11 May 2007

Notes on the Brooklyn Blogfest

I'd be a poor Brooklyn blogger, indeed (if you can call infrequent posts about the state of my physical health "blogging," of course), if I didn't at least mention the 2nd Annual Brooklyn Blogfest, which I attended with Kate last night at the Old Stone House in Park Slope. It was organized by Louise Crawford over at Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, and a capacity crowd of well over 100 folks showed up for what was basically a two-part event. The opening half consisted of a more formal program with a number of speakers who talked about, well, blogs. And Brooklyn. And blogging in Brooklyn. Following this was an informal gathering with free food and drinks, and everyone just sort of mingling and introducing themselves, which I enjoyed very much (though we couldn't stay too long due to the late hour).

In the interest of providing some appearance of objectivity, I'd be remiss if I didn't offer two (relatively minor) criticisms, so let me get them out of the way. First, at several points during the opening half, the proceedings threatened to devolve into a rally against local developer/bogeyman Bruce Ratner. (To be sure, Ratner's Atlantic Yards project is one of the biggest and most controversial stories unfolding in Brooklyn right now, and I'm certainly no fan of zillionaire developers getting even wealthier through tax subsidies and incentives and the propagandistic manipulation of public opinion, but still.) Moreover, and on a somewhat related note, the invited speakers seemed to represent a relatively narrow cross-section of the local blogging community. Brooklyn, of course, is home to over 2.5 million people, but it seemed that the overall discourse was skewed a little too heavily toward neighborhoods like Clinton Hill and Park Slope and topics like gentrification and development. Not that these aren't important, mind you, but as someone who's logged considerable time over the past year goofing around and taking pictures in neighborhoods like Canarsie, East New York, and Gravesend (and, frankly, as someone who had a gross income last year under $15,000), I can personally attest to the fact that Brooklyn is a bit larger and more diverse (in terms of both geography and population) than might have been in evidence last night, and that not every Brooklynite is obsessed with real estate. Or can even afford a parking space here.

To be fair, however, both Ms. Crawford and Bob Guskind spoke eloquently about the need to support blogging in some of these underrepresented neighborhoods and by individuals outside the white, professional, upper-middle-class demographic that appears to dominate the community thus far. And regardless of where they were from or what they were taking about, all the speakers were thoughtful, smart, and clearly very passionate about what they are doing.

One of the major themes of the night was the ways in which the local, neighborhood-level work by bloggers fills the vacuum left by the tendency of the city's conventional media to turn its attention to Brooklyn only when reporting car crashes, fires, and shootings (I forgot who said that -- was it Steven Johnson? -- but it was a good line), and I completely agree. I certainly rely more on a handful of blogs than anything else for my local news. The work of bloggers is even more impressive when one realizes that very few of them get paid for it, either.

When all was said and done, I think that the Blogfest was generally successful, and I commend Ms. Crawford and all the others involved for their hard work in organizing it. I do hope it will become an annual institution, but also that it'll offer a more representative sampling of the incredibly diverse range of topics covered by bloggers doing their thing here in Brooklyn. Kate and I enjoyed ourselves, though, and I'm already looking forward to next year's event. Maybe I'll even have run a few times by then.

Whatever. As is my wont at public events, I kept a low profile -- I felt self-conscious even wearing my little name tag -- and appear to have successfully avoided all microphones and cameras (oops, except here). We sat near the back of the room, and I refrained from participating in the "open mic" portion of the evening in which some two dozen individuals briefly introduced themselves and their blogs. (I enjoyed watching this, though, as it was great fun attaching faces to names.) After the "official" program concluded, however, and everyone was mingling downstairs partaking of food and margaritas, I had the pleasure of meeting several folks whose blogs I admire and read regularly, but with whom I'd previously known only through email if at all. A brief rundown of my encounters:
  • Gowanus Lounge was the first local blog to pick up on my whole running thing last summer, and has been very generous with the links and stories over the ensuing months. So it was a real pleasure to meet Bob Guskind -- the hardest working man in the Brooklyn blog biz -- and discover that he's as affable and gracious in person as he comes across electronically. (This is particularly remarkable, of course, given the combined 17-hour days he puts in at GL, Curbed, and his day job.)
  • I was also pleased to spend a few minutes chatting with Claude Scales, the creative force behind the relentlessly eclectic, often-entertaining, and always-intelligent Self-Absorbed Boomer. It's the only blog I read regularly where I can find trenchant insight on both recent developments in astrophysics and the state of the Mets' pitching rotation.
  • Though I'll confess I was previously unfamiliar with his blog Old First, it was great meeting Daniel Meeter, blogger and Pastor at Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope. I was flattered to learn that he seemed to know who I was, and so in a belated effort to balance things out I've bookmarked his blog and added it to the links on the side.
  • I spent most of my time, however, talking with Patrick Kwan and Jason Das from SuperVegan. I know, it's not a Brooklyn blog, per se, but it's one of my favorite NYC websites, and Kate and I use their "Amazing Instant New York City Vegan Restaurant Finder" all the time. Well, at least when we're looking for somewhere new to eat. Anyway, I admire their enthusiasm, energy, and dedication to what they're doing, and it was terrific meeting them. Patrick even listened patiently when I momentarily slipped into academic mode and began to ramble on about my dissertation (which is, by the way, about the role of ethical vegetarianism within the broader progressive reform movement in the US and Britain from 1883-1919, just in case you were curious). Sorry about that, Patrick. But hey, if you guys ever need an official historian, well, you know where to find me.
That's about it. I had also wanted to say hello to Jonathan from Brownstoner and Brooklyn Record (and thank him for using a number of my photos on his blogs over the last year), but he was an awfully popular guy and I didn't get the chance before we had to leave. Maybe next year. Regardless, most of the people in attendance last night can no doubt offer a whole lot more on the event that I ever could, so check out these links if you're interested:

Blogfest: A Great Event (Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn)
Brooklyn Blogfest Rocks (Gowanus Lounge)
2nd Annual Brooklyn Blogfest Yearbook (Dope on the Slope)
Blogolicious Brooklyn (Crazy Stable)
Second Annual Brooklyn Blogfest (Brooklyn Record)
The 2nd Annual Brooklyn Blogfest, For Real (Flatbush Gardener)
Out of Brooklyn, Endlessly Blogging (NY Times)