Over on the Brooklynian, there is an interesting thread about a mural on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Park Place in Crown Heights. The mural, painted on the side of a bodega, documents the lives and deaths of about 50 people from the neighborhood from the 1990s to about 2006. Most were young men, most died before the age of 25 though some were decades older and some, sadly, were much younger. The writer believes that most were the victims of the violence and turf wars that accompanied the drug trade. Such murals are common throughout Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill and Crown Heights, though most celebrate the life and mourn the death of a single person or a few people. The mural is right alongside the entrance to a daycare. Though there is no indication that the mural is slated to be painted over or that the building or business is changing hands, the commenters are debating whether such a mural, documenting a far different, more violent time in the neighborhood’s history, serves a purpose anymore. Should it remain as a warning of past ills, a marker of the neighborhood’s history? Or, has its time come and gone? Would the neighborhood be better off if the mural were painted over and such past violence forgotten. What do you think? Do these murals have a place and serve a purpose in neighborhoods that are nearly a decade removed from their most crime-ridden eras? Is it disrespectful or arrogant to want to wipe out such history and the names of those who once lived and died here?

Should the Shrine at Nostrand and Park Place R.I.P.? [Brooklynian]


As we bid 2009 farewell, with a swift kick to the curb, and welcome in a better year for us all, let me take this time to thank Mr. B. for letting me steer the good ship Brownstoner while he took some needed time off. I had a great time. I can now embed a photo with the best of them, although those fershlugginer GMAPS still never came out right. It’s just supposed to be cut and paste!

Anyway, I get the public opportunity to say that one of the highlights of 2009 has been the strengthening of friendships made on this blog. Who’d a thunk it? A blog! I wish everyone a safe, healthy, and prosperous New Year. May being in Brooklyn bring a smile to your lips, no matter where you roam, and may all your renovations be green!

In a couple of comments threads yesterday, amidst much troll-like behavior, someone complained that we focus too much on Clinton Hill. As another commenter replied, there are a couple of good reasons for that: The neighborhood’s incredible architectural stock and the rapid socioeconomic changes it’s undergoing. The third obvious reason is that it’s where we live so we’re that much more likely to notice a new development site or have someone pass along news to us on the street. That said, we would LOVE to be posting more on-the-ground stuff about other neighborhoods, but the only way that’s going to happen is if readers send us tips and photos. Bottom line: Instead of grousing about how your home turf doesn’t get enough virtual ink, grab the bull by the horns and send story ideas to us at
Mr. B

Anticipation of the Nor’easter which began yesterday morning gave us uneasy flashbacks to the biblical floods of October 2005. A month after moving into our newly renovated house, we learned the hard way that the original waste line (which was made of out clay pipe back in the day) had basically disintegrated. When the pounding rains came that fall, the rain collected on the roof, ran down the drain pipe (which fed into the waste line, we learned) and smacked into the pile of earth that our century-old pipe had become. With no place else to go, the water surged up to the first point of release–the tenant’s tub and toilet. We ended up having two episodes of major flooding in the apartment. Amazingly, there was only a couple of thousand dollars of damage and the parquet floors emerged unwarped. Still, to say it was a traumatic experience would be an understatement.

So we felt some sympathy for the poor Park Sloper whose clogged drain pipe (above) caused his basement to flood. There have also been some three posts (count ’em one, two, three) on the Forum so far; if you have any experience in these matters, please take a moment to lend your advice. We’d also be interested in hearing other stories of rain damage from the last 24 hours. Watcha got?
The Great Flood of Aught Seven [Flickr]

When a post starts to recede into the past, it’s hard for readers to keep up with evolving comment threads. We’re trying to automate a function to flag new comments on older posts, but in the meantime here are some handpicked threads that have seen new comment action recently:
Front Page Forum: Creaky Floorboards [11/16/06]
Head-to-Head in Crown Heights [9/18/06]
After Landmarking, 70 Lefferts Back in Play [1/8/07]
Low Flow? Life’s Too Short For One Reader [1/5/07]
1305 Albemarle: Most Famous Digs? [3/7/06]

One more discussion topic before the year’s out: To date we’ve kept pretty tight reins on the editorial content on the main page of Brownstoner. As the site and community (hopefully) continue to grow, there are numerous initiatives we could be working on aside from just writing posts (events, new service features, etc.). Assuming that our voice remained the dominant one and we kept a careful eye on quality control, how would readers feel about some new perspectives on the main page of the site? For example, do you think the blog would benefit from having some neighborhood and topical specialists writing occasional posts, e.g. a weekly report from a deputized Victorian Flatbush reader? Or do you think such a move would risk diluting what has made the site successful to date? (Remember, there was some grumbling when we ran the Set Speed Condo Report for a few months last year.) Or as a middle ground, maybe there’s just a better way to formalize the process for receiving tips from readers. Either way, we’d like our neighborhood coverage on Brownstoner (and Brooklyn Record) to get broader and deeper, ideally with the help of readers. Very interested to hear everyone’s reaction and ideas.

In discussing the shabby appearance of 1370 Pacific Street for its open house last weekend, a reader posted this question:

Is it better to gussy up a house for a showing or let everyone see it warts and all? All of the crap is going to come out in an inspection, hopefully. Isn’t it more honest to just let it be? I hate viewings where the owner slaps some paint on the wall, and covers the holes in the floor with a rug and a plant. I really hate when high priced brokers have the owner do things like strip painted woodwork in a half assed sloppy way so they can jack up the price. You’re only going to have to redo it anyway, why pay for it twice? I only ask that your home is clean when I come see it, it doesn’t have to be out of the pages of House and Garden. I can do my own decorating. Any thoughts?

Our thoughts? A whole industry now exists around making over properties for sale. It must be adding some value.
Open House Picks Comments [Brownstoner]

Following our rant earlier this month, we were interested to see the article in the Sunday Times business section weighing in on the topic of the deductibility of mortgage interest:

It has long been an article of faith among policymakers that homeownership produces a big beneficial spillover to society at large. In the 1920’s, Herbert Hoover said a family that owned a home had “a more wholesome, healthful and happy atmosphere in which to bring up children.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that “a nation of homeowners is unconquerable.” The government’s use of tax incentives to encourage homeownership has a cost, however. The mortgage interest deduction and other subsidies will cost the government roughly $716 billion in lost taxes over the next five years, the president’s tax panel said. And the subsidy distorts incentives to invest, pulling money into housing from other parts of the economy. So, are Americans getting value for their money?

While there seems to be some agreement that home ownership is desirable, there are those that feel that we may be oversubsidizing it and that the subsidy may be having an adverse effect on inner cities where it could be widening the gap between rich and poor.
Buy a Home and Drag Society Down [NY Times]

The most noteworthy point in last weekend’s article on foregoing real estate agents was a parenthetical one about the disincentive that brokers have to hold out for top dollar on a sale:

Note, however, that agents don’t always push for the best price. Steven D. Levitt, co-author of “Freakonomics,” and Chad Syverson, both University of Chicago economists, found that real estate agents have an incentive to persuade their clients to sell their houses too cheaply and too quickly because a few thousand dollars more in price won’t yield them a significantly higher commission.

We completely agree. One way to diminish that tendency would be to have several brokers who want your listing to submit their “bids” for what price they think they can sell it for. Then create a sliding commission scale (with quite a steep rate slope) based on how close they come to achieving that price. This would encourage brokers not to throw out inflated numbers in hopes of winning a listing–and would align their interests better with the seller. Do you think that could work?
The 6 Percent Solution [NY Times]

This being the deadest week of the year save the one between Christmas and New Year’s, we’re going to take the opportunity to start unpacking after our move last week. As a result, all we’re going to serve up this week are the morning links to give you something to chew on. That, and one discussion question.

As we start to approach our one-year anniversary in October, we think it would be a good time to solicit feedback about the site. We’re happy to hear any criticism as long as it’s given in a respectful tone, so please let us know what you like about Brownstoner and what you don’t as well as ideas for new features or services you’d like to see in the months ahead.



On the same day last week, we heard in the morning from a policeman that the 88th Precinct (Fort Greene and Clinton Hill) had finally gotten a boost in manpower and in the afternoon that our neighbor across the street had been robbed the night before. We’re wondering what people think about the idea of supplementing the local police force with some private security. Our GC told us he thinks the local “bad guys” won’t be put off by rent-a-cops. Other people have said that bringing in private security would only antagonize relations between gentrifiers and old-timers. We’re sure other people’s response will be “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But if you’ve already committed to being in a neighborhood, should political correctness stop you from doing everything you can to ensure the safety of your family? Is passing the hat to your neighbors to raise money for a night-time patrol realistic?

We’re on vacation this week, so you’ll have to get by on Brownstoner Lite this week. To help amuse yourselves, we’re going to throw out a discussion topic every day. Have fun.

Question: In a shocking turn of events last week, a reader stood up and identified himself as, gasp, a flipper and proud of it. Which raises the question of why the term flipper has acquired such negative connotations. The argument could be made that they are either 1) arbitrageurs or 2) home improvers. We suspect that it’s because people are 1) jealous if the flipper made a bundle of money for doing nothing or 2) resentful because the flipper did a crappy, corner-cutting renovation. How do you feel about flippers?