Monday, September 5, 2011

The More Things Change, The More Some Complain (originally published August 19, 2010)

  Every community needs a good rabble-rousing from time to time. Sometimes it’s earnest and worthwhile, but other times it’s just a nitpicking distraction. Most people choose to let others fight the system, unless it directly affects them.
 Canarsie has a few grumblers with noble intentions, but, too often, their grievances focus on ill-conceived personal gripes rather than the greater good of the community.
  There have been compelling objections from longtime residents in recent years concerning overdevelopment and rezoning. Relevant arguments, but irrelevant when it has an effect on local improvement. The character of a community in transition changes over time as old-timers pass away after their children have relocated. When an influx of residents settles a neighborhood, a community’s character is gradually reshaped to suit the newcomers’ needs.  
  Disappearing bakeries, delicatessens and single movie houses are just a few examples of our ever-changing local culture. Growing up there were several kosher delis within a three-mile radius of my neighborhood regularly patronized by the area’s large Jewish base. There are only two now since the Jewish population has drastically declined.
  Growing up I remember counting eight pages of Friedmans in the Brooklyn phone book. Today there are barely two.
  The handful of bakeries that once dotted the community emitted enticing aromas when fresh bread was baked. For the most part they’ve vanished as supermarket chains incorporated bakery departments.
  Remember when there was at least one movie theater within a short distance from your residence? Now, we forced to travel a few miles to the local multiplex, usually located in a shopping mall, to see a first-run movie.
  Long before youngsters had video games and computers to fill leisure time, my friends and I occasionally played in vacant lots not far from where we lived. Because of the dense foliage in summer, they were known as “Tarzan’s Jungle” — one, two and three. As a matter of fact, the property for the housing development where I now live was one of those “Jungles.” As the community’s population grew, the lots were converted into retail and dwelling spaces.
  No one objected to the changing character; it was embraced. Nonetheless, there are those who reject change and upgrading, but it’s called progress.
  This brings me to a few activists in our neck of the woods.
  At a recent civic meeting, residents attended to learn the status of a project that began 16 years ago to upgrade Paerdegat Basin, which for decades was mostly a dumping ground for abandoned vehicles, unnatural refuse and garbage.
  It was nothing more than an eyesore that was the source of nasty odors and contained debris that only attracted vermin and mosquitoes. When the wind blew in the direction of your home, a foul odor often wafted down your block. The current project will include fencing to prevent illegal dumping and should change a wasteland into something more pleasing.
  Nevertheless, two Canarsie activists oppose restoration of the site. A few of their remarks even suggest they’d prefer the neighborhood return to the days of yesteryear. Many, many, many, many yesteryears. More than five centuries to be exact.
  Canarsie Courier reporter Dara Mormile recently wrote that Steven Kaye, vice president of the South Canarsie Civic Association, said he’d like to see “Canarsie return to pre-Columbian times.” Puzzled about the term as we went to press, the editors contacted SCCA president Mary Anne Sallustro for clarification and she said she believed Kaye was referring to “before Columbus discovered America.”
  Kaye is a teacher and local history buff, but whether or not the extreme summer heat sparked such an absurd statement hasn’t been determined.
  Based on historical accounts, before Columbus — like the rest of the territory from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans — this area was principally wilderness inhabited by Native American tribes living in one-story tepees and two-family wigwams. That pre-Columbian population probably wanted to preserve their neighborhoods, too — but was soon driven out by invading immigrants.
  Sallustro and Kaye, the only two at last week’s meeting who openly griped about the Paerdegat Basin project, should stop clinging to the good ol’ days, look around and focus their rabble-rousing on what the community needs here before making unfounded, reckless comments.
  Despite the line that the more things change the more they stay the same, in Canarsie the more things change, the same old whine is recurrently uttered from the few dead set against change and progress.