Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where Optimism Feels Out of Reach

Written by Ginia Bellafante for the New York Times, this is a short but interesting story regarding a specific area in Brooklyn. Riddled with crime and poverty and a general depression, it stands as one of the more grim examples of the harsh realities of life in America. The story itself is not really a story--there's no real plot or progression of events. It's more a portrait of an area. The writer offers up a short backstory of the area, one that, aside from a few brief periods of progress, has remained in squalor for its entire history.

"As I walked up and around Pitkin Avenue, the neighborhood’s main commercial thoroughfare, I encountered people who felt not only that the quality of life had barely improved since the days of the crack epidemic in the ’80s and ’90s, but that in certain respects it had grown worse."

It ends as it began. There have been no huge events in Brownsville to bring it to public attention, and so far no great attempts made by the state to assist the area.

In your response, it might be good to consider the purpose of this story. How does it reflect the current situation in America? Does the writer offer up any solutions or hope for Brownsville? Assuming she intended for the reader to finish the story with a certain feeling or mood, does she effectively achieve this? In what ways could she have improved the story to bring a fuller portrait of Brownsville to the reader?

Here's the link to the story:


  1. Articles such as this always make me reflect on my life for a bit after reading them. I have never never been to New York city or Brooklyn, but this article makes me imagine what it would be like to live in a place like Brownsville. Many of us are fortunate in our current life situations, but this story makes you think what life would be like if you had not been so lucky.

    There is no real plot progression or any closure about the future of Brownsville. I think this was a strategy used by the author to get the reader thinking and leave them wanting more.

    The story could have been more effective by getting more quotes from residents of the area. But this may have been an issue of safety for the author. I think this reflects the current situation in America for many reasons. I always see ads and receive flyers asking me to donate time and/or money to people of need in other countries. I think people tend to forget that there is just as much crime and poverty in America as there is in other countries. Overall, it was an interesting article, but could have been a bit more colorful and should have ended with some type of call-to-action from the readers.

  2. The purpose of this article was to bring light to the dark streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn. I have friends and family from Brooklyn as well as the Bronx so I know how bad it gets there. This story was for all the people that think that America doesn't have huge problems on its own land. For the people that don't think that our American neighborhoods are in danger and for all those people that choose to ignore stories like this one.
    This piece needed a video to go with it so that people could really see what goes on in places like this. Sometimes we hear about what goes on in the ghettos across the country but until you see it for yourself, you'll never be able to understand. I'm glad that this author tried to bring attention to a place where she feels that other media tend to ignore.

  3. I believe that the purpose of this article was to remind people that many things occur in the world that seemingly go unnoticed to those it does not directly affect. This story goes to show that while some parts of America are thriving, others are only getting worse. I as a reader had no idea that a place like this even existed. This story serves a simple purpose of broadening the reader’s horizons.

    The author does not directly state solutions, but as Mr.Murphy stated, something more is needed. I definitely agree with Brett in that the story needs a video or a photo story to go with it. While readers can paint a picture in their own minds of the harsh reality, pictures would have a much stronger effect.

    This story was not at all a positive one, but it definitely kept my interest. Hopefully a story such as this will inspire others to do something to help the cause.

  4. I found this to be a great topic. It was good to see something that usually goes unseen. People who are eager to help poverty first seek to travel across the globe; they forget that it is in our own backyards.

    The article was very dismal but I felt it was necessary for the piece. I liked the stories of the specific people. It made you feel as if you knew these people and you felt their pain.

    In today's news, journalists seem to be searching for that eye catching piece of information. The writer will talk about the political campaign and how Gingrich is pulling out low blows for example. This news is necessary but newscasters and writers pick at this until you want to pull your hair out. Instead, this article seemed real. It showed average americans trying to survive day by day.

    The journalist doesn't give any solutions and I believe it is for a purpose. The article forces the reader to think of what could be done to help this community rather than the journalist telling them what to do. Although this piece was sad, it was refreshing.

  5. I think the purpose of this article is to make the reader recognize that there are struggling towns all over the country, even in New York City. I've been to Brooklyn a thousand times. My dad was born and raised in the Bronx, and I have family all over the city. So I've heard so many stories of towns like this one. The journalist wants us to realize that so much poverty exists, even on our own soil.

    I think the story reflects the situations of many Americans. However, it would have been more effective if the author had provided more quotes from the citizens of Brownsville.

    Overall, I think the article served as a great reminder of what is happening in our own country. And a lot of us need that.

  6. This story highlights what happens when a region is poor and ignored by polititions. The mayor of New York would never take time to speak about a place such as Brownsville. I find this sad, but very representative of the US today in the sense that people are struggling and there have been better times. I think it is interesting that the writer pointed ut at least in the 80's and 90's residents in that neighborhood were at least able to make money off selling drugs, now they do not even have this to rely on. People are forced and born into a horrible situation and at that income level, they have no way out.

    There is a little hope that the writer offers for the neighborhood because a new charter school and shopping centers are being put into the original theater. However, there is little hope for a struggling community like this and it takes a lot of time and work. I think this piece reflects that.

  7. This is a kind of news story that is always needed in a newspaper. Sure, if it bleeds, it leads, but in this case I think the writer does a good job of highlighting an area that is especially destitute. If she had written this behind her desk the feeling I would have gotten might have been different, but in this case she actually went out and did some reporting.

    Journalists have the rare opportunity in society to point out problems and then offer solutions. In this case I do not think that the journalist did a good job of accomplishing that. She does do a good job, however, of bringing up the problem.

    Since I do not live in New York City I would have never known about this situation, so my opinion of the article is biased in some way. If I did live in NYC I probably would have been aware of the situation in this neighborhood and would have thought, "Duh, I know, that place is a shithole." If the journalist did a better job of bringing a solution to the problem to the people of NYC, she would have not just written a good article, but a great one.

    I hope she remains with one eye on the situation in Brownsville.

  8. I really enjoyed this article. I think many would argue this isn't new or it's boring, but this is news. Not all people now what is going on in these areas. How badly they are poverty stricken and the crime the families are living with day in and day out.

    "Brownsville is a neighborhood so distinguished by negatives that even on a cloudless day, a dismal, enervating tension can take hold."

    This quote really got to me. It explains how America is only looking at the issues that are hopeful to change. America gives up on the issues they think are helpless.

    But as you can see in this follow quote:

    "While the murder rate in the crime-ridden Morrisania section of the Bronx, where the mayor delivered his speech, fell 25 percent from 1998 to 2011, in Brownsville over the same period, it declined not at all."

    The town of Brownsville is obviously doing something write.

  9. This was a pretty interesting article. I didn't know that Brownsville had the highest mortality rate in the city, and it was a rate about the same as the country, Malasia's. Even though that was an interesting fact, it made me sad knowing that babies are born into an area that is in extreme poverty.

    This article certainly informed people about the struggles that Brownsville is going through. I felt sad for the residents of the city, especially when it was stated that Brownsville had intense violence in the public housing facilities. I also developed sympathy for hair stylist, Anthony Morrison, because in 1994, he lost 200 of his 300 clients at his salon due to violence. That's just plain awful.

    After reading this article, it seemed that Brownsville is trying to get back on its feet, so I hope the city continues moving forward positively.

  10. I think this story serves as a reminder that poverty and violence is still a large issue in America that has not been receiving much attention. I believe the author intended for the audience to feel remorseful and compelled to change this problem, and I think she definitely was able to achieve this goal.

    I think the story would've been a little better if she would've used more imagery and really painted the picture of Brownsville to its fullest, showing all the horrible details and calling for more of an action to take place.

  11. I belive this story is newsworthy becuase it blatantly points out the poverty problem that is happening in America. I wonder how many people who read this article actually knew that Brownsville, a city in Brooklyn, had. the highest morality rate. I know I didn't.

    The author doesn't give much hope for the city, more like desperation. From the ending quote, “I’ve never liked chains,” he said. “But right now I’d be really happy with an Applebee’s," the air at the end of the article was a call for help. Since the city has been looking so grim, all it can do is go up and start to go back to the roots of certain businesses and establishment in order to make a profit in the city. With the potential drug crisis stirring in the city as well it makes sense to look for other alternatives to bring that city back into a positive light.

    Bellafante could've painted a broader portrait of Brownsville by establishing recent history more into the article rather than just facts thrown in from the 20's and 30's. Although some points were relevant, not many NY times readers are going to feel connected to the generation being noted.

  12. The author did a great job of painting a deeply depressing picture, but without proposing a way to help, the reader has no way of reaching any catharsis and is just left to stew in the sad story. I think the writer meant for this, but it is not effective because it makes the story seem a bit one dimensional, simply hopeless but so what? She could have expanded more on Murphy's efforts at least.

    I also did not like the references to Alfred Kazin. The comparisons between Kazin's time and the present in Brownsville were weak and could have been interesting if she went into more detail on who Kazin was and gave more vivid descriptions of the city when he was there. Instead it felt like she just read his work and wanted to mention him here and there to sound smart.