Monday, January 25, 2010

In the New Yorker, a melancholy Talk of the Town account of the protest at Freddy's last week (and some missing context)

The New Yorker's Ian Frazier went to Freddy's Bar & Backroom last weekend for the protest against the closing of a homeless shelter in the Atlantic Yards footprint. His brief Talk of the Town dispatch is headlined The Big Shoe, a reference to the impending, descending project footprint.

The tone of the piece is sympathetic to the protest, as City Council Member Letitia James and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery get their say, but melancholy regarding its prospects.

That's not inappropriate, but the New Yorker, responsible for an incisive 4/25/05 profile of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Mr. Brooklyn, has otherwise relegated its coverage of Atlantic Yards to fairly narrow architectural analysis.

What's missing

So when Frazier writes of "the massive, multibillion-dollar Atlantic Yards project, which hopes to turn an odd-shaped patch of land between Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues into a twenty-thousand-seat sports arena, etc.," there's a bit missing.

After all, the project is inanimate, and the actors are private corporations and government agencies, and the "etc." is important, given that the benefits of the project (new tax revenues, subsidized housing) were not keyed to the arena, which is the priority right now--and some of those benefits seem very suspect.

The piece closes with a visit to the shelter:
A young man in a Yankees cap and a shiny jacket with a fleur-de-lis pattern sat behind the window at the entry desk, apparently the building’s only occupant. He explained how one thing led to another until finally the residents had to move. Vans came and took them somewhere, possibly to other shelters, the young man said. “There wasn’t nothing bad about it,” he added. “It was a business that did it, not a person.”

Back at Freddy’s, people were discussing drastic measures, such as chaining themselves to the bar.
Shouldn't "the business that did it" be the starting point for analysis, not the end point? In other words, a more in-depth piece has long been due.

A comment from an organizer

Protest organizer Steve de Sève writes:
The point of the rally was not to raise a holler about Atlantic Yards in general, as the piece said. The point of the rally was outrage at the eminent domain closing of the family shelter, which serves primarily African-American and Caribbean-American families in need. Closing the shelter on Martin Luther King's actual birthday, January 15, during the Haitian earthquake tragedy was heartless.

And Forest City Ratner, Barclays Bank, and the City and State of New York should be ashamed. There are families, who as a result of sending their rent to their families in Haiti instead are risking homelessness. And there will be refugees coming to Brooklyn. The shelter is needed now more than ever.

The New Yorker oddly left out the presence of 90's pop star Crystal Waters, the granddaughter of torch singer Ethel Waters, at the rally singing her 1991 hit Gypsy Woman (She's homeless) with homeless people, politicians, and community groups including F.U.R.E.E. (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality), Picture the Homeless, and the Dean Street Block Association to raise awareness that the community demands the immediate re-opening of the shelter.

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