Saturday, October 24, 2015

At second public discussion for Intersection/Prospect Heights, an opportunity for real talk

Today (3:30 pm, Brooklyn Public Library is the second public discussion associated with the InterSection/Prospect Heights project, which describes its aims:
Exposing change through individual stories, we seek to foster conversations on development, displacement and sustainability in this critical moment for the city.
I attended the first public discussion, at the library on October 7, which was heartfelt, candid, and a little frustrating.

The significant value of such events is they provide an opportunity for residents and neighbors--relative strangers, if not complete strangers--to speak candidly, in both small groups and (if they volunteer) publicly before the larger audience.

Such candor represents a refreshing change from the promotional talk--recent examples summarized below--associated with Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

At the first discussion

Among the two invited speakers, businessman and radio host Bob Law (whose scope of Prospect Heights was what we'd call Crown Heights North) described an idyllic youth in a neighborhood of mixed ethnicity, with a "subtle racism" he as a black teen recognized only as he reached high school.

"Gentrification doesn't have to be displacement, it doesn't have to change the very culture of the community," he said.

The other invited speaker, New Yorker writer George Packer, told of the tangled process in the past decade in which he and his family bought a house and put roots in the the neighborhood. With some snags, got to know their neighbors, in part because they together faced a construction project in which the site-maximizing developer pushed to the edge of the allowable site.

After small group discussions among the 30 or so people, four people (two white women, two black women) from the audience spoke publicly, talking of their path to and place in the neighborhood.

Among the sentiments expressed:
  • laments about the loss of The Usual, the diner on Vanderbilt that closed earlier this year
  • questions about the border between Prospect Heights and Crown Heights
  • the disappearance of diversity as houses sell for increased prices
  • resentment of the new 550 Vanderbilt Pacific Park tower rising steadily
  • tensions between West Indian and African-American residents
Going forward

Today's event, which includes Public Advocate (and former Council Member) Letitia James--and previously was to include Rep. Hakeem Jeffries--offers another opportunity for such talk.

There are few places for such cordial intersections. The most dramatic opportunities, in fact, have been Atlantic Yards-related public hearings, which attracted an even more diverse crowd than the (my observation) mostly middle-class audience at the library.

The challenge, I think, for projects like Intersection is ultimately to go beyond such worthy conversations to specifics about "development, displacement and sustainability." For example, talk of "affordable housing" has to peel back promotional language to look at specifics.

The promotional talk

There's been so much deceptive, misleading, and/or promotion talk revolving around Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park that a compilation from just the past few weeks includes:

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