Sunday, December 25, 2011

In My Korean Deli, a few glancing mentions of Atlantic Yards

In the memoir My Korean Deli: Risking It All For a Convenience Store, published this past March, Ben Ryder Howe describes how, not long after 9/11, he and his Korean-American wife decided to buy and run a bodega in Boerum Hill as partial repayment for the sacrifices her parents made.

It's an entertaining and charming book, especially as Howe juxtaposes descriptions of bodega travails (including working with his indomitable mother-in-law) with the culture of the Paris Review, the venerably eccentric literary magazine, run by the iconic (yet fading) George Plimpton, where he also worked.

The reviews were mostly positive, and I agree, though I usually find "remembered" dialogue in memoirs just a little too pat.

The AY mention

But I want to point to the inevitable Atlantic Yards mention:
Brooklyn is changing. Just down the street... developers from Cleveland have signed an agreement with the government to build one of the largest properties to come to New York in a generation. Skyscrapers, a hotel, a sports stadium and, amid it all, many different "cultural spaces"--this new development, called Atlantic Yards, is going to be so big that its impact will be felt for miles in every direction. Traffic will have to be rerouted, buildings demolished, their tenants relocated. Purely in terms of size and ambition, it seems like the antithesis of the people's borough. It seems more like... Manhattan.

Maybe, though, Atlantic Yards will turn out to be a good thing for us, by raising the value of our lease. maybe it will provide the sort of foot traffic, tourism and round-the-clock sales that shopkeepers dream about. maybe we'll get that Manhattan-style store we once thought of going for after all. But we won't have to wait the five or six years that the construction will likely take to find out, for even closer to where Atlantic Yards will be, the landscape is already erupting in a most un-Brooklyn way, sprouting sunlight-hogging apartment complexes with cubicle-sized dwellings rapped in unfriendly mirrored glass.

You have to try not to be sentimental about it. It makes as little sense to argue against progress and change when it comes to cities as it does with literary magazines...
It does, and it doesn't. The question is how it's done. But Howe's observation is probably not uncommon from many who gave relatively little thought to the issue.

About Dwayne

Then there's a dialogue with Dwayne, the from-the-hood holdover bodega worker who's triumphed over some tough times and is a charming, maddening, hard-working, hard-drinking presence.

Dwayne at one point half-jokingly suggests he'll go join "the rest of them brothers... standin' on a corner with some product in my pocket.

"What about the new Applebee's"--Dwayne's favorite restaurant--"that's opening at Atlantic Yards?" Howe responds.

Well, there's Atlantic Terminal, and Atlantic Yards. Not the same.

"I just want to work, watch my kids grow up and lay back in peace," Dwayne says. "You ain't noticed that about me yet? After thirty-six years I ain't in jail or stuck on no drugs, and I ain't dead. I think that's pretty good."

In some parts of Brooklyn, that is pretty good. But that's also why so much hope, and so much frustration, has been placed in Atlantic Yards.

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