Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

GL Guest Analysis: Red Hookers v. Corporate Whores

October 31st, 2008 · 5 Comments

(Today’s GL Analysis comes from contributor Vaduz Uvunt, who is a Red Hook resident and has a lot more meaningful things to say about her community than our own rantings ever could.)

If you missed the What’s the Hook exhibition and a chance to view “Hole in the Fence,” then it was your loss. Fortunately, for a little while longer at least, you can still come to Red Hook and see the real thing…or what’s left of it. Red Hook really is like no other neighborhood in any of the boroughs. It’s not like any other neighborhood in any metropolitan neighborhood in the world. It’s not that it’s paved in diamonds or money grows on trees or it’s full of do-gooders… a lot of the residents in “the Back” (as the old time natives of the Red Hook Housing Projects call the gentrifying area) take some pride in being less than friendly to interlopers, and quite frankly would prefer the popularity of the neighborhood to not have gotten as far as its come.

When talk started about a Fairway coming in 2006, a lot of people were more than just pissed. As it turned out, Fairway is pretty damn great. I can only imagine what people would have actually done if it were a Food Emporium. But, nonetheless, it wasn’t wanted. After the opening, there was plenty of evidence why people didn’t want it in the first place, traffic being first and foremost. Van Brunt St., the main thruway to Fairway, doesn’t have a lot of street lights, no stop signs and doesn’t really have any hills or curves. So, the cars were coming, flying down the street, paying no mind to the speed limit, disregarding the residents concerns and, unfortunately, barely a month after the opening of Fairway, a woman was hit and killed by a Fairway customer.

After that… no more. No one in Red Hook wanted any other big change, no big business, no small big business… nothing. We wanted to keep our neighborhood all to ourselves, whether it boosted the local economy or not. We drank at our bars, like Sunny’s and the Bait & Tackle, we bought more booze at LeNell’s, we ate at our few restaurants, like Hope & Anchor and eventually The Good Fork. We supported each other like people in a real neighborhood. That’s all we needed, right? Well, ok, maybe not, but that’s the world we liked and wanted. But, we got over it… let them come and visit and look and see and take pictures and enjoy… but make sure they leave at some point, so we can have our neighborhood all to ourselves at the end of the night.

Whether it was the great success of Fairway, a lot of other “bright” ideas started coming to developer like Thor Equities (you know, the guys who are working pretty hard to destroy the idea and eventually the fun of Coney Island). Thor and its leader Joe Sitt decided that it was time to demolish the Revere Sugar Refinery, which was a beloved landmark by pretty much everyone. Then, of course, there was the stupid frigging Ikea idea. They were going to demolish the Todd Shipyard and take the amazing Todd Shipyard Graving Dock and fill it in so they could have plenty of parking and a big blue box. Did we have a say? NO!!! Now, this was an argument that had gone back and forth for about five years. Some of us weren’t sure it would really happen, being used to the “it’s happening,” “it’s not happening,” “yes it is,” and “no it isn’t.”

But, the political fix was in and it happened.

In February of 2006, Ikea was given permission to start demolishing the ship yard and prepping the area for their crap building. And, yes, it’s a building that looks as cheap as it’s actually constructed. We weren’t happy. As construction persisted and the idea of what was to be was coming more and more into view, we became more and more annoyed and concerned about what was going to happen to our neighborhood. How was the traffic going to be? How many big blue bags were we going to see walking around our neighborhood, gawking at it like it’s some little Disneyland Ghost Town set up, “Ohhhh, honey, look – an urban hilly billy!”

Tempers flared, ideas of funeral marches, silent protests, and just banning anyone with anything Ikea from our local watering holes came to mind in many a drunken conversation. But, we knew that there was really nothing we could do. I mean, it seemed like the place was giving jobs to many native Red Hook’ers (although, I haven’t heard of one being given a managerial position)… who were we to complain about something that is doing a small bit of good, right?

Nonetheless, we were still concerned about the traffic. The way Ikea was talking, it sounded like we were going to have bumper to bumper traffic going up and down Van Brunt, Beard, Dwight and Columbia Streets. Heh, the only security we had with that was that at least no one could go fast enough to kill anyone. But traffic 10am to 10pm during the entire first week, and pretty much every weekend to follow? Yeah… that wasn’t going to work. And then, Ikea opened. They didn’t even get half of what they expected on opening day much less the first weekend. That traffic jam they were preparing for with all the off duty cops all over Red Hook… yeah, that didn’t really happen. I mean, yes, there was traffic – enough traffic on some weekend days that they had to open up the space to the Revere dirt lot. We all just kind of accepted it as the Selfish Giant over there.

But then, there were also some perks. We did have free shuttle buses home from Smith-9th and Jay St., and the free Water Taxi 10am to 9pm (of course, both have since cut back their schedules to more than half.) And the surrounding Erie Basin Park. So, the Giant we all detested had a couple things to offer, kind of like an olive branch apologizing for commercializing our turf.

And, now, we have the threat that it’s going to get much, much worse unless the dying real estate market kills some of these projects. On Mr. Sitt’s Revere property, we have the threat of a BJ’s coming in, unless they decided to make it a multiplex mall, And, there could be a Bed Bath and Beyond on the other side of Ikea. Talk about turning one of our city’s most unique neighborhoods into a cheap and crappy version of New Jersey. Yay. What’s to become of us and our Red Hook? Sigh… I guess all we can really do is state our argument as much as we can when and where it counts, and enjoy what time we have while we have it… as long as we can keep it.
–Vaduz Uvunt

Tags: Red Hook

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 david // Oct 31, 2008 at 11:01 am

    well put , vaduz. i really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the neighborhood’s changes over the past few year.

  • 2 bigmissfrenchie // Oct 31, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Welcome to the wonderful world of “Developing Brooklyn” under the autocratic rule of Marty Markowitz and Michael Bloomberg!

    Just as Red Hook residents had no say in what was being built in their neighborhood, we in downtown Brooklyn have had no say in the development of FCB’s arena and other monstrosities. It’s just criminal that area residents are not given any consideration when it comes to the neighborhoods that they’ve invested their lives in, all in the name of a fast buck. It’s a system that needs to change, but won’t as long as Bloomberg and company continue their Tammany-esque ways.

  • 3 RW // Nov 1, 2008 at 2:04 am

    The Hook’s a dump. Projects, industrial, trustafarians. Whiners, too, as seen by the poster above. Jobs, abandoned buildings or vacant lots? What is it that you truly seek?
    And don’t use the royal we. So odd.

  • 4 Rosa // Nov 1, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Sorry, but get over it. You raise many legitimate concerns, but statements like “make sure they leave at some point, so we can have our neighborhood all to ourselves at the end of the night” shows you need a reality check.

  • 5 Sam // Nov 2, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    The real problem is not Ikea but that companies like Ikea wont re-use the buildings that are already there. When will companies learn that a building isn’t useless just because they didn’t build it.