Yes, during a discussion of Brooklyn, its literary history and neighborhood change, an inevitable question about the Atlantic Yards arena
George, who grew up in Brownsville (as recounted in his memoir City Kid) and went to school in East Flatbush, recalled how the neighborhoods he knew changed, not only with a white ethnic exodus--the white folks he knew were mainly Jewish and Italian--but class and ethnic differences among fellow blacks, notably the influx of people from the Caribbean.
His best line captured neighborhood change via street food: "One day the knish store was selling beef patties."
Fort Greene's moments
George is completing a film called Brooklyn Boheme, about the late 1980s/90s burst of black creativity--music, film spoken word, writers--in Fort Greene, where he still lives.
Why Fort Greene? Well, George suggested, as with other neighborhoods that beckoned artists, it was a combination of price and accessibility--musicians, for example, could get to gigs in Greenwich Village quite quickly.
And what were the signposts of gentrification? George noted the disappearance of drug dealers who once dominated the pay phones just down Fulton Street and, as he wrote in a 4/5/09 New York Times essay, the appearance of the high-powered real estate brokerage Corcoran. (That was, apparently, in September 2000, according to this article.)
Hughes read from his book some astonishing--to today's ears--descriptions of Fort Greene in the 1950s and 1960s, a place of danger and decay.
The Brooklyn brand
Among all the outer boroughs, George observed, Brooklyn has the most cachet, the evocative earthiness--from the Brooklyn Bridge to World War II movies to hip-hop shout-outs--that provokes reaction wherever in the world he visits.
He cited the enduring iconography of the Brooklyn Dodgers, as evinced by the uniform (with Jackie Robinson's number) worn by Spike Lee's character Mookie in the director's classic Do the Right Thing.
Promoters of the Barclays Center arena are already trying to capitalize on the borough's image, as shown in the advertisement at right, and surely hip-hop megastar Jay-Z, who owns a piece of the Nets, will be part of the hoopla inaugurating the arena next year.
What about the arena?
At the end of the brief Q&A, an audience member asked the two authors what they thought of the Barclays Center.
Hughes said he didn't see it as quite "an open-and-shut case" as fellow panelist George, who's on record as an Atlantic Yards opponent (and joined the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board). Why? Hughes thought, at least at one point, that the "jobs" might be worth it.
"They sold a lot of the borough on job creation," George commented. Indeed, I've pointed out how the numbers are ridiculous.
George again suggested that the traffic, foot and vehicular, in the area around the arena would change the character of the neighborhoods on event nights, making the streets outside the bookstore uncomfortable.
By the way, despite a Wall Street Journal article indicating he was planning to leave Fort Greene in reaction to changes wrought by the arena, George told me afterward that he is, in fact, staying.