Sunday, November 30, 2014


My Brooklyn is a documentary about Director Kelly Anderson's personal journey, as a Brooklyn "gentrifier," to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. 

The story begins when Anderson moves to Brooklyn in 1988, lured by cheap rents and bohemian culture. By Michael Bloomberg's election as mayor in 2001, a massive speculative real estate boom is rapidly altering the neighborhoods she has come to call home. She watches as an explosion of luxury housing and chain store development spurs bitter conflict over who has a right to live in the city and to determine its future. 

While some people view these development patterns as ultimately revitalizing the city, to others, they are erasing the eclectic urban fabric, economic and racial diversity, creative alternative culture, and unique local economies that drew them to Brooklyn in the first place. It seems that no less than the city's soul is at stake.

Meanwhile, development officials announce a controversial plan to tear down and remake the Fulton Mall, a popular and bustling African-American and Caribbean commercial district just blocks from Anderson's apartment. She discovers that the Mall, despite its run-down image, is the third most profitable shopping area in New York City with a rich social and cultural history. As the local debate over the Mall's future intensifies, deep racial divides in the way people view neighborhood change become apparent. All of this pushes Anderson to confront her own role in the process of gentrification, and to investigate the forces behind it more deeply.

She meets with government officials, urban planners, developers, advocates, academics, and others who both champion and criticize the plans for Fulton Mall. Only when Anderson meets Brooklyn-born and raised scholar Craig Wilder, though, who explains his family's experiences of neighborhood change over generations, does Anderson come to understand that what is happening in her neighborhoods today is actually a new chapter in an old American story. The film's ultimate questions become how to heal the deep racial wounds embedded in our urban development patterns, and how citizens can become active in fixing a broken planning process.


An article appeared in the New York Daily News, announcing a new night market that will be installed along Grove Pl. in Downtown Brooklyn. 

The writer describes the alleyway as "dingy," "forlorn," and "neglected," which are perhaps reasonable descriptors if you take Grove Pl. as an isolated alley disembodied from any surroundings. 

But Grove Pl. sits in the context of the Fulton Mall area, a historically thriving African-American and Caribbean space that has long been maligned by journalists and city officials using similar descriptors. 

The article thus relates to a wider American discourse associating black spaces with failure, decline, and social pathology. Such seemingly benign media tidbits contain a subtler and more insidious message, though. They suggest that spaces that are suddenly desired by wealthy, privileged people were previously of no value to anyone. 

While some spaces are definitely abandoned, often times they are simply (and incorrectly) perceived as abandoned, or forgotten, or "forlorn," because they are unappealing to outsiders. "I wouldn't go there, so it must not be in use, or of importance to anyone," is how the logic generally goes. 

It may well be that Grove Pl. as an isolated stretch of street is indeed empty and forlorn, but its immediate surrounding context is anything but. By itself, this article is harmless enough. But in the context of the carefully constructed public discourse that for decades has been pushing an image of Downtown Brooklyn as a failure, it does just a little bit more to distort the reality–and trumpet the gentrification–of one of New York City's most interesting and celebrated urban spaces.


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