Tag Archives: Red Hook

Red Hook’s “Bermuda” Triangle

By Kieran K. Meadows

An old woman pushed her walker out in front of her one morning in late March as she began to cross Wolcott Street in Brooklyn. She stopped abruptly not far from the sidewalk. A gray sedan made a sharp left turn in front of her from Dwight Street, flying past the “no left turn” sign posted above the stop sign on the corner, and coming within a few feet of hitting the woman.

A week earlier, in the same spot, Millie Otero, who lives across the street, stood on the corner and watched a police squad car make the same move.

“They’re not supposed to do it, but they do it too,” she said.

Local residents say this intersection in the center of Red Hook has been dangerous for years. An increase in traffic headed to and from the Ikea furniture store, which opened last year, and the Fairway supermarket, has only added to the danger. Neighbors say they have seen near-accidents here almost every day. People have been injured but no one has been killed at the intersection in the past five years, according to the city Department of Transportation.

The intersection is not of the classic 4-way variety. Instead, where the four streets—Lorraine, Wolcott, Otsego and Dwight—meet forms a 50-foot long triangular island, with multiple intersections in close proximity to one another. There is no traffic signal at the intersection, apparently because the “Bermuda” triangle is privately owned.
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“Justice Center a Success, But Budget Cuts Loom” – in the Brooklyn Rail

Been busy as usual, juggling many stories… but I wanted to direct your attention to a print piece I did for the Brooklyn Rail about the Red Hook Community Justice Center: “Justice Center a Success, But Budget Cuts Loom” — Hope you enjoy the story.

Desiree Pardo strolled into the courtroom six months after she was arrested for possession of a small amount of crack cocaine with a reason to be happy. She had struggled with drug addiction for 17 years, but this morning she had tested negative for all substances. Three large windows let sunlight illuminate the clean white walls of the small courtroom. Pardo sat in the second row of polished wooden benches and maneuvered to get a good view of the judge. “This man is a good man,” she said. “He gave me a chance.”

The 38-year-old Pardo had been attending a court-monitored drug-counseling program five days a week in the same building as the court.

Her success story is one of many at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which was developed in response to high crime rates and soaring unemployment in the isolated Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1980s and 90s. The center housed the first multi-jurisdictional court in the nation; a single judge, Alex M. Calabrese, hears criminal, civil, and family matters. Because it is a problem-solving court, Judge Calabrese has a variety of sentencing tools at his disposal aside from jail time—including on-site social services and programs. Sentences often incorporate substance abuse treatment, counseling, and education. In addition, many offenders must perform community service as a means of reparation to the community that was harmed by their actions.

Now with the downturn in the economy affecting the state’s budget, the center has begun to feel the squeeze.

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Red Hook Residents Say Big-Box Stores Broke Job Promises

By Kieran K. Meadows

Red Hook residents were deeply divided eight years ago over the building of a large Fairway supermarket on the waterfront. Proponents said it would bring jobs. Opponents said it would be the beginning of the end of the historic waterfront and would bring tons of traffic to quiet streets.

A similar battle erupted four years ago when the Swedish furniture giant Ikea eyed a 340,000 square former shipyard down the street. The argument came down to economic development and the promise of jobs, versus environmental concerns and neighborhood preservation.

“The people in here, in the projects, everybody wanted Ikea to come here, cause they wanted jobs,” said Alisa Pizarro, an 18 year resident of the Red Hook Houses, a public housing project just blocks from the store. “They said they’d give us jobs so we’d say, ‘Yeah come to the neighborhood.’ ”

More than six months after Ikea opened and four years after Fairway, some residents say that the promises of jobs for local residents—pledges that Fairway and Ikea made central to their case for building the giant big-box stores along the Red Hook waterfront—have been broken.

While some local jobseekers were hired, the residents say the stores let many go in favor of people from outside the community. This situation has only served to exacerbate the unemployment dilemna in Red Hook, particularly in the Houses, the largest public housing project in Brooklyn.

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Despite Obstacles, Community Organization Remains Upbeat

By Kieran K. Meadows

Rebecca Fishburne waited outside a large brick-red building on Valentine’s Day morning in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She was waiting for a mobile HIV testing van to arrive, but the van was running an hour late. Despite the bitter cold, Fishburne, the organizer of the free “HIV Testing Day,” wasn’t discouraged.

Instead, she remained calm, determined to hold a successful community event.

“You just have to take a deep breath, relax, and keep it moving,” said Fishburne, a community health coordinator with the local organization and sponsor of the event, the Red Hook Initiative. “If you don’t, then you’ll freak over everything.”

Fishburne’s calm and positive attitude while waiting for the van is a perfect analogy for the Red Hook Initiative’s own current situation. The organization lost its Clinton Street headquarters of five years last November, and is now waiting to move into a larger space in the heart of the neighborhood. But the new space needs to be renovated before the group, which provides numerous programs and services to hundreds of youth and adults each month, most of whom live in public housing, can move in. The cost of the renovation is over $300,000. Fundraising that much money takes awhile, even in better economic times.

Despite the obstacles resulting from the upcoming move, the Initiative’s employees are coping well and spirits are strong.

“The Red Hook Initiative does a lot for the community,” said Debbie Jackson, a diabetes health educator. “We’re going to survive no matter what. We’re making it happen.”

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Brooklyn Residents Unaware Bus Service May Be Cut

By Kieran K. Meadows

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority revealed yesterday that its budget shortfall is almost $2 billion due to $650 million in declining real estate tax and fare revenues. A decrease in ridership in January also contributed to the agency’s financial problems. The MTA has proposed wide-ranging service cuts and fare increases to take effect in late spring, but now the cuts may be deeper than previously thought, even if the agency receives bailout money from the state.

The likelihood of bus service cuts is devastating to some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, where at least five routes could be eliminated. The MTA has been trying to get the word out by posting signs onboard buses to announce public hearings about the cuts.

Still, the news hasn’t yet reached some of the people who would be most affected.

“I didn’t hear about that,” said J Roberts, of Flatbush, seated at the back of the B77 bus with her 8-year-old son, Trévon. Roberts uses two routes that would be affected by the cuts, the B77 and the B75, to take her son to the YMCA on Ninth Street on weekends.

The B77 and the B75 serve Red Hook, an isolated neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn known for its lack of convenient access to public transportation. The B75, which stops at the edge of the neighborhood, is used by Red Hook residents to go downtown and also to Park Slope and Kensington in the other direction. This route is slated be eliminated altogether.

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Some Fall 2008 work

I’ve been plenty busy with graduate school as well as other obligations, but I just wanted to point to some of the work I did in the Fall semester at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism:

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Brooklyn Sculptor Builds Community, Using Shop Artists as his Parts

By Kieran K. Meadows

Industrial shop machines clutter the inside of a gutted former church on Pioneer Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The roof rises about 60 feet and a steep wooden staircase leads to a loft-like second floor. Orange extension cords snake along catwalk-like structures and thick ropes hang from wooden rafters. Inside a room on the second floor, methodical instructions cover worktable surfaces reminiscent of a plant assembly line.

A small tour of three artists wound its way around the studio space, intrigued by the organized chaos—a cross between a shop artists’ funhouse and endless storage space.

“There are about 1,000 parts in Raining Tree,” boasted Chico MacMurtrie, the artistic director of Amorphic Robot Works, as he pointed to a large silvery tree-like structure slumped in storage. At one point the tree was a robotic installation that responded to the presence of viewers by moving and dripping water rhythmically from its branches.

“I need hands all the time,” MacMurtrie said to the group—a sculptor, a painter, and a seamstress. “I can’t always pay, but I can feed you.”

MacMurtrie, 47, calls himself a robotic sculptor. He founded Amorphic Robot Works in 1991 as a collaboration of artists, engineers and programmers to help him realize his mechanical kinetic sculptures. Much of MacMurtrie’s work consists of many small parts that must fit perfectly and move together for the sculpture to function. In many ways, his work serves as a metaphor for the way he runs his studio: like another one of his machines, but with artists and co-workers as the integral parts.

“The people here are like the components,” MacMurtrie said.

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