The Sunflower that Ate Brooklyn

The Hungry Sunflower

Maybe not what springs to mind when you think “Brooklyn,” but our neighborhood wasn’t called Carroll Gardens for nothing — we in the ‘hood are serious about our flowers.  And yes, watch out for the bees.

Okay, I admit, the bees have only gotten me once.  Lately, I’ve been more worried about being stung by developers.  Enticed by rising property values, they push to erect outsized structures that will cut off our sunlight and threaten the water table of our low-lying streets here, near the Gowanus Canal.  Last night, Rick and I were among the hundred or so neighbors at a community planning board meeting who opposed the development of a monster project a block away from us.  Click here for a model of the project.  Good news:  the board voted against the developer’s proposal and called for further study, including examination of the environmental impact.

Why are we willing to sacrifice free hours after work at a community board meeting?  Because for years we lived under the shadow of the “tumor” of Carroll Street.  It was the architect Scarano’s most infamous project, designed to convert an old warehouse into apartments towering stories above us all.  To see the construction in its glory, click here (and scroll down).  Due to community protests, Scarano’s extra floors came down.  The building, still under construction, although under a different architect, is now essentially back to its original height — big, but not so massive as to cut off light for blocks around.

At least for the moment, all we have left to worry about are the sunflowers . . .

The Former Scarano “Tumor” Building

Mom on the Run

On the Fence

In the wake of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s essay in The Atlantic, there’s been buzz about the difficulty/impossibility of combining a demanding job with parenting. And you know, it ain’t easy.  When our two daughters were little, I traveled now and then for work.  No big deal, until the trip I came home to hear that Freddie, then five, had spent most of my week away crying and could only sleep after my husband gave her a picture of our family all holding hands at the Botanic Garden.  Still, what could I do?  I had to work to keep those peanut-butter sandwiches coming, and that meant business trips.

One thing I always did, no matter how short the journey, was to buy a small gift for each girl (often identical stuffed animals), which I usually grabbed from the nearest kiosk while racing for the plane.  Our girls ended up with piles and piles of increasingly bizarre creatures (yes, even llamas).  A side effect was a running joke over my misidentification of the poor, stuffed things.  It wasn’t so bad when I thought the dogs in bathing suits were bears — but a little unfortunate when I brought home stuffed toy rats thinking they were squirrels.  (Okay, okay, we do have all but the bears here in Brooklyn, but it’s hard to examine stuffed animal parts while listening to the last call for your flight.)

Stoop Sale Dolls

Now, at 19 and 22, our daughters are auctioning off their kid stuff.  Fine for them, but I get sentimental.  I’ve stopped myself from racing after the new owners and demanding return of our old, dog-eared friends, but I’m going to miss the little fellow up there on the fence.  (I think it’s a cat?)  Each toy reminds me of making it home from as far as Moscow, Prague, even Auckland, to hug my family.  I admit, I even hate to see our daughters get rid of the toys I didn’t buy.  These giant dolls weren’t from me — I’ll still miss them, but with Freddie living in the basement, we just don’t have room.

A friend says she suspects it’s not really about the stuffed animals — it’s my little girls I wish could somehow stay.  And yeah, sure, she’s got a point.  But I know there’s no way to stop them from growing up (I told them not to, but they never listen).  I can’t hold onto the little girls I missed while I was on the road.  Still, would it be too much to ask to keep a stuffed creature or two?

At Work Near Ground Zero, Remembering 9/11

1 WTC Rises Over St. Paul’s Church

This Tuesday, September 11, 2012, as One World Trade Center rises over St. Paul’s Church, many of us are expected to put in a normal day’s work.  As I sit here at my desk at 2 Wall Street and the phone rings and emails flood in, all I ask is this:  a moment of silence for all those sacrificed on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

And a moment to send our voices up to them.

On 9/11/12, Raising Voices in Remembrance

Fishing in the Gowanus Canal

The murky waters of the Gowanus Canal

Have I mentioned that our house is a half block uphill from the Gowanus Canal?  Growing up, I always lived near the water, so it makes sense I’d buy a house by water.  Then again, when I was a kid, water meant the ocean — a little cleaner than this mess of oil, mercury, coal tar, and assorted other contaminents.  Still, on a hot summer’s day, you may see folks dipping a hook in the canal.  I just hope they don’t eat what they catch.  Who knows, maybe they’re not aiming for the fish.  In Jonathan Lethem‘s brilliant novel, Motherless Brooklyn, a character describes the Gowanus as “the only body of water in the world that is 90 percent guns.”

Gowanus was originally home to creeks you could paddle through saltwater marshes.  But industrialization hit early: Brooklyn’s first grist mill was built here a good century before the Revolutionary War.  By 1869, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had built the mile-and-a-half long industrial canal. 


Our local bridge over the Canal

The canal became a hub for commercial shipping and a mecca for manufacturing: stone and coal yards, cement works, tanneries, and factories producing paint, ink, soap, sulfur, and chemical fertilizers — leaving the stinky mess of water and air pollution we love to this day. 

Now that all that heavy industry has gone, what’s left is a funky, low-rent, beautiful-ugly back water, hospitable to artists and artisons of all kinds.  Rick and I love to walk over on summer evenings and get fresh watermelon lemonade at one of the little bakeries.  But things may change.  The canal has been named a Super Fund site, and apparently preliminary studies are underway. 

I wonder what they’ll decide to do with all the guns?