Wednesday, March 4, 2015

(More than One) Scent Grows in Brooklyn

One of the "flavors" of Brooklyn
In 2006 Kensington resident Sophia Sylvester set out to solve her children’s “dry skin issue.” What happened next was the birth of Sylvester’s all-natural body care products business called “Brooklyn Flavors.”

The former medical assistant thought of a great way to have prospective customers take notice of her products: she created a special scent from each of about one dozen neighborhoods in Brooklyn and connected each to one of her products.

“I wasn't born here, but I was raised here and I realized that Brooklyn has so much flavor. It’s a mosaic of cultures and colors,” Sylvester said. 

In order to achieve authenticity Sylvester did some research into the history of each neighborhood, coming up with unique and yet descriptive essences to reflect on the special “aroma” of each neighborhood.

For instance, the “soft floral blend of cherry, jasmine and gardenia” of the Prospect Heights flavor refers to the famous Brooklyn Botanic Gardens found there.

“‘Church Avenue’ is a fruit blend of mango, papaya and jasmine because there are a lot of West Indians that live in the area,” she added.

Sylvester opened her store in 2013 at 820 Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights. She makes every product by hand right there in her store. Not every Brooklyn neighborhood has its own scent, but some that do include: Red Hook, Bed-Stuy, Park Slope and other very Brooklyn-ish things, like “Brownstone.”

Prices range from $7 or $8 for lip balm or shea butter soap to $30 for sea salt scrub.

We can expect to continue to see more scents and more products from this creative entrepreneur who has products for sale as far away as Jackson, Mississippi. Although now many of her ingredients come from all over the world, Sylvestor hopes that one day soon she will be able to get all her materials locally.

“Brooklyn is all I know,” she said. “It’s a beautiful city and it’s got so much history.”

Monday, February 2, 2015

Forecasters Take the Brunt of Historic Blizzard

Mayor Bill de Blasio; photo credt: The office of Public Advocate for the City of New York
After city and state officials took the maximum position to protect the safety and well-being of citizens, the anticipated “Blizzard of the Century” turned into more like the blizzard of the week. On Tuesday New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he does not regret closing schools and ordering all traffic off the streets beginning at 11pm, just ahead of the storm. Closure of the subway, however, was not mandated by the mayor’s office.

"We found out just as it was being announced," the mayor said, only 15 minutes before Governor Cuomo made the announcement on TV on Monday afternoon that for the first time in the 110-year history of the subway it would be closed for snow.

"I think it was a very big move, and certainly something we would have liked to have had some more dialogue on," said de Blasio. He did not say whether he agreed with the decision or not.

The Mayor explained that New Yorkers should consider themselves lucky that we received only 10 to 12 inches of snow on Monday night, a half to a third of what was forecast.
"Just 20, 30 miles east of the city's border, in Long Island, they got exactly what was originally projected for here," de Blasio said.
The traffic ban imposed by City Hall went into effect at 11pm and was lifted at 7:30am on Tuesday morning. The Mayor said, based on the snow predictions at the time, the closing of schools and traffic for Tuesday was a “no-brainer.”
"These were the right precautions to take. They worked," de Blasio said. "I will always err on the side of safety and caution," he said.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Borough Presidents Address Internet Inequality

New York City’s five borough presidents, together with City Comptroller Scott Stringer have created a “Five Borough Broadband Bill of Rights” to address the differential across the city of internet access.

According to a report published by Stringer, 30 percent of households in Brooklyn are without high-speed internet. That statistic compares unfavorably with the 21 percent of households who do not have high-speed internet in Manhattan. The report shows that even within each borough large differences exist. For instance, Kensington and Borough Park have the lowest rate of internet access at 47 percent of households without.

The report, which is labeled “Internet Inequality: Broadband Access in NYC,” explains that there are two major reasons for the lack of high-speed internet in the city: poor broadband quality and expense.
“New Yorkers who don’t have online access lack the tools they need to improve their education, employment and business opportunities,” Stringer said. “Just as the subway powered New York’s growth in the 20th century, high-speed broadband will power our city’s economic competitiveness in the 21st century.”

Stringer and the five borough presidents came together to produce the “Five Borough Broadband Bill of Rights” to find ways to reduce the differences between the city’s neighborhoods as far as internet access is concerned. The goal of the “Bill of Rights” is to bring neighborhoods like Kensington and Borough Park, with almost half the households without internet, to more of a parity with other neighborhoods, such as SoHo and Greenwich Village, which have almost 90 percent of households equipped with high-speed web access.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brooklyn Real Estate Booming

Brooklyn Buildings Booming
Since 2011 finding an affordable dwelling in Brooklyn has become increasingly difficult. In neighborhoods like Clinton Hill and Red Hook prices have soared from $120 per buildable square to $212 in 2014.  In Williamsburg and Greenpoint we see the same kind of rise, from $107 to $209. Even in low income areas such as Bushwick, Crown Height and Bedford-Stuyvesant prices are almost doubled from $51 to $93 per square foot.

With such soaring prices developers are searching elsewhere in Brooklyn for more affordable projects. Some of the newbies to the building boom are Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush and Kensington.

“I always want to be more on the affordable side,” said developer Eli Karp. 

Karp was explaining why he was moving his work to some of Brooklyn’s budding, under-developed neighborhoods such as Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush.

“Most of the land I bought in Prospect Lefferts Gardens I bought for $40 to $65 per square foot,” he said, “whereas in Crown Heights, people are asking close to $100 or over.”

Making money on the development is not a sure thing, however. Lower priced areas are generally not in great demand, and it is not always known if that will change just because someone builds a new building.

“Are you going to be able to rent those units? Are people going to appreciate the value you’ve put in those projects?” Karp said.

Another problem for builders is opposition from neighborhood residents who may be unaccustomed to new building development.

“There are long-term residents in a lot of these marketplaces who may not completely embrace the new construction,” said David Maundrell, president of the brokerage firm

Maundrell pointed out the case last summer of the Hudson Companies’ high-rise at 626 Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. A community group had filed a lawsuit which had temporarily halted construction on the 23-story tower. Since the developer was in compliance with all the relevant zoning and construction laws, the suit was dismissed, but not before Hudson Companies incurred added expenses to their project.

“Some people have made fortunes,” on such projects, a Hudson Companies principal David Kramer explained. But, he said, “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

BPL Announces Two Programs to Help Immigrants

Linda E. Johnson, CEO and President of the BPL
Last week the Brooklyn Public Library announced the launch of two new programs designed to help immigrants in Brooklyn attain US citizenship and to help them with any legal services they might need.

Prepare for Citizenship is a program which will offer a formal, 11-week course for ESOL learners. The course is being offered at the Kensington, Canarsie, Sunset Park and Flatbush branches of the BPL. The course will prepare students for the English and Civics parts of the Citizenship test, plus provide free legal assistance. Prepare for Citizenship is offered under the auspices of Catholic Migration Services (CMS) ad with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The second is the Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC) Community Fellows program, which offers crucial legal assistance to poor immigrants throughout Brooklyn. Two Fellows will be welcomed to the BPL, while five other organizations throughout New York City will also receive two IJC Community Fellows this year. This program will officially begin later in November.

Together these two programs offer important support to Brooklyn residents in need of assistance with legal and/or citizenship issues.

"Brooklyn Public Library serves a diverse and multiethnic borough and is a critical resource for immigrant communities, which too often face barriers accessing information and assistance," said Linda E. Johnson, president & CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library.   
“There are nearly are nearly 700,000 immigrants in New York who are one step away from becoming U.S. Citizens, and many of them haven't done so because of cost, fear of a cumbersome process, or access to legal counsel,” said Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal. “Our libraries have long acted as a safe and accessible hub for immigrants. By providing legal services, the Brooklyn Public Library is taking a smart and innovative approach that will benefit not just our immigrant communities, but our city as a whole.”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Kensington Artist Sharpens Look at Women’s Roles

Traci Talasco’s sandpaper kitchen installation starkly states her view of the social assumptions of women’s roles, and domestic duties.

“This is more of a political piece that has to do with these unrealistic expectations for women to be homemakers,” said the Kensington artist. “We’re juggling careers and home lives but there is still this unrealistic idea that women are going to be homemakers.”

Rub Me the Wrong Way is Traci Talasco's commentary on women's roles
Talasco explained that her use of sandpaper points out the contrast between the materials that are traditionally thought of as feminine, which are usually soft and warm, to the reality of the rough duties of domestic existence. She points out that over time the sandpaper will be worn away as people walk through and touch the installation, just as she hopes the struggle against women’s traditional roles will wear down those stereotypes.

“It illustrates in a funny way this idea of women being worn out — being worn down by these expectations,” she said. “But it also metaphorically represents this idea of wearing down these gender stereotypes that don’t make sense in 2014.”

Talasco is not only interested in political statements. The exhibition, called “Rub Me the Wrong Way,” is also a work of art, Talasco contends. Each and every visitor that leaves behind a fingerprint of shoe scuff will change the piece.

“It is also something, in the end, that I feel will be visually beautiful and funny,” she said.

Traci Talasco’s installation, “Rub Me the Wrong Way” is already open at the Brooklyn Arts Council Gallery at 55 Washington Street between Front and Water Streets in Dumbo. Call 718-625-0080 for more information.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Newly Renovated Loews Theater Set to Open in January

Ever since the intended restoration of the Loew’s Kings Theater in Flatbush was announced last year, excitement around the project has been growing. Known as one of only five “Wonder Theaters” in New York and New Jersey, the advancing restoration, due to conclude in January 2015, will bring the theater back to its glory days of 1929.
On the way to its former splendor: The Loew's Kings Theater-Photo courtesy of Matt Lambros

The theater has been closed and abandoned since 1977, but after a year of work it will be brought back to the look and feel of its “sumptuous interiors inspired by the Palace of Versailles and the Paris Opera House.”
The 3,000-seat theater, Brooklyn’s largest, will become a cornerstone of Brooklyn culture, with more than 200 performances scheduled each year, “including music, dance, theater and comedy.”
A press release stated that:

"The Kings Theatre will serve as both a cultural and economic cornerstone for the Brooklyn community, presenting more than 200 performances annually—including music, dance, theatre, and comedy—providing a resource to foster and support creativity in the area, creating jobs and attracting thousands of visitors to the neighborhood."

Photographer Matt Lambros has been chronicling the progress of the re-birth of the Loew’s ever since his first, pre-renovations photograph he took in 2011. Lambros has been keeping a blog, After the Final Curtain, which not only covers the progress of the Kings Theater, but also reveals the state of other crumbling performance spaces. With the help of the Theater Historical Society of America Lambros will publish a book on the subject in early 2015.