Thursday, December 02, 2010

Gentrification, race/class, the Atlantic Yards play, and just one half-basketball court for a 16-tower project

One of the sub-themes in The Civilians' new play with music, IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, is gentrification and the politics of public space.

The opening song, "Kickin' It" (with the refrain, "That used to be so Brooklyn") quotes one character, a black man (who happens to have a blog, interestingly enough):
A lot of the places where you know we used to congregate 

We're not allowed to you know um 

I mean um some people just get nervous

When they see a group of young guys congregating 

Later, another character, a barber in Clinton Hill, offers a soliloquy:
I was just in the pahk. They say You can't smoke cigarettes in the pahk.… them crackas ain't havin that they scared they nervous they ain’t got no business here and they know they got no business but they want somebody to secure it for them now you got police jumpin' out the cars on ya for for for for drinkin' a beer.
Race and class?

This sounds like the classic intersection of race and class, as described in Lance Freeman's book, his 2006 book, There Goes the ’Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up, focusing on Harlem and Clinton Hill, which I wrote about three years ago.

After all, better-off people can afford to drink in their backyards, or pay at sidewalk cafes. They're far more concerned with the public behavior--some of which may not be to their taste, but is legal or had been generally permitted--of others.

Class more than race

But the issue is likely more class than race. In Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City, Northwestern University professor of sociology and African-American Studies Mary Pattillo describes the same kind of tensions between newcomer homeowners and longstanding renters, including those in much-maligned public housing.

They're all black, in Chicago's North Kenwood–Oakland neighborhood, and while there is some racial solidarity, and likely fewer of the hair-trigger tensions that accompany cross-racial gentrification, the transition is by no means easy, as Pattillo describes in great detail.

The Atlantic Yards open space: not a park

What does this have to do with Atlantic Yards? Well, consider how Forest City Ratner promised "new open space for the entire Brooklyn community to enjoy."

The eight acres of open space would be managed by a conservancy or nonprofit agency, but would not be city park space. And it's likely that at least some of the draconian restrictions imposed at the developer's MetroTech Commons (accompanying the MetroTech office complex) would be enacted.

For 15,000 people, a half-court

Even if that open space came on time--and that obviously won't happen--it was clearly programmed with some measure of social control.

From the Final Environmental Impact Statement, Chapter 6, Open Space and Recreational Facilities:
PROPOSED PROJECT—2016
The proposed open space has been designed to maximize the number of users accommodated by the eight acres dedicated to open space. Passive areas such as walkways, seating, and open lawn space are capable of serving larger numbers of users when compared with active areas, such as basketball and tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and soccer fields, with their specialized programming and limited number of users. The open space would not be an appropriate venue for large playing fields, because such uses would consume most of the available area and require fencing, which would make the open space seem smaller and less public. Thus, approximately 7.2 acres (90 percent) of the open space areas would be programmed for passive and flexible use, consisting of paths and lawns for strolling, sitting, people watching, and picnics. The balance of the open space area, approximately 0.8 acres (10 percent), would be designated for active uses and include a half basketball court, a volleyball court, two bocce courts, and a children’s playground.
(Emphasis added)

A half-basketball court for a 16-tower project slated to include 6430 apartments, perhaps some 15,000 people?

That definitely did not "used to be so Brooklyn."

Rather, it's a subtle way to ensure that "certain people" do not do too much "congregating."

In other words, Forest City Ratner, ready to welcome thousands of gentrifiers--4180 market-rate apartments, plus another 900-plus subsidized units likely to track the market--has thought very carefully about the use of public space.

No comments:

Post a Comment