The Other Brooklyn Brooklyn’s fashionable boutiques, trendy restaurants and organic markets, along with the hip lifestyles of the newly- arrived ‘creative class', are being replicated the world over. But how is the energy and the entrepreneurship which is transforming Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Park and Red Hook affecting the borough’s ghetto neighborhoods located just a couple of miles to the southeast? Have the churches, housing projects, food markets, homeless shelters, and drug corners of Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill been “Brooklynized”? Looking for answers, I recently walked along Pitkin Avenue, Broadway, Rockaway Avenue and many other streets, surveying public housing projects, hanging out on hot corners and checking out eating establishments such places as McDonald’s, Condado Spanish American Food, and The Country Kitchen. I climbed to the roof of the Ocean Hill Houses, a public housing project on Sumpter Street as I have been doing so over the past quarter of a century on my trips to the neighborhood. With my back turned to the ghetto, I photographed Bushwick and Bedfor Stuyvesant against the skyline of Manhattan. I saw that the enormous gas tanks of Greenpoint have been demolished, that World Trade Center One is rising to replace the Twin Towers, and that supermarkets, laundromats and fast food franchises have opened on once-empty lots. The city has planted trees and shrubbery on formerly desolate land. The silvery J and Z trains snake slowly east or west. On one of my visits to this roof-top lookout two decades ago I came across a couple smoking crack on the roof landing; the woman I noted was heavily pregnant. On my recent visit I was alone. I revisited my favorite block-long perch at the L Station on Sutter Avenue in “Little Pittsburgh,” an area devoted to warehousing and the recycling of cars and appliances, and whose symbol is the forklift truck. With a rhythmic thumping sound, an enormous metal crusher flattens stripped automobiles for recycling. On the Brownsville side of the subway station loom the towers of the largest concentration of high-rise public housing in the nation. To the north east lies East New York, once described by the celebrated reporter Francis X. Clines as “being under some viral siege attacking the material order of things” (“Plato and Mr. Einsenstein in Brooklyn,” New York Times, December 22, 1977). During my first trip to this area in 1979 I photographed the hulking remains of the Premier Theater as well as another landmark building, the Chevra Spard of Perry Slaw, a former synagogue transformed into a Christian church and renamed La Sinagoga. The ghosts of Danny Kaye, George Gershwin and Alfred Kazin who were born and grew up here seemed to haunt the streets. At the time this part of town was among the most devastated areas of New York City. In the early 1980s, at the L station I narrowly escaped being mugged by two thugs thanks to the timely intervention of Officer Friendly of the Transit Police. In 2013 most of the ruins have disappeared and East New York viewed from the platform is now a place of warehouses and homeless shelters. A boxlike pink shelter for young pregnant women with metal covered windows and rust stains on the walls stands out in my mind as a miserable place to live. I often return to photograph this building. Indeed, the bushes on the nearby empty lots were so tall that car strippers could carry out their work unseen. Stray dogs were common and drug dealers crowded the small lobbies of the nearby Prospect Plaza Houses. Recently, the shelter’s name has been changed to Saratoga Women’s Center and new housing has been built on many of the surrounding empty lots. Prospect Plaza is now vacant and awaits the wrecker’s ball. I revisited the intersection of Mother Gaston Boulevard and Belmont Avenue, a corner I have photographed many times since 1989. In that first year, according to the New York Times, “crack and cocaine are being sold by desperate-looking men against a backdrop of bombed out devastation.” (Michael Marriott, “New York’s Worst Sites: Persistent Markets of Death,” NYT June 1, 1989). I spoke with José Contreras, known as "el oso" (the bear) a Dominican storekeeper who is proud of having survived at the corner for almost three decades. José told me that an earlier name for his store was “La Crema,” meaning “the best,” but now he calls it “El Fuerte, ” “the fortress." He offered to show me his security video collection of the market being repeatedly held up over the years, adding that the intersection is a very hot spot (muy caliente). Inside the store I saw five monitors fixed on the aisles of his store, and outside two video cameras covered the corner. Liborio, the Mexican cashier, told me that the videos help him catch thieves as they walk out with stolen beer in their pockets. On a side wall of the store is a fading twenty-year-old memorial to Rob, a Puerto Rican disc jockey shown at the turntables. At Rockaway Avenue and Sutter Avenue is the old ruin of Public School 125 with its perennial “for sale” sign. This neoclassical edifice is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful ruins in the city, appearing small and delicate next to the massive Tilden Houses. Rufus, who grew up in the Brownsville Houses across the street from the school, tells me that Mike Tyson, also a local, had wanted to buy the school and convert it into a gym for the kids, but he unfortunately ran out of money. A block west, on a fenced-in plot filled with garbage, a barely visible mural surviving from the 1980s shows a scene from the Vietnam War: a platoon of black soldiers appears to be moving through the jungle. The former methadone clinic at Blake and Powell Avenues has recently been converted into the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Temple. When I asked the women who distribute free clothes outside the church what they did for the heroin addicts they have displaced, they told me they prayed for them. As one of them remarked, “Wouldn’t you rather have a church than a methadone clinic?” I found no traces of the splendid Brooklyn lifestyle here in East New York. Residents repeatedly told me "there is no money here." The fanciest restaurant in the area is The Country Kitchen, a good soul food place. There are no organic markets, no beer gardens or art galleries, no tourists, no glow. There are stores and shops such as Rainbow, Porta Bella, Payless Shoes, 99c Xpress, T-Mobile and KFC which cater to the needs of the inner city poor and there are plenty of video cameras to survey and record their every move. Even though there is a sign "no hangear," many people in fact ‘hang out’ at Condado Spanish American Food, where they can escape the cold and meet friends. A few come in wheelchairs; several have missing front teeth and tell their friends they need money. Many of the abandoned buildings have been rebuilt in recent years and vacant lots have filled up with housing, commerce and industry. The Other Brooklyn is still a ghetto, not a racially diverse neighborhood such as Harlem. Brother Brown of the America Come Back to God Church tells me the situation "is getting a little bit better." Poverty and crime have abated somewhat and Cline's “viral siege” has ended. The material order of things has been renewed. The catastrophe has passed.