Last Day for Freddy’s Bar, in path of Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn

A really nice note from the manager of Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn about their closing … “Freddy’s is not merely a building on a street corner, it is a grand idea. Freddy’s Bar has been the culmination of everything I am and everything I’ve ever wanted this bar to be.” Freddy’s was in the way of the Atlantic Yards project, in the “footprint,” and would have been claimed by “eminent domain abuse” if they hadn’t agreed to go (they felt “condemnation” would have been worse).

They are throwing “a Victory Party on Friday, April 30th – the last day/night they will be open – “to celebrate the little guys who’ve been fighting a land-grabbing billionaire and the corrupt New York government agencies that he greatly influences.” They expect to open in a new location, most likely near Union Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.

Asbury Park: An Appreciation of the Gritty

Casino, Asbury ParkThere are some places that are clearly magical. Washington Square Park is one of them. Asbury Park, along the Jersey shore, is another. I spent summers during my college years at the clubs there seeing bands when Bruce Springsteen (bursting at the seams of fame) would jump on stage at the Stone Pony or The Fast Lane. Asbury at that time was run down but nonetheless full of charm.

Recently, Asbury Park has been privy to its own “renovation,” and like New York City’s redesign of Washington Square Park, there’s this drive by the powers-that-be to erase the old. Any signs of grit or bohemia – bulldozed over. The major difference with Asbury is that it has the ocean – which is magnificent – and the town is so large that it’s difficult for any one entity to erase everything magical about it.

I walked around Asbury yesterday. There’s this apparent tendency by developers to want every inch of space to be allotted to high end restaurants, galleries and stores, as if it’s attempting to be Soho or “NoLiTa” — instead of letting it be what it is. There are closed storefronts that once housed hair salons and electronics stores and video stores. One of the local weeklies, the Tri-City News, has article after article stating, that, with the economic downturn, rents are down and new creative businesses can come back to Asbury and Red Bank. !

Why does it take an economic downturn for the creative to blossom? Is the only value to landlords and developers (and people like Mayor Bloomberg) money and real estate – and the accumulation of both?

Spring 2008

Spring 2008

Nobody's Bar - Now Gone

Nobody's Bar - Now Gone

Asbury Park will always have a magical spirit, no matter what they do to it. There was a time when it was seedy and charming and, if just left to its own devices, it would have rebounded in a harmonious, organic way.

But instead, with the corrupt government’s blessing, “investors” came in, including, inexplicably, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson and Henry Vaccaro, and began constructing a building that blocked the famous driving strip along Ocean Avenue. They soon declared bankruptcy and left this monstrosity, like a shipwreck protruding from the sea, there. in the middle. of everything. For years.

The town went careening downhill from there. Now, they are taking a new stab at “revitalization.” New “developers” appeared earlier in this decade. Instead of proposing a few tweaks here and there, their plan was to reconstruct miles and miles, take property via eminent domain, to bring Asbury Park ‘back.’ The city government, again, went for it.

The "Casino" - this section now demolished

The "Casino" - this section now demolished

There are similarities between the saga of Asbury Park and Washington Square Park. Both places had ups and downs. Heydays and not-so-great days. But both were at a place where they just needed the city to come in and do a little bit of repairing, grease the mechanisms a bit. Instead, they swoop in with their charts and graphs and maps and attempt to wipe the slate clean.

There’s seemingly this driving force behind it: a need to make everything somewhat whitewashed and devoid of its history. To make these magnificent places homogenized and stripped of the very qualities that make them so special. To make it all the same. The strip mallification and corporatization of every inch of space. No one is more of a proponent of that, via his policies and endless development of New York City, than Mayor Bloomberg.

How do you legislate appreciation of the gritty?

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*Updated and revised version of entry originally published July 2nd, 2008*

City Council and Mayor Bloomberg in the News today…

NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn came out “harshly” against Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to cut back $400 property tax rebates for homeowners and “overhaul” senior centers. However, skepticism about this outrage abounds. City Council Members who spoke anonymously to the New York Times said that the Mayor will ultimately “yield” on the rebates and then push for an increase in property taxes, his real goal. “It’s like professional wrestling,” said one council member. “They [Mayor Bloomberg and Christine Quinn] arrange the moves in private and play them out in public so that people come out and say, ‘She’s so tough.’ ”

And so much for going against any of the Mayor’s redevelopment or rezoning plans as Hunters Point South and Willets Point plans were approved by the Council yesterday despite the fact that, at Willets Point, much of the land will need to be taken by eminent domain. There are thriving businesses there. It’s just they are mostly auto shops and a bit bedraggled, and not considered particularly valuable (the business owners and people who frequent them would disagree). Instead of fixing up the area over the years (sound familiar?), the city got into a contentious fight with the owners who don’t want to leave. The Times story does not quote anyone opposed to the City Council vote.

But there is news that perhaps Albany via the New York State Legislature will stop Mayor Bloomberg’s third term! Said Kevin Parker (Brooklyn) speaking on Mr. Bloomberg’s record over the last seven years, “On his report card, under ‘works well with others,’ he gets an F.”

Exhibit — Eminent Domain: The City and Shifting views of Public and Private space @ NY Public Library 42nd Street

The New York Public Library exhibit “Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City – Shifting views of public and private space” ends Friday, August 29th. 42nd Street and 5th Avenue (near Bryant Park!). There is an exhibition and photography from five New York-based artists which take on the “theme of the modern city” and the “changing nature of space in New York City today.”  I’m hoping to see this before it closes.  At the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall, 1st floor. Free.

From the NYPL description of the exhibit:

Last summer, public outcry forced New York City officials to reconsider regulations that might have required even the most casual of tourist-photographers to obtain a permit and $1 million in liability insurance to photograph or film in the streets of the city. A majority of the objectors felt that the proposed regulations threatened First Amendment rights to photograph in public places and amounted to a kind of privatization of public space. Similarly, people have questioned the current private/public arrangements that characterize much of modern urban redevelopment, from the proposed Columbia University expansion to Hudson Yards in Manhattan, and from Willets Point in Queens to the Atlantic Yards and Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Contention particularly surrounds the legal power of eminent domain, or the taking of private property for public use: at the core of the debate is the definition of “public use” and concern that the word “public” has become a euphemism to disguise what are essentially private investments.

[the] photography poses questions that resonate with current debates about the reorganized urban landscape and the consequent shifting of public and private space, whether through gentrification, globalization, or the suburbanization of the city.