35

Red Hook

RH intro

 

Late, late, late.

But I have good reason. Namely, trying to map out the next four months of travel – lots of ‘what, five hours of daylight only, no way, can’t go there’ or ‘it’s too hot/cold/expensive’ – then booking flights, accommodation, blah blah blah – while simultaneously trying to explore and photograph ‘Suburb’ No 35.

Hence why the latter is a little thin on the ground for my liking. But the good news is, I finally settled on where we’re all headed next.

Before we get to that, let’s take a wander through our last NY neighbourhood, Red Hook. A fascinating little pocket of NY that feels remote, like a fishing village kind of, but a fishing village that has a huge IKEA and a water taxi that’ll get you to Manhattan in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Some facts and history… Settled in 1636 and named by the Dutch for the red clay soil and the fact it’s a point (in Dutch, ‘Hoek’) of land jutting out into the sea. A thriving maritime hub until the 1950s when its waterfront industry went into decline – as did the neighbourhood. The low point was in the 70s and 80s – crack and crime, centered around the projects (public housing estate) in the south-east of the neighbourhood. Mid-1990s, artists started to move in, attracted by the industrial spaces, followed by IKEA and supermarket, Fairway. One part of Red Hook is gradually gentrifying – near the water, down the main street – but there’s still plenty of lonely, vacant lots and the majority of Red Hook residents still live in the very un-gentrified projects, the second largest in NY.

For the last time in NYC…

 

Part 1: First visit

I suspect we had the same first reaction to Red Hook as most day trippers – nice old working waterfront but is that it? And where is everyone?

Because unlike everywhere else we’ve been in NY, Red Hook is super quiet, with few people wandering around and lots of empty spaces. Wild west meets isolated fishing village. Tumbleweed territory.

It all made sense when I later learned that Red Hook’s population withered after the 1950s and is now half what it was then, at just 11,000. And most of those 11,000 live in the projects, away from the waterfront.

Which means that the population density of the gentrified bits – the nice old rowhouses and the industrial spaces – must be incredibly low. Why? For a start, Red Hook is hard to get to – there’s a water taxi from Manhattan but no subway and just one bus. It also ain’t cheap – humble looking homes sell for a million plus – yet aside from IKEA and Fairway, there’s hardly any local services.

As a result, it felt like Coco and I had the place to ourselves for most of the time. Especially on our first visit, when the skies turned black and there were even fewer people on the streets than usual…

 

 

you take the water taxi not the subway

mind the gap – you take the water taxi not the subway

 

 

 

 

arriving under a leaden sky

arriving under a leaden sky

 

 

 

 

Coco mid-drenching

Coco mid-drench

 

 

 

 

and then the sun shone again

and then the sun shone again

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Filled with textures not people

Without many people around to distract one’s eye, it was easy to appreciate Red Hook’s many textures and layers.

 

 

surrounded by water

surrounded by water

 

 

 

 

Belgian Block paving stones struggle against asphalt

Belgian Block paving stones struggle against asphalt

 

 

 

 

old-timers - the Wagoneer on the Belgian Blocks

old-timers – the Wagoneer on the Belgian Blocks

 

 

 

 

wild west of the east :: 1

wild west of the east :: 1

 

 

 

 

wild west of the east :: 2

wild west of the east :: 2

 

 

 

 

weathered

weathered

 

 

 

 

industrial chic :: 1- W.Beard, former storage warehouses

industrial chic :: 1- W.Beard, former storage warehouses

 

 

 

 

industrial chic :: 2

industrial chic :: 2

 

 

 

 

Red Hook wasn't always so hard to get to - old trams

Red Hook wasn’t always so hard to get to – old trams

 

 

 

 

in Red Hook there's room to spread your wings

in Red Hook there’s room to spread your wings

 

 

 

 

trucks allowed

thirsty?

 

 

 

 

Part 3: People!

Not that we met many of them but from what I could gather the community in Red Hook – at least in the gentrifying area – is tight-knit; as someone said, “we all know each other, which is good – and bad”.

Although the area is known for its artist community, there are people here from all walks of life – we met a real estate agent, someone who worked in the cafe and an architect. But as different as they may seem, they’re all “independent” and not your norm. As one article about the neighbourhood said, “Red Hook isn’t for everyone”.

 

 

baked at Baked - Joanna

baked at Baked – Joanna

 

 

 

 

the wild women of Red Hook - Liz

the wild women of Red Hook – Liz

 

 

 

We met German architect Thomas, below, picking up his bike from the local bike shop – and then proceeded to run into him twice again over the next few days. On one of our encounters he showed us around his most recent job, a refashioned three level building, with a retail shop on the bottom, two floors of living and a rooftop terrace. Just sold for close to two million.

 

 

architect Thomas, standing atop his creation

architect Thomas, standing atop his creation

 

 

 

 

side-view - love those stars

side-view – love those stars

 

 

 

 

The next time we ran into Thomas he was walking his dog down by the waterfront, surrounded by wonderful old warehouses, re-purposed but mercifully intact. He reminded me that a former police detective, Greg O’Connell, owned four of these waterfront buildings, including an old coffee warehouse that houses Fairway (and Michelle Williams who lives in the chic apartments above Fairway), and that he’d bought them from the city of NY for just half a million dollars way back when. That’s good detective work I reckon.

 

 

down by the waterfront - we meet again

down by the waterfront – we meet again

 

 

 

 

 Part 4: Art

While Thomas and Greg O’Connell might not mind Red Hook’s rising real estate star, there are plenty of artists in the neighbourhood who do. I met one who told me to buzz off – he didn’t want me contributing to the hype around Red Hook, liked the place as it was. Fair enough.

Another much friendlier one explained that he actually liked where Red Hook was at, a little gentrified but not too much; he’d arrived a decade ago when there was “nothing” but now the place was in a “sweet spot”.

We were having this chat at an art exhibition Thomas had told me about, inside a massive Civil War-era warehouse owned by artist Dustin Yellin. Yellin bought the 24,000-square-foot space this year for $3.7 million to create an “utopian art center”.

Whether or not that happens the warehouse is an amazing space for his unusual artworks. From a distance they look like objects held in suspension but they’re not. He applies paint and printed material to layers of resin or glass which, when stuck together, create three-dimensional forms.

 

 

layer upon layer - Dustin Yellin's work :: 1

layer upon layer – Dustin Yellin’s work :: 1

 

 

 

 

layer upon layer - Dustin Yellin's work :: 2

layer upon layer – Dustin Yellin’s work :: 2

 

 

 

 

front and side view

front and side view

 

 

 

 

I didn’t stumble on any other artist’s studios but I did find some art on the streets…

 

 

lampost love :: 1

lamp post love :: 1

 

 

 

 

lamp post love :: 2

lamp post love :: 2

 

 

 

 

Part 5: The projects

I would liked to have explored the other side of Red Hook – the public housing or projects as they call them here. But alas, all my travel planning sucked up so much time in the past 10 days it left little to do anything more.

Still, a few shots of the un-gentrified side of Red Hook…

 

 

showing no signs of gentrification - the projects and No 121

showing no signs of gentrification – the projects and No 121

 

 

 

 

love in the projects :: 1

love in the projects :: 1

 

 

 

 

love in the projects :: 2

love in the projects :: 2

 

 

 

 

sure?

sure?

 

 

 

 

The image below is taken outside a public school that was renamed after its principal, Patrick Daly, who was killed in 1992 in the crossfire of a drug-related shooting while trying to find a student. It was around that time Time Magazine named Red Hook as one of the “worst” neighborhoods in the United States and as “the crack capital of America.” While things have obviously improved, I imagine life in the projects is a far cry from that of their neighbours.

 

 

'love one another' - mural outside the Patrick Daly school

‘love one another’ – mural outside the Patrick Daly school

 

 

 

 

Part 6: The shoot

You know how we always take a few pics of Coco in ‘traditional dress’ in each city we visit? Well, not sure if NY has a traditional costume so we went retro, appropriate given Red Hook’s old-worldly feel.

 

 

red in Red Hook :: 1

red in Red Hook :: 1

 

 

 

 

red in Red Hook :: 2

red in Red Hook :: 2

 

 

 

 

hope and anchor

hope and anchor

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Loved Red Hook, despite the fact I’m sure I missed a whole lot (apologies to any Red Hook residents). The feeling of space and freedom is pretty wonderful, and yet Brooklyn and Manhattan are just there on your doorstep should the need for, well, anything, arise. And three cheers for those who’ve fought to keep the waterfront out of the hands of developers – may it continue thus.

 

 

 

we're heading off!

we’re heading off!

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Okay, so first to say, many thanks for the city suggestions last week. I want you to know I considered each and every one of them, carefully, taking into consideration the city, weather, cost etc.

So what should you pack for the last four months of your virtual journey? Well, you’re going to need something glam for… Los Angeles, something quirky for… Tokyo, and something colourful with an inbuilt bullet-proof vest for… Mexico City (just joking Joyce).

LA because it’s much maligned, Tokyo because I got a great deal on two return tickets from LA (and yeah, yeah it’s meant to be AMAZING) and Mexico City because I realised it’s a culture this project hasn’t touched on. (There will be another city too, at the very end, but that’s still TBD.)

I really hope you like the sound of all that. Do you?

This suburb has been brought to you by Scott Falvey

 —

We leave for LA on Sunday or Monday so the first post will be a week later. See you then.

 

34

Bedford-Stuyvesant

BS intro

 

Remember that Billy Joel song from 1980, ‘You may be right, I may be crazy’? To illustrate his being a “lunatic” he sang that he was so crazy he even “walked through Bedford Stuy alone”.

Well, that was over 30 years ago so I assumed, as Coco and I set out to have our own walk around the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant – or Bed-Stuy – that things had changed.

My assumption was correct. It’s no longer ‘do or die Bed-Stuy’, famous for crack and crime, but an ‘up and coming’ area attracting a middle class who like the strong community feel – and no doubt the fact that you can rent or buy a beautiful old brownstone here for way less than neighbouring Park Slope.

Before we wander, a quick history… Started out as the village of Bedford, meaning “place where the wise old men meet”. Expanded to include an area called Stuyvesant Heights and the two joined to become Bedford-Stuyvesant. In the 1900s African-Americans migrated here from the South followed by West African and Caribbean immigrants. Long been a centre of black culture – music, art and film (Spike Lee shot various flicks here, including ‘Do the Right Thing’) as well as being active in fighting for equal rights.

Let’s walk…

 

Part 1: Place of artists and where old men meet

Bed-Stuy may not be as dodgy as it once was but apparently it still isn’t all roses; a 2011 article I read proclaimed that the area still had a highish murder rate and a bad drug trafficking problem. “Best”, it said, “to avoid wandering aimlessly through the neighborhood.”

But aimlessly wander we did. Not down the street a kindly shop owner told us to “steer clear of” – the one with the temporary police tower on the side of the road. But everywhere else across the sprawling neighbourhood.

Didn’t set eyes on a single murderer or drug trafficker. Instead we met perhaps the friendliest community of people we’ve met so far in NY. From singers and wanabee singers to old men chewing the fat…

 

 

'my name is Popula, I'm a rap artist'

‘my name is Popula, I’m a rap artist’

 

 

 

 

soon Popula was so popular they came running to see him from all over the planet

soon Popula was so popular they came running to see him from all over the planet

 

 

 

 

singer Jon E Kash - "my religion? love"

singer Jon E Kash – “my religion? love”

 

 

 

 

in good company - visual artist, Jeyfree

in good company – visual artist, Jeyfree

 

 

 

 

wanabee artist, Princess - 'I want to be a dancer, actress and singer'

wanabee artist, Princess – ‘I want to be a dancer, actress and singer’

 

 

 

 

'place where the wise old men meet'

‘place where the wise old men meet’

 

 

 

 

chewing the fat, kerbside - Eddie's Oldsmobile

chewing the fat, kerbside – Eddie’s Oldsmobile

 

 

 

 

the cap brigade - Henry, Eddie, Jeff and friends

the cap brigade – Henry, Eddie, Jeff and friends

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Equal, sort of

On one of our visits to Bed-Stuy we stumbled on a family birthday party for nine year old Arkeen. While Coco busied herself in a game with some of the girls I got chatting to one of the mums, Sa’uda – and somehow we started talking about the issue of racism.

Her grand-mother, who was inside the house with the other family members, had come to the neighbourhood in 1963 as part of the ‘Great Migration’ from South Carolina to escape the segregation and racism down there.

So did racism still exist, almost 50 years later and in enlightened NYC, I asked Sa’uda?

Sa’uda, who works in mental health, told me about the recent case of a 12 year old African-American boy who was innocently mucking around in a junk yard when he was shoved against a wall, hand-cuffed and taken into custody. There were no charges but as a result of the trauma he ended up in a psych unit for a few weeks. He’s only just started to be able to go outside again and still he can’t look at a police officer without breaking into a sweat.

In the South, Sa’uda explained, the segregation is obvious. In NY, it’s not – but yes, it still exists. She told me that mums of black boys have to educate their sons at a fairly young age about the way things are – that they have to behave in a certain way to protect themselves against the racism as best they can.

The congregation from the Seventh Day Adventist Church we met when we explored Crown Heights had all said similar things. But still it shocked me – yes, in the South I’d expect it but in NYC in 2012?

But things were improving, Sa’uda said. Nowadays most of the kids have good self-esteem and question the way things are rather than just accept.

 

 

cousins - Arkeen's birthday party

cousins – Arkeen’s birthday party

 

 

 

 

sadly for kids like Amir, 49 years later it's still a dream

sadly for kids like Khayr, 49 years later it’s still a dream

 

 

 

 

being black and white in Bed Stuy - activisim vs renovation

being black and white in Bed Stuy – activism vs renovation

 

 

 

 

there are unequl suspenstion rates in schools- 'racism still exists'

there are unequal suspension rates in schools- ‘racism still exists’

 

 

 

 

he ever have true freedom?

will he ever have true freedom?

 

 

 

 

Sa’uda struck me as hope personified. She grew up in hard-core East New York, not far from Bed-Stuy. But she took herself off to college on the Upper East Side, a place that many living in her neighbourhood at the time didn’t even know existed. Now she is passing on her positive attitudes to her own children as well as helping kids like the 12 year old – surely with every generation things will improve?

 

 

 

hope

hope

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Cooking up a storm

Walking along Nostrand Avenue, one of the main streets in Bed-Stuy, we stumbled on a new cafe called Paris Dakar specialising in French crepes. Inside was Thierno, the owner and crepe chef. A quiet man, I only learned his story when his friendly assistant told us… Thierno arrived from Senegal 15 years ago speaking not one word of English. Just two months ago he opened his own cafe and it’s going gang-busters. He supports his immediate family who live here as well as his extended family back home – his mum, aunties etc. – and has done so ever since he arrived in NY. The American Dream come true?

 

 

Thierno, an angel to his family

Thierno, an angel to his family

 

 

 

 

working his way towards the American Dream, one crepe at a time

working his way towards the American Dream, one crepe at a time

 

 

 

 

On another visit we came across a very different scenario, but one that still involved food and commerce. Khem, originally from Jamaica, was smoking out half of Bed-Stuy with his jerk chicken that he sells for $15 a pop. But his neighbours didn’t mind one bit – because Khem’s jerk chicken is worth being smoked out for. I say this with certainty because he gave us a taste of his famous chook – damn fine.

The secret? The Pimento wood he uses to smoke the chicken that comes all the way from Jamaica, and of course his special, secret, magical ‘rub’ – the marinade.

 

 

just follow your nose to Khem's place

just follow your nose to Khem’s place

 

 

 

 

working his magic - Khem, the king of jerk chicken

working his magic – Khem and his cauldron of delight

 

 

 

 

'the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer' :: 1

‘the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer’ :: 1

 

 

 

 

'the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer' :: 2

‘the secret ingredient is my rub not the beer’ :: 2

 

 

 

 

From what I could gather Khem cooks sporadically. But he doesn’t need to tell his neighbours when his chickens are available – the smells wafting over the airwaves do that just fine. They come a-runnin’.

 

 

'my kids love Khem's chicken'- longtime fan and neighbour, Sandy

‘my kids love Khem’s chicken’- longtime fan and neighbour, Sandy

 

 

 

 

the hand of god

the hand of god

 

 

 

 

BBQs are clearly the go in Bed-Stuy. On another visit we met fellow BBQ-er, Kevin, whipping up some fish for he and his wife, Georgette, who was due home from work any time. There was so much fish on the grill I thought perhaps he was also running a side business like Khem, but no, they were just for he and his wife – “She’s a big eater”.

 

 

'that's a lot of fish for two people' - 'it's my wife, she eats a lot' - Kevin cooking for Georgette

‘that’s a lot of fish for two people’ – ‘it’s my wife, she eats a lot’

 

 

 

 

fish for dinner

smokin’

 

 

 

 

Georgette turned up while Kevin and I were chatting. Another incredibly friendly, warm Bed-Stuyer.

 

 

'So Georgette, what's the secret to happiness?' - 'think positive'

‘So Georgette, what’s the secret to happiness?’ – ‘think positive’

 

 

 

 

 Part 4: Sunday in Bed-Stuy

Which means one thing – church.

We stuck our heads into the loudest one going – Mount Sinai Cathedral, a Pentecostal church of God in Christ. AKA, loud and lively. I wasn’t allowed to photograph inside but the place was jumping with a full blown band going all out and people dancing behind their pews. I loved the atmosphere but Coco could only stand it for a minute – “Mum, I’m going outside, it’s a bit too loud and crazy for me.”

When I came back out I noticed one of the ushers, who help people to their seats, looking through the main doors. It was Flossie, a dedicated church member who first visited the church at 25 and is still there 50 years later. When I asked her, does her faith ever waiver, she replied, “Well, when I was younger it did but not anymore. Men don’t always treat you right but the Lord does, always.”

 

 

Flossie

Flossie

 

 

 

 

'men will let you down but the Lord will look after you, always'

‘men will let you down but the Lord will look after you, always’

 

 

 

 

Flossie outside her beloved church

Flossie outside her beloved church

 

 

 

 

We left Flossie to her faith and wandered around to see who else we could find.

 

 

the Americanisation of Africans as told by hats - from traditional to westernised

the Americanisation of Africans as told by hats – from traditional to westernised

 

 

 

 

and I pray that those women don't fall off their shoes

and I pray that those women don’t fall off their shoes

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

To be honest I was keen to explore Bed-Stuy because I’d heard that it had a lovely stock of beautiful brownstones in the section called the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District. But instead of just finding some nice old buildings I found the most amazing community. I swear everyone we walked past – black, white, young, old, professional, working class – they all said hi and smiled. If I had questions, they happily stopped to answer them.

Life may still not be perfect in Bed-Stuy, maybe far from it, but whatever happens they’re all in it together.

 

 

 

two 9 year old Cancerians who both love to dance - Coco and Princess

two 9 year old Cancerians who both love to dance – Coco and Princess

 

 

On the ‘home front’

My head has been swirling this week. I realised as much as I love NY, it’s not going to last us until the end of the project, which is another 18 installments (18!). But where to go? It does depend on budget but I’m thinking a few more North American cities (Chicago, Memphis, Miami) and maybe somewhere in South America (Mexico City or Buenos Aires). I’ve even put Tokyo or Osaka back on the table, having moved on a little from my former worries about the radiation threat.

Anything jump out at you? I was also thinking Hawaii – because all most people know about the place is that it has nice beaches. But then maybe that is all it has…

Anyway, at the same time as all that travelling around the place in my head, Coco and I have had to up sticks a few times this week, leaving our West Village apartment to stay with our lovely friend Chris on the Upper West Side via his gorgeous family in Brooklyn. We need to rest our heads in one place for at least a fortnight before we shuffle off again.

This suburb has been brought to you by Nicole Lenord and Derek Leddie

 —

See you next week.

 

Order my first book online

Buy the 52 Suburbs Book online

Find out more about the Sydney book here

Sponsors

Advertisers

EnglishItalianChinese (Traditional)GermanFrenchHindiTurkish
Site Meter