After nearly 20 years in the suburbs, I recently moved back to my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. It made economic, time and health sense: commuting time and cost would be drastically slashed; my car’s gasoline consumption would plummet; the wear and tear on my mind and body from rushing to beat or coping with rush-hour traffic and catching late-night buses would lessen; my “roots” food and traditional medicines would be a walk away.
Granted, the suburbs offer comforts I would miss: great civic services; no-hassle parking; lots of trees, flowers and open spaces; the walk around the lake in the park; picturesque winters. But here I am in an East-Flatbush neighborhood that’s a generation older than when I left it — a much more colorful, much more vibrant community with the deep Diasporan stamp of the Caribbean, Africa, African America and Latin America.This is no Starbucks neighborhood. The brick homes with their tiny city gardens are lovely. Strangers smile when your eyes make four; families, often three generations deep, walk hither and thither; conversation and laughter come easy. Citibank has been joined by Chase and Capital One. Chain pharmacies, big laundromats and a Howard Johnson hotel have moved in. There are more insurance and real-estate brokerages; private day care and kindergarten schools, roti shops, restaurants, bakeries, green groceries and vegetarian shops, churches, clothing boutiques and tailors, health and fitness enterprises, martial arts dojos, high-end cars and whistle-clean dollar vans operating under corporate names. There are no foreclosure boards on windows. And at 11:00 p.m. the streets are still alive as students and workers return home. Dollar vans, bakeries, green groceries and smoking jerk pits cater to them. Entrepreneurship abounds; pride of ownership is everywhere; recession seems a world away. Whatever portion of the $847-billion Black purchasing power this neighborhood accounts for, a hefty chunk of it stays right here.
Which brings me to personal finance, the subject of this issue’s Industry Focus. According to the federal government, the personal savings rate of Americans was a negative 0.5 percent in 2005 and a negative 1 percent in 2006. Not since 1932 and 1933, during the Great Depression, has the savings rate been so low. The story also says the savings rate of Blacks in America is even worse than the national rate. But in my neighborhood, the lines are always long in the banks for both teller and new-account transactions and the stacks of deposit slips always need replenishing while the withdrawal stacks hardly budge. The faces on the “Business Transactions” line are Black like mine and they aren’t depositing other people’s money. I see cash and debit cards far more than I see credit cards. Money-transfer operations are thriving as funds go “back home” to care for families and/or bolster small investments. Latin American and Caribbean immigrants in the United States sent $66.5 billion back to their homelands in 2007, 7 percent more than in 2006, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.
The biggest eyesore in my neighborhood is the public library, which, with its sickly grey corrugated steel gate, filthy garbage pail at the entrance, shabby wooden stacks, falling-apart books and ugly orange plastic chairs, invites the rowdy behavior it gets from students. This insult resides about a block and a half from our dapper city councilman’s local office.
These things I see in my old-new neighborhood.
By Rosalind McLymont