“Rent is too damn high,” I should have voted for that guy…
One year ago I moved to Park Slope. It took me months to find an apartment whose rent check wouldn’t require developing a habit for monthly robberies. Now, one year later, rents and real estate saw a dramatic increase, as if the Great Recession were already over. Today, only finance guys can afford to move in, as some of my Wall Street friends in fact did.
Park Slope has been already gentrified years ago, but when I lived in South Williamsburg up until last year, the story was rather different. When I moved into my apartment, in between the Orthodox Jewish and the Peurto Rican neighborhoods, I had my first shot at being that white guy who was moving on with gentrification. But watching the new documentary Mybrooklyn I learned something new:
“Gentrification is not your new white neighbor kicking out your old minority one. Gentrification is about big corporations.”
This according to Kelly Anderson, acquired Brooklynite herself and director of the documentary. I must confessed I felt a little better on a personal level, even if this remark opened a pandora’s box of politics and whatnots, and I suspect that big corporations are harder to cope with that just a few white guys. This realization is the messaged conveyed by Anderson about the real estate bonanza that’s happening right now in Downtown Brooklyn.
The award-winning documentary Mybrooklyn sold out a whole week of screenings at the reRun theater in Dumbo, a great venue where cinephiles meet activists. Every show in the series ended in amusing discussions with the director herself or the producer Allison Lirish Dean, who carried out the field research that made the project possible.
The movie starts off with photographer Jamel Shabazz recollecting how cool Brooklyn and the Fulton Mall looked back in the 80’s, and brings us to the demolition and reconstruction of the Mall and the whole Downtown Brooklyn area: skyscrapers and big buck retail stores, brought to you courtesy of Joe Chan (Downtown Brooklyn Partnership) and his not so transparent ties to the Mayor Bloomberg. You’ll see the savage force of real estate tear entire blocks apart, and replace them with high rise luxury condos. Something like “Godzilla” meets “The devil wears Prada.”
According to the documentary producer, Chan himself reacted quite well to the movie (“He seems to have liked it, at least he didn’t sue us!”). But the scale of the protests and the community organizing efforts that sparked from this rezoning nightmare show that affordable housing and gentrification in Brooklyn are very hot issues.
The usual story of public losses and private profits, coming to your very own ‘hoods. Which popped up a question in the director mind: for whom exactly are the Mayor city planning offices working, fellow New Yorkers, or the too-big-to-fail real estate giants? And if you’re not already living in disneyfied Manhattan, then brace yourself as your block might win the next lottery ticket for massive real estate speculation.
You might at first support gentrification: sometimes, it springs up all-pretty blocks right there where there used to be “stabifications and shootification” (quoting from a heated online discussion of the issue, in the movie) but then, think again. Bed-Stuy and similar neighborhoods were designed to be racially segregated in the very first place by the city administration, and deprived of all basic municipality services intentionally. Which is very well explained in Mybrooklyn.
If we were in the Middle East, they would call this ethnic cleansing. But hey, in New York this is city development. Business as usual. And just like decades ago white wealthy people left city centers to gate themselves in their suburban dream, we are witnessing to the very opposite trend happening today: displacing once again minorities from those run very city centers, that get turned into boutique shops and luxury condos. And then again, it feels sort of unnerving when I realize I’m just a little brick myself, in the high rise wall of the new rezoning of Brooklyn. Are you too?