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Barclays Center promoters invoke borough authenticity ("Brownstone Suites") to "soften" entrance into Brooklyn

The Barclays Center Showroom has been re-launched to sell suites and "to further celebrate Brooklyn and the heritage of the NETS basketball team." Among the features: "new floor-to-ceiling graphics evoking Brooklyn and its rich culture, history, and recent resurgence" plus "a historical timeline of sports and entertainment milestones in Brooklyn."

And, of course, the Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment logo uses script that invokes the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Beyond that, the design of weathered steel is supposed to invoke Brooklyn's industrial heritage, according to Borough President Marty Markowitz's talking points, a statement that drew scorn from architectural critics who noted that industrial buildings have been and would be demolished for the Atlantic Yards project.

The idea of authenticity

What's up? Why are there Brownstone Suites and Loft Suites? Well, the Brooklyn strategy pursued by arena supporters sounds not unlike that practiced by others launching new retail and entertainment businesses like the bar Brooklyn Social, maintaining names, signage, or details from the past.

"New residents are using this idea of authenticity to soften their entrance into Brooklyn," said former Brooklynite Jonathan Silverman, now at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, at the Dreamland Pavilion conference last month.

The arena strategy

In his presentation , “Same Buildings, New Ethos: Brooklyn and the Cult of Authenticity,” he was describing the retail/entertainment strategy, but it could very well be applied to the arena.

In other words, despite the frequent effort by arena supporters to decry critics and opponents as latecomers and illegitimate Brooklynites--which, of course, requires a willful effort to ignore who might move into the luxury housing--Forest City Ratner is trying to soften the entrance of a very large arena.

"The idea of what is real Brooklyn is under dispute," Silverman said, an observation that could certainly be applied to the AY fight.

In one example, he pointed to the number of authors who, in their brief jacket flap biography, simply state that they "live in Brooklyn," which, of course, is a very big place.

Brooklyn pride

At another panel, a speaker suggested that the "fierce pride in being a Brooklynite should be a uniting force," but the best example she could offer was the West Indian Day Parade, certainly an impressive event, but not necessarily a unifying one.

Borough President Markowitz, who proclaims he's "as Brooklyn as they come," may indeed be able to make that claim, as a Jewish man who as state Senator represented a Caribbean district.

But his "Brooklyn story," as demonstrated in his campaign material (above) is largely retail, aiming to make a stop at every group, organization, event, or party imaginable. And, in eight years, he's done more than anyone, thanks to a budget that allows for such things as cars and drivers.

Author and activist Kevin Powell, whose keynote counterpointed Markowitz on development, challenged his audience: "The next time we say how much we love Brooklyn, ask yourself, how much time have you spent in neighborhoods outside the one you live in and a few neighborhoods, north, south, east, or west?... You don't have to go to a quote-unquote Third World country to see poverty."

"Propinquity without community"

Also at the Dreamland Pavilion conference, Columbia University sociology grad student David Madden spoke on “Propinquity Without Community: Urban Space as Neighborhood and Strangerhood in Downtown Brooklyn."

His phrase referenced a 1964 formulation by urban theorist Melvin Webber, who posited "community without propinquity," in which bonds are not tied to neighborhood--a prescient vision today, given the ways to form community in cyberspace.

Madden's research concerns a particularly apt example of "strangerhood," in which residents of luxury apartments, whether the buildings be new towers or reclaimed lofts, have little to do with neighbors in public housing.

He quoted one relatively recent resident as saying, "When we got here, there was nothing," a reference to the upscale amenities that help put a neighborhood on the map.

I'd add that real estate advertising campaigns (right) that go out of their way to ignore the immediate neighbors don't exactly help.

Madden was not so pollyannish to suggest that all could unite in a common project. But he did suggest that "we need a critical strangerhood," one based on equality, not inequality.

What exactly that means did not get delineated, but I'll bet it doesn't mean eternal delays in opening the Ingersoll Community Center, which finally had an official opening ceremony on Monday.


  1. Check out the interior renderings. They can't even get pool balls correct. They're all solids???


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