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Have some gritty edge with your no-brainer (a Gowanus diversion)

Blogging has been on hold for life--well, for Hallowe'en--and the good news is, nobody egged us this year. For all our haunted-house looks, the Crazy Stable has avoided being the target of Hallowe'en mischief until just last year, when to my disgust we were egged on November 1. It wasn't the eggs but the stupidity--since when do you toss eggs on All Saints Day? What, did some cretin have leftover eggs jangling in his pocket the next morning and decided to lob them? Anyway, no goblins waxed wroth on our property, and the Child (done up as Elle from "Legally Blonde," complete with faux Chihuahua--her idea completely) and I decamped to suburbia to join old friends for carefree trick-or-treating, the kind I enjoyed as a kid. The kind our neighborhood is a little too urban and edgy for.

Speaking of which...hope you caught last Sunday's Schadenfreude Section of the New York Times--i.e., the Real Estate Section--and their latest "Living In," the column that highlights a lucky town or neighborhood where Times readers might consider living. This one features an irony-saturated exegesis of the Gowanus canal environs of Brooklyn, which we are informed "all of the sudden, is happening." The piece is an absolute classic of that highly specialized New York Times genre, "Biff and Muffy Take the Subway, and Guess What They Find!"

This time, they find the once-fetid canal, "sandwiched between the real estate markets in Park Slope to the east and Carroll Gardens to the West," being touted as the "next Brooklyn neighborhood for those who seek a gritty edge to their urban experience." The houses around the canal, we learn, are being "snatched up by families and developers, delighted that more-or-less intact buildings can be bought in the area for less than $1 million."  In the Whitmanesque elegy of one Hal Lehrman, co-owner of Brooklyn Properties: "There's a lot of potential in the whole Gowanus area. You're between very expensive neighborhoods, so it's a no-brainer."

Of course, there are a few drawbacks to go along with these bargain-basement prices. Trucks "still zoom down Third and Fourth Avenues at alarmingly high speeds," surely posing hazards to the oncoming hordes of joggers. The article glancingly mentions two housing projects (shudder) adjacent to the happening townhouse blocks. These are implicitly carved out of the area of gritty happeningness--their residents presumptively cordoned off from Biff-and-Muffyland by a sociocultural gulf that va sans dire.  Hey, we said gritty edge. And the local schools suck--er, "do not perform particularly well on city and state examinations." But the Times helpfully suggests the proximity of $25,000/year and upward private schools in Park Slope, where the offspring of le nouveau Gowanus can obtain an education with all gritty edges abraded to Harvard-bound smoothness.

 Two aspects of this post-hipness anointing bother me. One is, There go the artists. And we've met some of them, on the annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour, and some of them are amazingly good. Check out Ella Yang, Regina Perlin, and Elizabeth O'Reilly, whose gorgeous Brooklynscapes would adorn the walls of the Crazy Stable if we had money to buy art. This tour (last weekend in October) is an amazing experience: As you walk the cobbled streets and the broken industrial vistas, you push open rusted doors and ascend crumbling stairwells to see those same images, glowingly re-imagined, evolving into a nascent but authentic "school"--part Hopper, part old Dutch, all suffused in the ever-changing light of Brooklyn's weirdly ravishing Rust Belt.  Few give the impression of being able to pony up the kind of money they'll need to stay, once the magnetic appeal of "intact" million-dollar properties spreads around.

The other  problem is, There goes everybody else, too. Most of them are gone already, but there's a surprising number of real businesses still hanging on down by the canal--scrap metal, trucking, welding, even a casket factory. People who worked in gritty places with lousy schools and barreling trucks used, at least, to be able to afford to live there. There's Lowe's and Home Depot, whose workers presumably must commute to the Poconos if they want to be homeowners like the well-off renovators they wait on. And there are those anonymous Project People. In a city where a ratshack by the Gowanus Canal is going, going, gone at $750K, do the concepts of thrift and mobility even exist any more? 

Yes, this tide that has lifted the Gowanus into real-estate heaven has lifted our boat, too--even if Flatbush has never been hit with fevered, Times-noted gentrification. The Crazy Stable has, on paper, appreciated absurdly in the 19 years since we bought it with every penny to our names. Despite its bloated worth, we remain stubbornly house-poor (having extracted all the extra juice we dared through a second mortgage years ago); we could sell the house and live like kings in Mississippi.  I would be far happier if it had appreciated half as much in a city where rookie firemen, Catholic schoolteachers, and non-celebrity artists still had a prayer of buying their own little house, even on the gritty edges. Sometimes, in our har-har-har million-dollar manse, I  feel like an occupant of one of those half-filled Titanic lifeboats, rowing away from the splashing masses, having just barely gotten hauled aboard myself (and as an imposter from steerage, no less). 

Posted on Thursday, November 3, 2005 at 01:22AM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments3 Comments

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Reader Comments (3)

My kids have been trick or treating in this neighborhood for nine years. We all have a great time. So many houses and neighbors hanging out on decorated porches. Flatbush aka DP, PPS, DPW, BSW is a great place for kids to get plenty of candy, meet neighbors and get lots of attention. Not to mention the parade on Albemarle. I grew up in the suburbs and have to say I prefer Halloween here.
November 3, 2005 at 09:02PM | Unregistered Commenterrugbyroadisfineroad
You make an excellent point--I'm sure trick-or-treating in the 'Magic Land' and points immediately south in Victorian Flatbush would be fine, esp. now with the cute little parade. Our peripheral zone is still a bit rough around some of its edges, and given the tough teens we sometimes see around the perimeter of the park, unaccompanied TorTing would be out of the question. Maybe next year we'll try the homefront!
November 4, 2005 at 08:59AM | Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn
There were several families from Caton Park who came out for the Victorian Flatbush Halloween parade. I agree with the above poster - I grew up in the NYC suburbs and Halloween in our new neighborhood is far more pleasant and community spirited. You missed out. Stay home next year and trick or treat just one block south...
November 13, 2005 at 07:18AM | Unregistered CommenterMarlborough Mom

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