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Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative

In addition, thousands of Puerto Ricans have settled in Brooklyn, in flight from the urban demolition that passes for slum clearance in Manhattan and the Bronx. There are now more Puerto Ricans in Brooklyn than in any of the other five boroughs, and they have brought with them their many virtues: the instinct to open small businesses, the almost visceral need to hold a family together, a sense of community. Sure, the Puerto Ricans play their radios loud, they play dominoes in the street and they drink a lot of beer out of one-pound bags (at a party once, someone asked my friend Jose Torres to go out for "24 bags of beer"). But for me, that has made Brooklyn a more exciting, more lively place. You can measure a city by the life in its streets, and the Puerto Ricans have brought life with them: abundant, rowdy and baroque.

Pintchik's, at the edge of Park Slope, is as good a symbol as any of the new clean-up spirit in Brooklyn. It sells clean-up supplies, cheap.

It is true that parts of Brownsville now look like Hamburg in 1945. Entire blocks have been abandoned to the rats and the wind. Old temples from the days when this was a Jewish area are now boarded up, or have given way to Baptist churches. The Gym at Georgia and Livonia, where Bummy Davis used to train while the Murder, Inc. goombahs looked on benevolently, is now gone; a big sign saying FORTUNOFF'S FOR MAH-JONGG SETS covers the windows, and you wonder how many people in the neighborhood play mah-jongg these days. (Milton Gross from the Post lived around that neighborhood, and I wonder if he was there that day 25 years ago when my father took me out to watch Davis with a bunch of other fight buffs in somebody's old Packard.) Near P.S. 174, there is one of those Mondrianesque cityscapes—blue, yellow, pink squares that were once the walls of kitchens and bedrooms, where people loved each other, and quarreled late at night, and cried angrily at the meanness of poverty, and then moved on. You can still see an occasional Dairy Appetizing store out there, and Carlucci's on the Brownsville end of Eastern Parkway is still one of the best Italian restaurants anywhere. But there remains this feeling of walking through purgatory. Street after street has been leveled. Only later do you discover that much of this demolition is part of a Model Cities plan, and that those streets will again be alive with children, and perhaps even trees. (But where are all the people now? Where on God's poor earth did they go?) In Ocean Hill-Brownsville (the school district, not strictly the neighborhood) there is a revolution of sorts under way. It is led by people like Rhody McCoy, his governing board and the Rev. John Powis of Our Lady of Presentation R.C. Church. They are working at the hardest part of any revolution: the part that goes beyond posture and mere defiance to accomplishment. They understand what the Board of Education and various other bureaucracies staffed by suburbanites don't understand: that the key is community. If they lose, Brooklyn loses, the city loses, we all lose.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard seems to be on its way back. A group called CLICK (Commerce, Labor, Industry Corporation of Kings)—started by people like Stanley Steingut, Brooklyn Borough President Abe Stark and Congressman Hugh Carey—has joined the City of New York(mainly the Economic Development Administration, with the help of another Brooklynite, Commerce Commissioner Ken Patton of Park Slope), to bring the Yard back to life. They hope eventually to provide between 30,000 and 40,000 jobs in the Yard by attracting civilian investment. They have signed a contract with Sea Train Inc., which will employ more than 3,000 workers in its first 18 months. The Yard, which covers 170 acres, already houses several small companies, such as the Rotodyne Manufacturing Company, which employs 130 workers building industrial ovens. The city is processing dozens of other applications. It might not come back to even the last payroll (1963: $201,000,000) for quite a while. But the beginning has been made. The governing factor in the city's decisions to rent space is that the space must be used for jobs. They will not rent space for warehouses, and have already turned down one request from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which wanted 12 acres for a jail.

Not far from the Yard, the Pratt Center for Community Improvement is drawing plans for the revitalization of the entire neighborhood near the Yard: Fort Greene, Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant. Among many other plans, they hope to set up a series of nurseries along major bus routes leading to the Yard, so that working mothers from Bed-Stuy will be able to drop off small children on their way to work and pick them up on the way home.


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