explicit purpose of maintaining the area’s working-class population.” Continue reading

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Greenpoint and the Sequester: Chat With State Comptroller DiNapoli

We’ve all heard of the Sequester, the terribly and amazingly large amount of money the U.S. government is currently slashing from the budget, what President Obama has referred to as taking a “meat-cleaver approach.” This slashing of public spending, with some war/defense spending, was heralded as an only solution and coded under many names, including the Grand Bargain and the Fiscal Cliff.

How will the Sequester affect Greenpoint?

To answer, I reached out to many of Greenpoint’s elected representatives. Of those who responded, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli‘s office was most helpful.

DiNapoli’s office responded that “details about how sequestration will affect the State as a whole are still pretty vague” but that the total cut for local NY State governments would be around $140 million – and that’s only through September, 2013, citing this report.

DiNapoli’s own report from December 2012 warned “the State would lose more than $210 million in federal funding for education, well over $100 million for health and human services and a similar amount for housing programs.” Continue reading

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Greenpoint Is On Top! Most Complaints Reported For Public Drinking & Public Urination!

In 2005 I received a ticket for an open container at the intersection of Nassau and Manhattan avenues. It was St. Patrick’s Day. I had been carrying my 24 ounce Budweiser in a brown paper bag when I saw the NYPD cruiser approaching. I stuffed my beer in a garbage can, but it was too late. The cruiser stopped, a cop got out, looked into the trash can and gave me a ticket.

I did not pay that ticket.

In Spring of 2012, I heard about a Safe Surrender day in BedStuy and attended. I, along with hundreds (thousands?) of other – mostly black males – stood in long lines for most of the morning until we appeared before a judge in a local BedStuy church, where our tickets were resolved without fines or other punishment.

The minister of the church, noticing a white face in the crowd, became curious about me asking, “What’d they get you for?” When I told him, he just guffawed and shook his head.

All this to relate that Gothamist recently reported about the New York neighborhoods with the most public drinking complaints as well as those with the most public urination complaints submitted via 311 in the last two years.

Greenpoint is the only neighborhood to top both lists!

Brooklyn Ink follow-up article on the topic assumed that all 311 complaints were solely about the homeless population in Greenpoint, referred to as “drinkers” – but does not verify that the 311 complaints are actually traced to complaints about the homeless population’s public drinking.  The article quotes locals about the homeless – that “they stink” and “are obnoxious and rude” before admitting that “[t]hese people need support.”

Of course 311 complaints could just mean there are more people willing/able enough to complain in that neighborhood than in others, not necessarily that there is more public drinking and urination in those places. Given the recent troubles involving the shelter at Greenpoint Church on Milton Street, perhaps the number of Greenpoint complaints should not be surprising.

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“A Cleaner City… is a Mindset” Obtaining Street Trash Cans in North Brooklyn

This article made possible by a donation to the Writer’s Fund Raffle by Greenpoint Heights.

While Greenpoint is known for having numerous waste-transfer stations, super-fund sites, toxic releases, the oil spill and the shit tits, recent stories have addressed the neighborhood’s shortage of trash cans.

Both stories – from DNAinfo and NBC NY – focus on northern Greenpoint, around Franklin & Kent. But this shortage is also found on the eastern side of the neighborhood, particularly on Driggs Ave.

I contacted a number of local activists and organizations about the issue: Continue reading

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An Epistle from ExxonMobil About How They Will Wreck the Sidewalk

ExxonMobil dropped off a letter today at the apartment, no stamp or name and addressed only to “Dear Neighbor” in a tipped haphazard typewriter’s letters. This intimacy is creepy from one of the most massive entities in the world. Did ExxonMobil just drop by and leave a letter, being sorry they had missed me?

Anyway, the letter, below, is about the Greenpoint Petroleum Remediation Project, the endless process by which ExxonMobil is removing the Greenpoint Oil Spill from underneath my house, then refining and selling it – an ineluctable win-win.

The letter tells us that “soil boring activity” is about to wreck the sidewalk on the block. Reassuringly, the letter claims it “poses no health or safety issues for you.” Sweet. I’m sitting on top of 30 million gallons of oil, plus the Meeker Avenue Plumes, many of my neighbors have devices in their basements to capture benzene vapors escaping the spill so they don’t breathe them in inside their own homes – but there is no health or safety risk when they dig out the sidewalk to “further assess the remediation progress.”

Sick, ExxonMobil! I’ll just kick back and let the good times ride for “only a few days” and then “a few weeks later” and then some more “boring will be performed” and then the place will be “reasonably restored to previous or better conditions” and they promise to be “efficient and courteous”! And no doubt they will. Just ask Baton Rouge.


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Brooklyn College, City Council, Academic Freedom, and BDS Movement Against Isreal

Brooklyn College has been the center of controversy the last few days, and Greenpoint’s City Council Member Stephen Levin has been involved in at least two sides of the many-sided issue.

On January 29th, Lewis A. Fidler (Assistant Majority Leader of the New York City Council) sent a letter to Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould, opposing the upcoming February 7th student-sponsored event at Brooklyn College featuring academics Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler – who were to address the idea of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as a response to the over four-decades long Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The letter stated: “We are asking you to either cancel this event or, if it should proceed, then to remove your school’s official support for it.”

The event, “BDS Movement Against Israel,” is sponsored by the student group Students for Justice in Palestine.

Fidler’s letter was signed by nine City Council Members, including Greenpoint’s own Stephen Levin. (Levin represents District 33, including Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights, and parts of Williamsburg, Park Slope and Boerum Hill.) The letter stated that, “We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City … want their tax money to be spent on.” As Nation writer Katha Pollitt wrote, “Why do I think their position has more to do with election math than about their fears for the lofty mission of Brooklyn College?”

Fidler’s letter was consecutive to other opposition to the event, led by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. An email exchange/argument between Dershowitz – a Brooklyn College alum who wanted BC to cancel the event – and lawyer/journalist Glenn Greenwald – who insisted on academic freedom, including freedom from censorship by City Council – ensued and can be seen here.

Many, including this writer, contacted Steve Levin’s office to voice our opposition to seeing his signature on Fidler’s letter, which included the sentence “We believe in academic freedom” even as it sought to undermine it. As many residents of District 33 began to voice their dissent to Levin’s position, one Greenpoint resident, Billy Gray (@billymeltdown), tweeted: “I didn’t vote for @StephenLevin33 so he could tell students what events and opinions would be allowed.” Continue reading

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Charter Schools and WAGPOPS! (Interview)

This article brought to you by a donation to our Writer’s Fund from Five Leaves.

Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents Our Public Schools! or WAGPOPS! is an organization formed in 2011 by parents of public school students in North Brooklyn’s District 14.

The group, which is the focus of a recent Village Voice story, consists of hundreds of parents and community members “who support and promote schools that are of, for and by the community.”

Just this month, WAGPOPS filed a lawsuit against SUNY, in an attempt to stop Citizens of the World Charter Schools, which is trying to make inroads into District 14, from opening two new charter schools in North Brooklyn in Fall 2013.

The following interview was conducted via email with Brooke Parker, one of WAGPOPS’ founders:

GP: What does WAGPOPS do? When and in response to what was the group formed?

Brooke: Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents: Our Public Schools! was formed by a group of parents who met on the brooklynbabyhui, a private listserv for local parents of infants and toddlers. In December 2011, “Success Academy Charter Schools” launched a super-expensive ad campaign with “Success Academy” posters all over the Northside subways.  Parents on the listserv then discovered that Eva Moskowitz’ husband, Eric Grannis, was trying to recruit parents off the brooklynbabyhui to push for more charter schools in North Brooklyn. We began emailing each other off-list, only meeting in person months later. None of us expected to become grassroots activists, but like the neighborhood residents who fought Radicac, we responded to a real threat to our neighborhood public schools and became more outraged the more we learned.

Continue reading

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Church of the Ascension Occupied for Sandy

Church of the Ascension on Java Street has been Occupied. The church, which began helping coordinate relief efforts (with Councilmember Steve Levin) for Hurricane Sandy survivors immediately after the storm, has just been more formally Occupied by Occupy Sandy, an off-shoot of Occupy Wall Street. The Greenpoint site is largely replacing the 520 Clinton Street location at the Church of St Luke and St Matthew in Clinton Hill, after a December 23rd two-alarm fire at that location which fire officials have called “suspicious” and  Church Father Chris Ballard called “arson.”

The church, Occupy Sandy’s first Greenpoint location, will serve as an office hub for the various Occupy Sandy locales in the city and as a headquarters for “volunteer dispatch operations” to the Rockaways, Gerritsen Beach, Red Hook, Coney Island, Staten Island, and Sheepshead Bay, where survivors continue to struggle with little help aside from volunteers like Occupy Sandy and others.

Occupy Sandy will also use the locale to offer a regularly scheduled orientation for new volunteers interested in helping in the ongoing long-term relief effort. More information is available on the Occupy Sandy website.

Greenpoint’s response to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath began immediately after the storm through City Councilmember Steve Levin, and both Church of the Ascension and Greenpoint Reformed Church.

As reported in the Greenpoint Star and DNAinfo, there are Greenpoint residents still suffering the affects the storm including moldy basements and problems getting insurance or government to help with necessary cleanup funds.

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Greenpoint Responds to Hurricane Sandy

The Greenpoint Reformed Church‘s volunteers prepared more than 1,000 bag lunches over the weekend, on top of thousands of meals prepared by the Church’s volunteers throughout the week as a relief effort for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The volunteers of the weekly Wednesday hot meal at the Church’s Soup Kitchen led the organizing of up to 60 simultaneous volunteers preparing lunches and hot meals. Bag lunches included peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, juice, chips, cookie or granola bar, and fruit. The lunches were provided to Greenpoint’s Church of the Ascension on Java Street, where Councilmember Steve Levin has been coordinating drop-off donations and deliveries to Red Hook, Coney Island and Gerritsen Beach.

Many of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are reeling in the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy. The city itself, without having done door-to-door inquiries, admits 40,000 – 50,000 people will need shelter. (In addition to the already 30,000 people homeless in the city on any given night.) Reuters quoted Mayor Mike Bloomberg as stating that, “We don’t have a lot of empty housing in this city. It’s a problem to find housing.” This despite homeless advocacy group Picture the Homeless’ findings that there are enough vacant properties in the city to easily house over 200,000 people, and then some. Continue reading

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Mural of a Whistleblower: BAMN

Hero Bradley Manning
© TrespasserWill - Flickr

In the summer of 2011, a large mural of Bradley Manning appeared near McCarren Park. Straddled between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the image had “Hero” written above the smiling face of the world’s most famous whistleblower, who had supposedly leaked hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents to Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

I tracked down the artist of the mural, known as Bamn, who agreed to an email interview.

GP: When did you paint the mural? How long did it take?

BAMN: I did this mural early June 2011 with a paint roller. It didn’t take more than thirty minutes. I had to work fast because I didn’t really have permission.

GP: Why did you choose that particular spot for the mural?

BAMN: There was a suggestion from a friend who works nearby that something should go on the wall. I didn’t ask for permission, but I figured that if I was questioned my friend could back-up my “story”. What amazes me is that the owners haven’t removed it.

GP: The mural is shocking, given that Manning is the most public figure in a long time to possibly be tried for treason. I was very surprised the first time I saw it. Was this your intention?

BAMN: What’s shocking to me is that whistle-blowing is considered treason. I support Manning and Wikileaks wholeheartedly, but the mural was painted for the public. My only intention is to spark dialogue.

Hero Bradley Manning
© TrespasserWill - Flickr

GP: What has been the reaction to the mural? How long until “Traitor” was written over it? I found this guy on the web who was not a fan.

BAMN: Reactions to the mural have been overwhelmingly positive. Every time I pass that wall I see people posing and taking pictures.

It took about a month for someone to build up the courage to write “traitor” across the mural. Then, according to my friend who works nearby, within an hour some random guy* put black tape over the word “traitor.” Then the next day my friend fixed the mural with paint. I expected dialogue, but never did I imagine it to be so immediate and literal.

As for that blogger, I don’t pay attention to people who can’t formulate an intelligent argument.

Continue reading

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