Southside Photos Du Jour: The “Tipi” Rant

getting ready to barbecue

Today I had the pleasure of showing a buddy of mine, Lisanne, around northern Brooklandia. She’s been quite busy of late kicking ass in her community (“Gowanus”); was kind enough to take me on a tour of her community and I wanted to return the favor. I felt perhaps a walk around Williamsburg would be an interesting juxtaposition to what her community faces. Above all, I wanted to show her what I consider to be one of the supreme grotesques when to comes to developer/community organization “partnerships”. I speak of none other than the Southside teepee tipi.

Havemeyer Park Recliner nys

I have yet to articulate in words how much this thing enrages me. Maybe I’ll get it right this time. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

To preface, a little information about myself:

  1. I am not of Native American descent. I am not a spokesperson for the Native American community. However…
  2. my forbears (on my mother’s side) came from Texas. Well, if you want to get “picky” they lived in Texas before Texas was “Texas”. They were European immigrants and they immigrated to Mexico.
  3. They were not “wealthy” people. They lived alongside and in (relative*) harmony with Native Americans and Latinos (NOTE: I am reticent to use the term ‘Mexicans” because back in the day my forebears would also qualify as such. See point #2).
  4. When one is living on the “frontier”, “poor” and as such bereft the amenities we have in this modern age he/she does not have the luxury of being racist— and I assure you racism is a “luxury”. Instead, you pulled together as many collective resources as you could as a community. My grandmother and great aunt had (as they put it) a “Comanche woman” (“political correctness” as we know it was/is a mite bit too much to ask from two women born in 1909 and 1911 respectively) from a neighboring plot of land/”ranch” as a babysitter on occasion. They had fond memories of her.
  5.  When there was a “feud”, as great aunt put it, between this “Comanche” family and another family (non-native American, I recall) they sided with the Comanches. Like I said: racism is a luxury.

I am not Native American. However— and in large part due to my grandmother and her sister— I have been exposed Native Amercian history and culture since pretty much day one. And that’s why this teepee tipi pisses me off so goddamn much.

bbq pit and teepee

After I took this photo a 20-something fellow, the “fire setter”, clad in overalls, bandanna and a straw hat approached me.

Are you Miss Heather of New York Shitty?

he asked.

I answered to the affirmative. He responded as follows:

I’m Ryan, I used to work for GWAPP. We’ve met before.

Instead of tendering my condolences (I am capable of restraint when I want to be) I asked:

What are you doing?

We’re going to have a barbecue.

He replied and added:

We’re using wood because lighter fluid is bad!

“Oh I know” I replied and added:

Please tell that to my neighbors.** They just LOVE lighter fluid. They can’t barbecue for shit. They’d be excellent arsonists if they wanted to be.

Laughter, albeit of the uncomfortable/awkward variety, followed. “Ryan” went about his business and we went in.

southside teepee

newbalances

Upon seeing this pair of New Balance sneakers outside the “tipi” my companion and I burst into fits of cynical laughter. She noted “NBs” are the footwear of choice among “progressives”.

no shoes in the tipi

No shoes are allowed in the tipi.

people in tipi looking at iphone

But apparently the “tipi” has an open door policy for smart phones.

I do not recall Native Americans having iphones. Hell, I do not recall reading— ANYWHERE— about the Native Americans who once called this land their home having teepees tipis.  This is because they didn’t. Teepees were used by nomadic tribes— generally on the great plains. Teepees were made of buffalo hide. Brooklyn did not have “nomadic tribes” (or buffalo for that matter). There was no need to travel long distances: everything they needed was here.

My travelling companion, Lisanne, put it (more or less— paraphrasing here) very well:

Don’t they see the irony of having a teepee in a neighborhood where a lot of residents (many of whom are Latino and probably “Mestizo”— Ed. Note.) are being forced out?

No they don’t— and that is the problem.

nativeappropriations

Straight up: If you are going to appropriate Native American culture (which you probably shouldn’t do in the first place), at least make it contextually/historically relevant. New York City is not lacking in Native American history. So why I ask, once again, do we have this teepee? I am guessing it is a “nod” to Native American culture.

The problem with this teepee is— however well intended it may be— is the wrong Native American culture. By erecting this you are doing our predecessors here— and probably giving youths the notion that teepees did in fact exist here— a serious disservice. In fact I’d go so far to say one poorly placed teepee in Williamsburg is actually worse than no acknowledgement of Native American presence at all. Wrong information is worse than no information.

This could have, should have been an opportunity to educate people— newcomers and old timers, young and old— about the Native Americans who once lived here. Instead we have a hang-out wherein one can peruse one’s iphone. No lighter fluid, New Balances or Nikes allowed.

Rather sad, yes?

*For example, one time my grandmother and great aunt’s mother placed pies on a window sill to cool. The “Indians” stole them. My great aunt found her mother’s tristesse quite hilarious.

**Who also, thankfully rarely, host drum circles.

OSA Chief Faces Criticism: Rebuttal

Last week was a hectic one for yours truly. Pet-sitting, work, Photoshop phreakiness, life: the list goes on and on. But at long last I have the time and energy to share my thoughts about the following which hails from Brooklyn11211.

brooklyn11211

If you point and click your way to this post (which can be done by clicking on the above image) you will learn that Brooklyn11211 is addressing the recent reporting by Aaron Short of the Williamsburg Courier. What was of particular interest to yours truly is the embedded link for “Its (sic) not a sell out”; this directs the reader to the (admittedly rather vitriolic) post I wrote last Thursday.

BDE31609My colleague down south is right: the fact the Executive Director Open Space Alliance North Brooklyn (henceforth referred to as OSAnb) gets just over half her salary from the city is not a “sell out”. It’s a buy out. There is a difference. Prior to being put on the city’s payroll Ms. Thayer was one of the most vociferous parks advocates Williamspoint had. As I understand it, she was a real pain the city’s butt. So they made a move that was downright Machiavellian in its brilliance: they hired her. It’s much more difficult to bite the hand if it is (in part) feeding you.*

Do I think Ms. Thayer sees it this way? No. I believe she believes (just as Brooklyn11211 does) that by being a Parks Department employee and the Executive Director of OSAnb she can and will be an “inside player/spokesperson” on the behalf of our community. I, on the other hand, do not.

Before I proceed I want to make it clear my opinion is not informed by a degree in architecture or landscape design; experience in public administration (although I have considerable experience with facilities management) or by being a Williamspoint “power player”. It is grounded purely by observing human nature.

I do not blame Stephanie for not “thumbing her nose at the Mayor”, e.g.; limiting attendance to the Bushwick Inlet Park “groundbreaking”. Just like the rest of us she has bills to pay. To be overtly critical of her employer will jeopardize the roof over her head. Who in his (or her) right mind, in these times, would do such a thing? (All I can’t understand is why Steve Hindy was given a shovel— but we’ll get to that in a bit.)

But this doesn’t make the conflict of interest any less troubling. The fact of the matter is one person cannot serve two masters. In this respect I find the 51%/49% breakdown of her salary very instructive; as a Parks employee she is, in fact, working for us. The taxpayers.

It’s the other 49% I worry about. Aaron Short writes in this article:

After a long day of contemplating North Brooklyn’s open space problems and navigating the intricacies of city bureaucracy, a community leader could be forgiven for wanting an ice cold beer. And as neighborhood power players expressed their doubts about the purity of the organization’s motives, now might be a good time to grab one.

Fortunately, Open Space Alliance (OSA) Chairman Steve Hindy, also the owner of the Brooklyn Brewery, doesn’t have to go very far. He originally founded the Open Space Alliance (OSA) with Adam Perlmutter and Joe Vance in 2002 as a way to buy the Bushwick Inlet (North 12th and Kent streets) for public use. (Not the case: OSA incorporated in January of 2003. Here’s a jpeg of their paperwork. It lists the founders as follows: Joe Vance, Steve Hindy and Norm Brodsky. For the curious— or incredibly bored— here’s a jpeg of their Registration Statement on file with the State Attorney General’s office. It too dates to January 2003— and lists Joe Vance and Steve Hindy but now Adam Perlmutter is listed as OSA’s Secretary. Fascinating. — Ed. Note.)

Those plans stalled that year when Motiva, the company that owned the site, was reluctant to sell. So, Hindy and the board turned their attention to raising money to maintain McCarren and McGolrick parks and create new open space in North Brooklyn on street ends along the Williamsburg waterfront…

Let’s deconstruct this. You have a lawyer (Perlmutter) who is on record in this article from NY1, dated April 4, 2005:

…But protestors say the incentives come with no guarantees.

It’s not enough to just tinker with this plan, said City Councilman David Yassky. We’ve got to just start over and get a much better plan; one that’s for the neighborhood, not the developers.

So far, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and the local Community Board have voted down the plan, while the City Planning Commission voted last month to approve it. Now it’s moved on to the City Council, and all sides want to be heard.

Without rezoning we will have power plants, transfer stations and industrial uses that will forever close the door for our community to recapture its waterfront, said community activist (and hired representative of Greenpoint Landing LLCwhich would very much like to develop the Greenpoint waterfront*— be sure to watch NY1’s video to hear him say just this— it’s a HOOT!) Adam Perlmutter.

In the clarity that is four years hindsight I suspect most of us agree that David Yassky, Perlmutter, and Markowitz have done little for “the neighborhood”— but plenty for developers. As for Joe Vance, entrusting an architect to be a community advocate in neighborhood facing a radical residential re-zone is sort of like asking the fox to guard the hen house. From the New York City Campaign Finance Board Database:

joevance

And last, but hardly least, Steve Hindy:

HINDY

As you can see Mister Hindy, a resident of south Brooklyn, President of Brooklyn Brewery and “co-founder of OSAnb”, has seen fit to donate $100 to Evan Thies’s campaign. Which brings me to the following (as gleaned from the aforementioned article from the Williamsburg Courier)…

“So far OSA is not on a track yet, said one CB 1 member who wished to remain anonymous. “They’re negotiating contract deals for concerts and that’s not what an open space organization should be doing. This was always my fear as they were setting up the organization.”

Julie Lawrence, a longtime Williamsburg resident and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth organizing committee member, believes that the relationship between OSA and the Parks Department has benefited the city (and businesses, including the Brooklyn Brewery, which are have received or currently have concession rights at the aforementioned events — Ed. Note) more than the community.

“It’s not about raising money for the parks. It’s about raising income for the city,” said Lawrence.

The nonprofit has not released an annual report or formed bylaws, (Not true: Ed. Note. You can read them by clicking here.) despite bringing in donations and revenues of several hundred thousand dollars per year and retaining two full time staff.** According to figures released from OSA board members, the largest contributor to OSA last year was Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D, Williamsburg), who allocated $50,000 in state funds***

Councilmember David Yassky (Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights), also chipped in $10,000*** and Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office contributed $400,000 through OSA for renovations to Rodney Park.***

In terms of expenditures, the largest expense has been the stage built for the Pool Parties series that OSA co-sponsors with JellyNYC, a music promotion company. Last year, it cost $600,000 to put on shows at McCarren Park Pool, though the state and OSA will split expenses for the summer’s Pool Party series on the East River.****

OSA also pays for the salary of two full-time employees: Executive Director Stephanie Thayer, who makes $80,000 per year, and Julia Morrow, an assistant director as well as contributes to maintenance costs such as the resodding of park ball fields and refilling garbage bags and soap in comfort stations.

“We won’t spend money until receiving input from the community committee”, said Thayer, (BULLSHIT-***– Ed. Note.) who added that they are currently working on their first annual report. “We recorded a long list of complaints at last fall’s OSA general meeting.”

The primary role of the OSA Board is to raise money. Board members are expected to contribute about $3,000 each, making for a total of $35,000 per year, and help host fundraisers, such as a recent soiree held at a Williamsburg apartment tower that netted $1,300 $13,000.

“We’re working to build the board,” said Hindy, who would like to add eight more board members to the current 12. “I think the effectiveness of OSA will depend on the extent that the community supports it.”

What do you mean by “community”, Mister Hindy? The people who actually live here (the last I checked the median income for a family of four in Greenpoint was ~$36,000 a year) or business owners who can outlay $3,000 a year in dues? Methinks the type of “community support” you seek is a plutocracy.

Which brings me back to Brooklyn11211‘s post. He wrote in closing:

Happily, we have other groups that can fill the advocate role – and keep the City (and OSA) honest (NAG).

parksandrecTHUMBFirst off, why should we, as citizens, have to belong to/rely upon a community group to keep our civil servants honest? When I write this I mean no disrespect whatsoever for NAG— they are doing some great stuff. Rather, what I find most curious (and disquieting) is the omission of any mention of Community Board 1 in Brooklyn11211‘s post. Given that one of the writers for this blog is on CB1.

CB1’s members are ostensibly the representatives of this community. As you will notice in the screencap to the left they have a “Parks & Recreation Committee” and Evan Thies (who is running for City Councilman in the 33rd District) is member. I wonder what they have to say about all of this?

I for one would love to know. If anyone from Community Board 1 is reading this and would like to give his (or her) take on the previous please email me at missheather (at) thatgreenpointblog (dot) com. Whatever you tell me will remain anonymous.

Miss Heather

*Per the Village Voice article entitled “Super-sized Williamsburg on the Way” dated April 26, 2005:

“There is no way that you can say that 40-story towers have anything to do with the existing character of the neighborhood,” complained Stephanie Thayer, a member of the North Brooklyn Alliance, which has been battling to scale back the development.

And yet, four years later, she poses next to the developer poised to build a 40 story tower in Greenpoint and the City Councilman who enabled it. Because they gave chump change to make a mural.

**Why isn’t this org. being audited?

***These figures have since been revised. Upward. Check out the Williamsburg Courier for the 411.

****Which brings me to a tale of two dog runs. A donation was made with the expectation it would be shared. It didn’t work out that way. Although once promised— and much discussed—- the money was used for one. If McGolrick can get $13,000 for a new fence why has been McCarren been relegated to getting sloppy seconds from Sternberg? And $500 to be given to volunteers as “thanks” for assembling said fence— which has not, in fact, been assembled. One such volunteer is the Executive Director of OSA’s brother. His qualification(s): taking a welding class.


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