|Kings County Hospital Clarkson Street, Flatbush, Brooklyn|
Photo by Irving Underhill.
Shortly after primary night, it became clear that the nominee and presumptive nominee for mayor of New York were both from Brooklyn. An article in the New York Times suggested this shift moves the center of gravity for New York away from a Manhattan centric, pro – growth, entrepreneurial model, toward a more expansive vision of New York and beyond. A Brooklyn perspective just might open us up to a new way of looking at all of New York, as a city which expands from Jerome Ave through East New York, rather than a subway ride from 79th street to City Hall in Manhattan. This is the New York of the peripheries, of long subway rides, bike rides over the Manhattan Bridge, trips to the Beach, across the Throgs Neck.
“When I was a child I thought we lived at the end of the world,” explains Alfred Zazan in his 1951 book, Walker in the City. “It was the eternity of the subway ride into the city that first gave me this idea.” This space which was almost all the periphery. Like Los Angeles, it seemed to go on forever, especially on a long subway ride. Kazin traces us through his ride from the East River, beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, past Borough Hall and Prospect Park out to Canarsie. “We were of the city but somehow not in it,” he confesses. “We were at the end of the line. We were the children of immigrants who had cramped at the city’s back door, in New York’s rawest, remotest, cheapest ghetto, enclosed on one side by the Canarsie flats and on the other side by the hallowed middle class districts that showed the way to New York”.
Yet, could a new mayor who knows this ride into the periphery of our city, better understand the plight of those residing there? Could this make a difference? Does it matter? After all, all mayoral candidates in New York are captive to a pro growth urban regime, notes William Sites.
After election night in 1965, Mayor John Lindsay woke from huge accolades, to a series of municipal strikes and actions. Somehow 2013 feels similar to that moment.
Thursday, I rode my bike across the Brooklyn, past Barklays, toward Grand Army Plaza, past the Brooklyn Museum, down Eastern Parkway bike path to attend a rally to Save SUNY Downstate and University Hospital on Clarkson Ave.
Members of my union, the Professional Staff Congress, were there in solidarity.
I spoke with Mike Fabricant, my old prof from Hunter, about the politics of hospital closings.
“Good neighborhoods need schools and hospitals and transportation,” he chimed in.
|Signs for condos where St Vincent's once stood.|
The new mayor will have to put together a plan to move expired union contracts and to save the hospitals, while actually framing HIV prevention and homelessness around health, not punishment. Certainly, de Blasio drew everyone’s attention when he stood up for Long Island College Hospital. The way he responds to these choices will tell us a lot. Hopefully he will choose policy options which offer a route toward a city with less inequality, a space which feels like the gap between the one percent and the 99 is shrinking rather than expanding.
A dozen years ago few of us had heard of Bloomberg. Yet, he became mayor by out spending a competent public advocate. And so can Lhota.
Later after the rally, I ran into the grocery store, stumbling into Martin Amis, who has recently moved to Brooklyn. My daughter begged me not to go chat about the time I saw him read in San Francisco. Still, I was glad to see him there. This is the Brooklyn with many, many stories.
That night at the pub, an ambulance from Long Island College Hospital arrived outside. It was great to see LICH in action, not boarded up and turned into condos. Activism saved this space, which had been destined to be closed down. Hopefully, it saves all the hospitals in New York.
Hopefully, the new mayor is open to more and more of the New York stories out there. This naked city really is a space of stories. It is a space of highs and lows, art and graffiti, climate crisis, car crashes, homelessness, and a continuing HIV crisis. These stories come from the streets of the periphery.
Hopefully, the new mayor is open to engaging a few more of these stories than the highbrow narrative of the Bloomberg years.