Letter from the Blogger: Big Issues, and Questionable Commentary

Awnings along Fifth Avenue show history, and change.

The character of Sunset Park comes from its buildings, its park, but primarily from its people.  On my walks through the streets, I hear the soft y’s of Caribbean Spanish from Puerto Rico, the rhythm of Mexican slang, the musical highs and lows of Mandarin and Fujianese, all mixed with that ubiquitous Brooklynese. Yet access remains perhaps the biggest challenge to reporting in Sunset Park.

Language and wariness makes covering an immigrant neighborhood dynamic, and sometimes difficult. People all over shy away from press, but particularly so in neighborhoods where many people would prefer to avoid the spotlight. Yet Sunset Park is a neighborhood rich in material. The best stories talk about change, shed light on tensions, injustice, everyday heroism and great characters. They tug at heartstrings, answer questions (or ask them) and compel. I am perpetually running behind–too much material, and too little time.

Sunset Park has also become my lens. I read articles everyday in which the neighborhood garners nary a mentions, but that relate directly to issues here–real estate, industry, economics, immigration, violence, housing. You name it. I aim over the next few months to post more of these. They are simply food for thought, a chance to expand the conversation, and offer those in the neighborhood more information about issues that, I hope, matter to you. In that spirit, the Chron is always open to suggestions and reactions. What works? What doesn’t? What’s missing? These are questions I ask each person I interview. Now I’m asking you.

P.S. One thing I’ve struggled with of late is comment moderation. Thus far the policy has been comments go up, unedited. Period. Stories on Daniel Vargas have sparked a back and forth that have made me question that policy. At the same time, they have raised questions about that murder that my reporting has not. I will continue to let comments go up un-moderated, unless they stray so far from the post topic, or into language so offensive that it no longer serves the readers, the blog, or the community. I’m hoping that won’t happen. However, if it does, there will be some kind of notice–no comment will be pulled without an explanation to both the author and readers.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Letter from the Blogger: Big Issues, and Questionable Commentary

  1. mikey boy

    You know what’s funny if something good happens in sp the newscasts calls us bay ridge but if something bad happens we are called sunset park.Has anyone else besides me notice this? Its been going on for years

  2. You’re not alone. Quite a few people (including the Manager of the Community Board) have mentioned this to me. I try to cover a range of issues, though I have to admit, I always come up a little short. I’ve been working on a few longer pieces that I’m hoping to get up sometime soon. So what’s the good stuff that Bay Ridge has claimed lately?

  3. tee gee

    Something that I have begun to wonder about – after a half-century in Sunset Park, is whether there is a Sunset Park or not. In the 60’s I rallied for us to throw off the Bay Ridge label – especially since it was prefaced with the word “lower”. The leadership of Bay Ridge – (65 Street to 100+ Street) were making decisions for us. The Johnson Administration pushed us to have a name and thus Sunset Park appeared so that we may collect funds from the War on Poverty. The neighborhood was never “Sunset Park” – it was South Brooklyn (also a misnomer once Brooklyn’s border extended beyond 60th Street) or Gowanus, or Bush Terminal.

    I thought Sunset Park would catch on. But at the same time I pushed for the change of the name of our local park because I felt it confused people – whenever I spoke of Sunset Park folks thought I was discussing park issues. I successfully got the library system to change our branch from “south branch” to sunset park. But now, I am of the belief that maybe there is not a Sunset Park neighborhood.

    This case can especially be made for the folks who live from 17th street to 25th Street. That area has little connection with 39th to 65th. For that matter, the area from 25th to 36th (below Greenwood Cemetery) also is distinct.

    I did a survey in the 80’s asking hundreds of people – “Do you intend to stay in Sunset Park for the next 5 to 10 years?”. and over 50% said “no”. But a follow-up question of “How long have you lived here?”, showed that most lived here for more than 5 to 10. I saw this as a huge problem. If you don’t think you’re going to be somewhere for the long haul, why invest in it? Why improve it? Why be involved in the daily life of the community? If a majority of our residents didn’t think they were staying, they would not be involved in improving the area.

    I am beginning to believe that Sunset Park was never a “true” community. It has been a “way station” – a place where travelers stop to refresh, replenish their supplies, regroup and then move on.

    I founded and ran a historical society for years and there was limited interest. Folks weren’t very interested in the past of a place they weren’t staying in. I provided the Home Reporter and later El Barrio (two local weekly papers) with weekly photo features showing a Sunset Park location today and as it was 40 to 80 years ago. I included a detailed account of the changes and history. And there still was little interest.

    I have worked intimately through the years with each wave of migration to the community and each have moved on in great numbers.

    So my question is, what are “we”? Are we a community? And if so, forget about the lable, what kind of a community are we? What are the ties that bind us to one another and thus cause us to be a community?

    • ST

      It’s interesting to read that “teegee” has done so much for Sunset Park through its many reincarnations, but without apparent long term positive results. Well, T.G.- your negative perspective maybe be due to your Me & I/Them approach. Sunset Park has always graciously harbored immigrants, as well as migrants (Midwest/West Coast/Southwest, etc.) and your apparent insistence on making it into something that it was never intended to be might be at the root of your self-reported failures. Hopefully, the many other folks who are trying to transform Sunset Park into the upper middle class neighborhood that it was never intended to be will also move-on before totally displacing the working class folks who managed to maintain this little corner of NYC as a charming, friendly and affordable place to live.

  4. Manu

    Most neighborhoods are not communities. The word “community” is used all the time, but in different ways. Sometimes it means “the neighborhood”, at other times it means “ethnic group x” and again at other times it means “long-term residents”. (I prefer to use “neighborhood” in most cases as “community” often has both inclusionary and exclusionary effects.) But this is the 21st century and people’s world is bigger than their neighborhood. For many Mexicans their community is the Mexican community, for many Chinese the Chinese community and for many white people in brownstones it’s other white people in other brownstones. Or it’s the community of people who like boxing, or yoga, or whose children attend the same school, or of people who like to same kind of music. That doesn’t mean these groups don’t interact; they do, all the time. And people are often ‘members’ of different groups. But it doesn’t mean that groups sharing one neighborhood are a community. And that’s the same in Park Slope, Bay Ridge, the Lower East Side or Harlem. Also: neighborhoods change, by definition. People move out, people move in. Same for businesses. Some buildings fall apart, others are completely renovated. Sometimes change is faster than at other times, but there is always change. And what is the neighborhood? It is how it’s defined by people: but not just by the people who live in a neighborhood, but also by people living outside the neighborhood, the media (including this blog), and government and government-related institutions. In many cases borders are disputed and in some cases the name used by the residents is virtually unknown by people outside the neighborhood. For example: I used to live on a slice of the Upper West Side, close to Harlem. Most of the Latinos in the neighborhood called it “Manhattan Valley”. Others would say they lived in “Morningside Heights” (even though they clearly don’t live up on the hill), again others in Harlem. Neighborhood borders are defined by physical as well as social differences. For example: the border between Sunset Park and Borough Park isn’t very clear physically. But socially I would define it in this way: where the Chinese and other Asians are still dominant it’s Sunset Park, where the Hasidic Jews are dominant it’s Borough Park. So I guess the border would be around 9th ave. But that may also change. And it’s only one man’s interpretation. The border with Bay Ridge seems easier to define as there’s the Gowanus Expy leading up to the bridge.
    And now I’m ending this comment (but I could go on forever).
    Manu

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