Saturday, July 07, 2007

"There goes the neighborhood!": an exhibit on gentrification

The flip side of those assessing real estate value on Brownstoner is the uneasiness expressed by those absorbing the tide of gentrification. That's what you'll find at the gallery Five Myles, in Crown Heights just east of Prospect Heights, in an exhibit called "There goes the neighborhood!" It opened June 23 and remains up through tomorrow.

The description:
Shawn Lane and Michael Britto have interviewed neighbors from this Crown Heights community, to talk about the changes taking place in everyone's life because of the rapid real estate development in the area. These interviews are collaged with sounds from the neighborhood and will become a sound installation in the gallery throughout the summer. With photographs of the neighborhood by Michael Britto and a video by Julia O'Farrow of the co-ops and condominiums appearing seemingly overnight in in the neighborhood.
(Photo by Michael Britto)

Taking a look

I took a look yesterday; there are fewer than a dozen photos in the relatively large space. Despite the bright face of a child, there's an air of ominousness in the photos, given the shadows shrouding most of the buildings.

O'Farrow's video is arresting, a cumulative portrait of relatively few blocks, Vanderbilt to Franklin, north of Eastern Parkway, focusing on the changes: their construction fences, shiny new buildings with balconies, and new retail outlets.

Feeling threatened

Gentrification has its value, as even the Village Voice's recent article on Bushwick noted, but there can be a heavy price to pay. The interviews were conducted with residents generally dismayed about the changes, feeling threatened, and knowing others pushed out. (Where? The shelter?)

The accents are African-American and Caribbean-American, the tones questioning, lamenting, skeptical, and conspiracy-minded. One of the voices, according to Five Myles founder Hanne Tierney, has already left the neighborhood. (See TimeOut NY article.)

A question recurs: Who or what is responsible? One factor, unmentioned, is surely the 421-a tax break that subsidizes luxury housing, but there are many other reasons, some of which I'll try to look at in the future.

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