Saturday, January 23, 2016

Artist Glenn Ligon at MOMA PS1: a 12-year Prospect Heights real estate story

Part of the Greater New York exhibition at MOMA PS1 in Long Island City (on view through March) is a piece called "Housing in New York: A Brief History, 1960-2007," by the Bronx-born artist Glenn Ligon.

The piece consists of texts about the various places Ligon had lived by 2007, the date of the piece, which consists of paragraphs of text, not any photographs.

It's notable that the last two places were in Prospect Heights, and Ligon's texts capture the neighborhood in transition, though not with complete prescience.

The first, from 1995-2002, was 168 Prospect Place. "A one-bedroom brownstone floor-through on a quiet, tree-lined street," Ligon writes. "My neighbor Herbie jokingly called the area 'Dark Slope' because the complexion of its residents was dramatically different from that of those south of Flatbush Avenue in more affluent Park Slope."

Note that Ligon is black; a white artist using that phrase likely would face criticism. Also note that the complexion of Prospect Heights residents has become much closer to that of Park Slope in the last 15 years. And note that the building in which Ligon lived two years ago listed a one-bedroom apartment for $2,700 a month.

Then Ligon bought a one-bedroom in the Newswalk condo at 535 Dean Street, "a converted factory building on the edge of the Long Island Railroad train yard. The developers, gambling that soaring real estate prices would soon extend to Prospect Heights, created condos out of what was the long-empty Daily News printing plant." They were right.

"The apartment was on the fifth floor facing west and had an incredible view of the train yards of downtown Brooklyn and New Jersey. I realized this view would soon disappear when real estate developer Bruce Ratner announced plans for a Frank Gehry designed basketball stadium and dozens of office and residential towers." (Well, 16 towers, and an arena.)

"If approved, it will be one of the largest developments ever built in the city and will dramatically change the character of the neighborhood. Facing ten years of construction and what was turning into a losing battle over eminent domain, overcrowding, and a lack of low-income housing, I decided to sell and move on."

Interesting. It was already approved, but facing legal challenges. And the ten years have turned into nearly 20 years. As for lack of low-income housing, well, there will be, but the issue is the actual amount of neighborhood-affordable subsidized housing.

Had Ligon not sold, his property would have appreciated, but the quality of life would have been tested--given what residents experience now--and face more testing.

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