By Mark Naison
Today, while driving home to Brooklyn from Eastern Long Island, I ran into a traffic jam on the Belt Parkway. I decided to get off at Rockaway Parkway and go to Park Slope via a route familiar to me from the days when my son Eric was played sandlot baseball, first for the 78th Precinct, then for the Bonnies and Youth Service. The route took me up Rockaway Parkway to Flatlands Avenue, then from Flatlands to Avenue I, then from Avenue I to Ocean Ave, then from Ocean Ave to Caton Avenue, and from Caton Avenue to Prospect Park Southwest!
Throughout this six-mile trip through crowded neighborhoods, I did not see one person who looked like a hipster, a banker or a gentrifier. I did not see one sign for artisanal food. I saw lots of fast food outlets, hair salons, and Caribbean bakeries; an occasional sign saying “glatt kosher” or “Halal food” and huge numbers of livery cabs. Most of the people on the street were Black, with a few Latinos, South Asians and Orthodox Jews; which did not surprise me since I was driving through the largest concentration of West Indians in the world, who live in Canarsie and East Flatbush.
In the 90s, I spent a lot of time in those neighborhoods because my son Eric played many of his sandlot games there. After 15 years, Rockaway Parkway and Flatlands Avenue looked exactly the way that I remembered them! While Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Bushwick undergo rapid transformation, Canarsie and East Flatbush remain ungentrified.
Somehow, I found that reassuring.