Skip to main content

In discussion about Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, history, transition, gentrification, and, yes, Atlantic Yards

It’s hard to do justice to the sometimes compelling, sometimes disjointed, wide-ranging panel discussion concerning Fort Greene and Clinton Hilll presented last night by the New York Times’s blog The Local at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Dweck Center at Grand Army Plaza.

But the session, titled “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” did touch on the important and sometimes fraught intersections of neighborhood transition, development pressure, and race/class relations. (Of the panelists, two were black and two were white.)

And, despite some overlong monologues (from both panel and audience) or off-topic questions, it left people longing for more, for the messy humanity of in-person dialogue, in contrast with often-anonymous online interaction. (More from The Local, source of Nicole Nelch's pic.)

An audience of about 135, racially mixed though predominantly white, attended the event, and moderator Andy Newman of The Local said that, for a future event, he’d look to a space within the two neighborhoods. (The Times and the library have an ongoing relationship regarding events; hence the choice of the Dweck.)

Old like new

Writer/performer Carl Hancock Rux reminded the group that the new may not be so different from the old. He read from a 2005 article he wrote for the Brooklyn Rail, tracing class and race tensions all the way back to 1858.

While the condition of Fort Greene Park, worn down in part today by soccer players, has occasioned much debate on The Local, Newman found a Brooklyn Daily Eagle clip from 1888, in which those playing lawn tennis and croquet were criticized for tearing up the turf.

Author, filmmaker, and memoirist Nelson George recalled how dangerous Fort Greene was in his youth. He showed part of a clip (sans audio) from the 1974 film The Education of Sonny Carson, in which a kid goes through a brutal initiation, on the bleak turf outside the park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, to join a street gang.

DK Holland recalled how the publication she founded The Hill, served to bring people together beginning in the mid-80s, a time when the neighborhood had boarded-up buildings and gangs on the streets. It still serves to build and celebrate community, highlighting neighborhood heroes, businesses, and history.

(In a sign of the times, The Hill, a nonprofit enterprise produced by volunteers--the only costs are for printing/production--is feeling the downturn in advertising; the next issue may not emerge “unless some angel appears,” Holland said. Council Member Letitia James, who was in the audience and received moderate applause, is helping with fundraising.)

The era of black artists

As he’s written, George in the mid-80s joined a burgeoning community of black artists in Fort Greene, one building on the neighborhood “pre-history” of musicians like Betty Carter and Cecil Taylor.

The names of residents and visiting performers is impressive: Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard, Larry (now Laurence) Fishburne, and Wesley Snipes.

‘“I happened to meet this little weird guy in 1985 called Spike (Lee),” George recalled, observing that “She’s Gotta Have It” was not merely a hugely successful film but also a magnet for the neighborhood. Lee, of course, set up shop in Fort Greene, and some of his ensemble--both in front of and behind the camera--came to the neighborhood.

George identified another era, in the early 1990s, the “Brooklyn Moon wave,” involving artists associated with spoken word and music: Erykah Badu, Common, Mos Def, Kevin Powell, and Sarah Jones.

Now, he said, it’s a time of transition, as wealthier (mostly) white residents move in, and, as he wrote in the Times, he also feels the inevitability of aging.

The AY effect

The growth of new residential towers, mainly at the neighborhood’s edges--and in several cases the unexpected consequence of a Downtown Brooklyn rezoning aimed to produce new (but ultimately unnecessary) office space, provoked dismay from George, who linked them to the planned Atlantic Yards project, which would be built just across the border in Prospect Heights.

George, a member of the DDDB advisory board, criticized at Borough President Marty Markowitz and developer Bruce Ratner for bringing a huge increase in the number of residents and visitors, via the arena and 16 towers. “And forget the night [Brooklyn-born rapper] Jay-Z does his ‘Return to Brooklyn’ concert,” George warned.

George was rebuked, mildly, by Rux, who said he didn’t necessarily like the new towers sprouting, and he loves brownstones, but, “at the same time, I recognize it belongs to a time and belongs to a moment.”

Questions of density

Later, George said he wasn’t uncomfortable with older white or black homeowners making a profit from selling their houses, but "the issue really becomes the high-rises.”

Again, Rux offered some perspective, reminding George of the mansions torn down on Clinton Avenue for apartment buildings.

Holland noted that when she moved to Clinton Hill, it needed greater density, to have people on the street and shopping in its businesses.

The discussion did not get to the question of what exactly is the neighborhood’s carrying capacity and whether the government had sufficiently studied the impact of new buildings. After all, urban areas near transit are supposed to support increased density--the question is how much.

Other towers

Unmentioned was the parade of generic towers along and near Clinton Avenue that are the Clinton Hill Houses, once civilian workforce housing during World War II, which look not unlike housing projects.

One audience member said public housing had been ignored during the discussion and on the blog; he pointed out the role of FUREE and its film about gentrification, “Some Place Like Home.”

And even the term “housing project” drew some debate, when Council Member James suggested the phrase was not preferred by current residents. George, who grew up in a “project” (in Brownsville) shot back that he used that term.

George noted that the Ingersoll Community Center, serving those in public housing, has long stood unopened. James said it will finally open in July or August. (She blamed the delay on the federal government’s failure to support public housing. While the latter is undeniable, the delay lasted far longer than ever predicted, so someone in the New York City Housing Authority should take some heat.)

One audience member, referencing the hop-skip version of neighborhood history packed into the event, reminded the audience of the role of the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) in renovating and managing housing, as well as the efforts of the late Council Member Mary Pinkett, crucial to the neighborhood’s revival.

Feeling welcomed--and not

One relative newcomer, a white woman who said she’s a social worker, said she mostly felt welcomed, but sometimes she didn’t. (On blogs, I've read reports of people throwing pebbles and other unpleasantness.) What, she asked with sincerity, can she do?

Holland suggested she join some local organizations. (Then again, the Fort Greene Association members are not the type to toss pebbles. She did also mention churches.)

Rux suggested a psychological, cultural approach, “about not making people feel it was nothing before you came.” (Earlier, taking off from the not uncommon perception that the neighborhood didn't arrive until new restaurants sprang up, Rux cordially reminded the audience that, yes, there were restaurants in the 1980s.)

How do you hold onto the neighborhood? Some of the nurturing is organic, if accidental, part of what George called “a magical quality,” a feeling of connection.

George titled his onetime column in the Village Voice “Native Son” well before he learned that Richard Wright, who wrote the novel of that name, lived in Fort Greene while he wrote it. (A slide show George produced for The Local was played at the event; it shows the Richard Wright memorial bench in Fort Greene Park, with its plaque already vandalized.)

Looking forward

In closing, Newman asked the panelists to briefly predict what they’d think of the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in a decade.

“As my neighborhood,” Rux said succinctly.

“I think it’ll feel very much the same,” said Jonathan Butler, founder of the popular blog Brownstoner, who got relatively little microphone time (and has a more brief history in the community, though his blog has provoked much discussion, as noted in this New York magazine cover story). “Hopefully ten years of talking some of this stuff out will make it even better.”

“I’m not certain,” George said. “If they build a sports arena, and they build those other things, I think it will change the nature of the neighborhood. You can’t build a sports arena and not have fast food restaurants, not have souvenir shops, not have strip clubs.” (I haven’t seen any new strip clubs near the Prudential Center in Newark, though.)

More conversation

“I think what you mentioned about talking--and blogs are a big part of this,” Holland mused. “We need more people engaged in the conversation, coming to it with well-thought out ideas.”.

The Hill, she said, could also be a forum for the conversation. Then again, The Hill comes out twice a year. Newman said an intern from The Local is working with a community organization to get more people, notably those without computers, engaged in the blog.

That might democratize the discourse. But The Local, a worthy experiment, doesn’t yet have a business model.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…