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Intersection/Prospect Heights project aims to start dialogue on neighborhood change (and where's AY?)

They're calling it a "participatory art project," but it's really more about neighborhood history, with panels starting tomorrow night and a walking tour on October 17. (See more details below.)

Recently launched is Intersection/Prospect Heights, which "uses photographs and oral histories to start a dialogue on the social, psychological, and physical impacts of rapid change in this Brooklyn neighborhood."

Translation: it draws on the early 2000s photographs and oral histories of Prospect Heights (articlepsychology dissertation) by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, founder of the urbanist studio Buscada, to stimulate new conversations. At public events, on the website, and in cards inserted in neighborhood guides, residents are encouraged to share their stories about what in Prospect Heights is important to them.

The research only obliquely touches on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park; the dissertation infrequently mentions the project, and the six printed neighborhood guides--available in several stores and other locations--have one mention. So it's unclear how much the ongoing project will address it, though surely it's inevitable.

After all, Bendiner-Viani's project was less about recent political history and urban planning--though there's a useful history of Prospect Heights in the dissertation--than about what people find meaningful in a neighborhood, from a busy cafe (The Usual, closed earlier this year) to a supermarket (Met Food) to a civic building (the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library).

A sense of loss

The project conveys a sense of loss, from African- and Caribbean-American residents especially, as Prospect Heights transitioned to a whiter, more affluent neighborhood. In one case, an interviewee--a man who bought a Vanderbilt Avenue store when it was abandoned--suffered a grievous loss, when he was defrauded and lost the building, and forced to move to East New York.

There is mention of jobs lost when the Ward Bread Bakery closed, but not about how the building, as well as other industrial buildings in Prospect Heights already converted to housing, were demolished for Atlantic Yards.

The Atlantic Yards mention

At right is the excerpt from the one neighborhood guide mentioning Atlantic Yards, from Julia, who according to the brochure as of 2003 had lived in Prospect Heights for 20 years and still lives in the neighborhood. (The dissertation describes her as an African American legal librarian, who "was recently mugged outside her house and found herself shouting at her assailant, 'but don’t you understand, this is a nice neighborhood!'")

Her excerpt is titled "The fence, St. Marks Avenue":
People had signs up--Atlantic Yards pro and con, and you know: who’s a fool, you’re a fool, they're a fool. "You say you’re for affordable housing, how you can be for affordable housing if you’re not for this project?" "You think there’s actually going to be affordable housing in this project?!"
Friends of mine and I, on opposite sides of the argument see each other, and we’re like, "We used to be more friendly. And we couldn’t figure out what to do about being more friendly.
And I said, smile more, what I’ll do is I’ll sit on my porch more, I said, you sit on your porch more. We used to sit on the porch—we were so broke that was the only entertainment we had. Sit on the porch, have a cigarette, say hello to people, give ‘em shots, hand ‘em a beer. And we didn’t do it a lot, but we did it enough
"We were saying that we used to be nicer, and I said, well, we used to have less money."
Adding ambiguity is an additional quote at the end that appears in the dissertation: "And, I don’t want to have less money—do you want to have less money?

Fuzzing Atlantic Yards

Adding to that Atlantic Yards discussion in the dissertation (which covers Prospect Heights and a neighborhood in Oakland), Bendiner-Viani wrote:
For example, in Prospect Heights, the negative emotions that have surrounded the embattled Atlantic Yards development have become more important to Julia than her opinion on the development itself. The development now signifies only the community disagreements and bitterness that have taken place among formerly close friends, leaving her with a sense of loss and disruption in the social fabric of her community, before anything has been built. 
That may be so, but facts matter too. To follow up the issue raised in Julia's excerpt, two 100% "affordable housing" buildings are under construction now, their construction accelerated--after the project was delayed--as part of a 2014 deal with the state and developer signed by, among others, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), a sponsor of Intersection/Prospect Heights.

However, the affordable units are skewed to higher-income households than long promised in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, and the PHNDC, as part of BrooklynSpeaks, for years contended that even that longtime promise of affordability was not enough to serve the community. But no longer.

Finding the printed guides

The locations in red are where you can find the guides, which discuss locations marked in blue.



The project is sponsored by Buscada, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and Brooklyn Public Library, with grants from the New York Council on the Humanities, Citizens Committee for New York City, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, the Park Place/Underhill Avenue Block Association, and the Carlton Avenue Association.

For discussion: rapid change

“Changes driven by development and rezoning as experienced by Prospect Heights are now faced by other New York City neighborhoods,” said Dr. Bendiner-Viani in the press release. “Valuing everyday experience and perceptions of place can help us create space for dialogue on the forces shaping our city. We hope the approachable form and personal narratives of this project will let participants laugh, cry and grapple with the experience of what is too often framed as the city’s inevitable trajectory.”

“What’s happened in the last 10 years is very, very significant. The changes are quite radical,” she told DNAinfo, noting that at least half the places cited--including The Usual diner and the Zenith electronics store--have closed.

Indeed, depending on the direction of the walk, the under-construction towers that are part of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project are unmistakable, as is the Barclays Center arena, which, in its Flatbush Avenue retail space, just happens to host a sales office for the 550 Vanderbilt condo building, complete with a model of the expected project.

By the way, there's one other extremely oblique Atlantic Yards connection, as Mike, the owner of the now-closed The Usual, wears a t-shirt featuring The Spunk Lads, a group that performed at Freddy's Bar & Backroom and was led by anti-AY activist Scott Turner.

Public sessions

As noted in the press release below, there will be "Place Conversations : Open to all to tell, and hear, stories about personally significant places" at the Brooklyn Public Library on Wednesday, October 7, 6:30-8:30 pm, with radio host Bob Law and journalist George Packer, and on Saturday, October 24, 3:30-5pm, with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Public Advocate Letitia James, with public participation invited.

On Saturday, October 17 at 3 pm, there will be "a creative walking tour of the Intersection sites, joined by the Intersection tour guides," led by Bendiner-Viani. Meet @ Met Food, 632 Vanderbilt Ave, between Park Place and Prospect Place.

The brochures


The press release

Participatory art project opens conversation on transition in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood
Intersection | Prospect Heights draws on oral histories and photographs from past and present
to explore the impact of rapid change on a community’s identity and sense of place

BROOKLYN, September 24, 2015: The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), Brooklyn Public Library, and urbanist studio Buscada today announced the opening of Intersection | Prospect Heights, a multidisciplinary public art project that uses photographs and oral histories to start a dialogue on the social, psychological, and physical impacts of rapid change in this Brooklyn neighborhood.

In recent years, Prospect Heights has seen tremendous physical change, including the clearing of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards site, the construction of the Barclays Center arena, and the development of much of the neighborhood’s vacant property. Since 2000, Prospect Heights’ population has remained close to 20,000 residents, yet there have been significant shifts in race and income, indicating the displacement of a large number of people. Since 2000, the neighborhood’s African American population declined from 55% to 30%, and the percentage of residents earning more than $100,000 jumped from 15% to 41%.

In a convergence of art, research and advocacy, Intersection | Prospect Heights will host a series of participatory events about the changes that have occurred in the neighborhood in the last 15 years. Beginning on October 3, the project will engage current and former residents of Prospect Heights -- and New Yorkers from all neighborhoods -- with a series of neighborhood guides, popup exhibitions, guided tours and public conversations. Building on Buscada founder Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani’s work in the neighborhood in the early 2000s, the “guidebooks” use her photographs and oral histories to show neighborhood places through the eyes of residents from over a decade ago.

The project encourages past and present community members to contribute their own reflections on neighborhood places though storytelling cards, the project website www.inter-section.org, participation in two public “Place Conversations” at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library, and by having their story recorded in an interview at the library. As part of Intersection | Prospect Heights, PHNDC will also conduct a neighborhood development survey, reprising a similar study carried out in 2004.

“Dr. Bendiner-Viani’s prior work in Prospect Heights provides a unique vantage point to assess the impact of changes over the last decade to our community,” said PHNDC Chair Gib Veconi. “Construction underway today in Prospect Heights is expected to add more than 14,000 new residents over the next decade—a population increase of more than 70%. We hope the dialogue fostered by Intersection| Prospect Heights will help our neighborhood approach the changes yet to come.”

“Changes driven by development and rezoning as experienced by Prospect Heights are now faced by other New York City neighborhoods,” said Dr. Bendiner-Viani. “Valuing everyday experience and perceptions of place can help us create space for dialogue on the forces shaping our city. We hope the approachable form and personal narratives of this project will let participants laugh, cry and grapple with the experience of what is too often framed as the city’s inevitable trajectory.”

“Brooklyn Public Library is a resource for the study of Brooklyn’s past, as well as a place for a dialogue about its future,” said Melissa Morrone, supervising librarian at Central Library's Information Commons. “We’re delighted to collaborate with Buscada and PHNDC to present Intersection | Prospect Heights as part of our Brooklyn Transitions series.”

This fall’s Intersection | Prospect Heights events include the following:
Popup exhibitions and guides around the neighborhood
From October 3 to November 15, 2015. All locations at www.inter-section.org

Place Conversations : Open to all to tell, and hear, stories about personally significant places.
Wednesday, October 7, 6:30-8:30pm : Exhibition Opening and Place Conversation
@Information Commons Lab, Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza
Featuring stories from radio host Bob Law, journalist George Packer and you

Saturday, October 24, 3:30-5pm
@ Information Commons Lab, Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza
Featuring stories from U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James and you

Guided Tour : Prospect Heights : A creative walking tour of the Intersection sites, joined by the Intersection tour guides, and led by artist Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani. Walk back in time to see the present in a new way. Participants can share their stories and add their own places to the tour.
Saturday, October 17, 3:00pm, Meet @ Met Food, 632 Vanderbilt Ave, between Park Place and Prospect Place

For a full list of events and activities, visit www.inter-section.org.

This presentation of Intersection | Prospect Heights is made possible through grants from the New York Council on the Humanities, Citizens Committee for New York City, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, the Park Place/Underhill Avenue Block Association, and the Carlton Avenue Association.

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