A waterfront blog about Red Hook, Brooklyn. From Columbia Street to the Van Brunt Stores and from Valentino Pier to Red Hook Rec Center.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Wintery Red Hook

I haven't posted much in the past week or so. In short, I've just been swamped with work, and the blog is a very part-time calling. In the spirit of a "what's going on" post... apparently the Hook will be featureing MiniKISS this evening -- a little person KISS tribute band. I'm not sure if I'll make it, but it sounds like a hell of a show.

Other than that, Sorry about the lack of posts, and I hope to post more in the next week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Red Hook in Newsday

Hey, by the way... nice article in Newsday today featuring the Red Hook Cafe and Grill - one of my favorite breakfast spots in the neighborhood!

A Red Hook proposal - Building a Design District

Okay, I really don't have time to write this today, but I had said that I would post some ideas on how Ikea could be a better neighbor and I never got around to it. I've got a couple of ideas, but I'd like to throw the big one out there first...

A Design District on the Waterfront:

With a broad coalition across public and private lines, I believe we could promote the creation of Design District in Red Hook. Within, and immediately surrounding the neighborhood there are a number of institutions that could come together to form a consortium around home and interior design. With Ikea coming, and Lowe's and Home Depot already here, three of the largest home and interior design retailers are present. In addition, there are a number of small shops in the neighborhood that specialize in wood working, capentry, plumbing, used and refinished furniture, contracting, and marble and glasswork. In addition, one of the locals of the United Brotherhood of Capenters is located right here in the neighborhood. Together these institutions will have a tremendous capacity to make Red Hook a center for home design.

There are two things missing though - an educational element, and public intervention to bring all these actors together. Educational institutions are historically vital for these kinds of districts. They train local workers and entrenpeneurs for the commercial institutions, and they constantly introduce new innovations into the field which keeps the district sustainable. The best educational element would be a two tiered structure. One of the design schools of New York city (the Parson School, the Pratt Institute, the Fashion Institute Technology) should be invited into the neighborhood to establish an university level program in the neighborhood. They should be partnered with a New York City public high school that specializes in furniture, home and design. It may be necessary to create an entirely new school in the neighborhood. The high school would have a two track system. One would be focused on trades and skills, including small business management. By partnering with the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, some graduates come out as skilled union members. The second track would focus on directing students toward university design school. Some will go straight to the partner university's program, others will go to other programs. The high school should draw most of its students from Red Hook Houses.

Public intervention will be required to make this happen. The City will have to offer incentives to bring these businesses together. The Deparment of Education will have to participate in organizing the high school. Whichever design college participates will need support to bring a campus to the neighborhood.

A dedicated Design District in Red Hook would make the community more of destination. It would promote practical education, and commercial activity. It would build on characteristics of the neighborhood that are already present. The mixed-used character of the neighborhood will not need to be overwhelmed. Small shops can co-exist with larger businesses and homes.

So that's one big idea for Red Hook. If anyone wants to forward this on to anyone who might get this going, please do!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Hi Bec! Pretty nifty site, right?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Skeptical, but not opposed (following up on Imlay)

The recent post about 160 Imlay was linked to Curbed today, and RedHooky was even quoted. Although Curbed notes my skepticism about the Imlay conversion and the especially the NYPost editorial about it, I think I should be more clear about my own opinions of the project. As I noted in the first piece on the Imlay project, I think the influx of new residents would be a real boon for the new businesses in the neighborhood. The variance board's requirement that the developers not add additional floors and that the first floor be used for commercial space goes a long way toward making the project more in keeping with the "mixed-use" character of the neighborhood. In short, I support the conversion of the Imlay building to residencies, but remain cautious about overall development in the neighborhood

There is definitely room in Red Hook for growth in terms of residents and commercial businesses - including some industrial uses. The neighborhood is not being used to its capacity. The most important issue, however, is managing the growth. I think the traffic situation is a good example. Despite warnings of the "narrow cobblestone streets" not being able to handle increased traffic, at one time Red Hook was one of the most used shipping ports in the country. During the boom years of Red Hook, there was substantially more traffic on these streets than we're seeing now. That's not to say that traffic isn't a problem now, and that its not going to get worse as new businesses and residents come in. However, its a problem that could be managed better now, and will have to be managed better in dealing with the future growth. In the short term, a couple of stop lights on Van Brunt Street between Hamilton Avenue and Reed Street would control some of the traffic flow and reduce the hi-speed truck runs a bit. And a stop sign at the corner of Verona and Richards just seems logical. In the medium term, restoring the Conover Street extension which was recently removed from the cruise ship terminal plan should be a priority.

In the longer term, we need closer and more consistent attention to comprehensive planning. Community planning is nothing new for Red Hook, and is probably where I am most skeptical of the Manhattan Institute's analysis. Where their approach emphasizes private enterprise in development, I feel strongly that public concerns should be at the fore. Red Hook was involved in one of the earlier commmunity planning efforts in 1996. A plan was written and is available from NYC.gov website. (Okay, I admit I haven't read it yet. But I will!) . I think the variance board's conditions on the Imlay Street project recognize the developer's responsibilities to a certain degree. More responsibilities can be put on private developers, however. Developers, whether they are building the Ikea or Fairway, or converting Imlay, have entered into the neighorohood and as such have neighborhood citizenship responsibilities. Requiring the Imlay developers to incorporate the Greenway into their plans, or even participating in the Conover Street extension, should not be too much to ask. However, without proper forums, and good-faith participation from both residents and developers, the right questions rarely get asked, and development becomes an exercise in community confrontation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Baked website and Imlay Street in the NYPost

The new Van Brunt bakery - Baked - has passed along their webaddress - www.bakednyc.com. Its a very spiffy website. Welcome to the neighborhood.

There is an article posted today about in the NYPost about the Imlay street development. (Red Light in Red Hook) The article is essentially a shorter version of a piece originally posted on the Manhattan Institute's Center for Rethinking Development website (Thinking About Desolate Neighborhoods & Environmental Reviews). Take the piece with a grain of salt - the Manhattan Institute is a conservative think tank, with a pretty clear neo-liberal / "free market" agenda. There is some good information in there, including the January 18 deadline on Judge Lewis' decision on the Imlay conversion.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Happy New Year... and Ikea finally arrives (with a bang and a crash)

I haven't posted at all during the holiday season, things were a bit too busy. We also did the regular holiday traveling from one family to the other and back again which kept me away from my computer for much of the time. Regarless, a happy belated holidays and happy New Year to all.

While we were gone it seems that Red Hook has been busy. Besides the obvious (Ikea) there appears to be at least one other neighborhood development. A new bakery called "Baked" is poised to open just down the block from Hope & Anchor. Word is that it will be open by the middle of this week. From the looks of it, Baked is going to be something of a coffee shop / bakery, which should be a nice addition to Van Brunt Street.

There was one reply on the call for local websites. One of our hi-tech neighbors got in touch - The Future Now, Inc. Their websites (www.grokdotcom and www.futurenowinc.com) are posted on the sidebar. Its good to see "grok" in common usage... very late 60s-sci-fi hip. Let's hear from more folks.

Anyway, the big story of course is the start of the demolition of the Todd Shipyard buildings on Beard Street. Unfortunately, the first building for destruction was probably the most appealing of the lot. It was a pretty red-brick structure with arched windows. Although the demolition generated a bit of press and public consternation, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. A quick look at Ikea's plans on their website (www.ikearedhook.com) shows that they don't intend on keeping any of the old structures. My own opinion on the project is mixed. I hate to see buildings as pretty and as historically significant as those at the Todd Shipyard destroyed, but at the same time, it was perhaps worse to see them unused and deteriorating. Leaving aside whether or not Ikea is a good idea for Red Hook, the destruction of the Todd Shipyards was years in the making.

Although they may be the ones finally taking it apart, Ikea is only sort of really responsible for what is happening to the Todd Shipyards. Perhaps more directly than many other locations, Red Hook has been "shaped by war and trade". For Red Hook, and the shipyards that are at its core, declining fortunes comes on the heals of two major changes. The first is the movement away from naval power. For the Todd Shipyards, the biggest boom years were during World War II. The Shipyards either repaired, refitted, or built thousands of ships for the war effort. A big navy was vital to winning World War II, whether for transporting troops, moving material or fighting. After World War II long range aircraft largely replaced ships for military transport. What shipbuilding that was done after World War II was mostly moved south and west, where costs were less and work could be done year round.

The second big changed was the use of containerization in shipping. At one time the Erie and Atlantic Basins in Red Hook were among the most busy ports in the world. Containerization revolutionized the shipping industry. When containerization came to dominate, ports like Red Hook which only had limited container facilities were essentially abandoned. Currently American Stevedoring is the only container facility here in Red Hook. Compared to the container facilities in New Jersey, Brooklyn's are relatively smaller. I believe that Brooklyn has a deeper natural draft, however, which makes shipping here still attractive.

You could also argue that containerization is one of the things that makes Ikea possible. Shipping flat packages in containers from low cost production sites is one of the ways that Ikea keeps its products cheap. Without containers, the savings in low end production in Thailand or Malaysia would disappear into the transportation costs.

So maybe Ikea could have been better neighbors by at least saving the facade of the Todd Shipyards, but the yards themselves and all their place in the industrial world was gone long before our new Swedish neighbors got here.

Later this week I'll post two ideas on how Ikea could be a better neighbor - trees for all, and the start of a home design district.