Skip to main content

Featured Post

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + project FAQ (pinned post)

How the 550 Vanderbilt developer plays the "authenticity" card

The use of brick and masonry
translates to "authenticity"?
Place-making in Brooklyn should center on "authenticity," Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin said last week at the Make It in Brooklyn conference, invoking one of the loaded words in urbanism today.

Indeed, the word is quite popular in Greenland Forest City Partners' promotional language for the 550 Vanderbilt condo building. It's to combine "[a]uthentic Brooklyn charm"--whatever that is, beyond use of certain building materials--with "contemporary urban living."

How exactly can a "neighborhood from scratch" be authentic? (Especially since it's not a neighborhood?)

The inauthenticity compounds. The location is claimed to be "at the intersection of five of the borough’s most desirable neighborhoods," a physical impossibility--and a diss to Prospect Heights.

As seen in the advertisement excerpted below--also on the main site--somehow the "diversity of New York City’s largest borough is reflected in the uniquely varied selection of 550 Vanderbilt’s full-service condominium residences."

Hmmm.... the diversity spectrum from studio to to two-bedroom to maisonette reflects the race/class/religion/language/national origin diversity of the borough? (Not to mention that a good fraction buyers likely will reflect the diversity of China's elite.)
550 Vanderbilt promotion; note image contrasts with photo above right
Demolished authenticity

Ah, authenticity. Remember how the developer demolished factories/lofts turned into residences and bulldozed a bakery that could have been redeveloped? How that very much resembled a preservation project Forest City did in Richmond, VA?

Remember how Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz pronounced the Barclays Center "a luminous, iconic structure that celebrates Brooklyn's industrial heritage"? And architectural historian Francis Morrone commented, "I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry."

Zukin on authenticity

"'Authentic' was added to my blacklist of words after reading Sharon Zukin," tweeted Stephen Miller last year.

From the capsule description of Brooklyn College sociologist Zukin's 2009 book Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places:
As cities have gentrified, educated urbanites have come to prize what they regard as "authentic" urban life: aging buildings, art galleries, small boutiques, upscale food markets, neighborhood old-timers, funky ethnic restaurants, and old, family-owned shops. These signify a place's authenticity, in contrast to the bland standardization of the suburbs and exurbs.

But as Sharon Zukin shows in Naked City, the rapid and pervasive demand for authenticity--evident in escalating real estate prices, expensive stores, and closely monitored urban streetscapes--has helped drive out the very people who first lent a neighborhood its authentic aura: immigrants, the working class, and artists.
Indeed, the pursuit of authenticity in that earlier wave of transformation, in which aging industrial buildings became housing, fostered gentrification in Prospect Heights. From a 10/1/02 Brooklyn Rail article quoting a Community Board 8 member:
"The Brooklyn real estate market is madder than anywhere else. For people who have grown up in the neighborhood who are selling, this is great. But for those who are renting, it is very difficult to stay. The neighborhood will continue to lose its industrial base and become whiter and richer."
Now the Brooklyn real estate market is exponentially more mad. And the projects ever less authentic. Then again, as Zukin writes, "In modern times, though, it may not be necessary for a group to be authentic; it may be enough to claim to see authenticity in order to control its advantages."