COMMUNITY FORUM

Battle of Brooklyn

November 9th, 2009

Rumur is raising funds for Battle of Brooklyn, their documentary on the Atlantic Yards fight. Check out the trailer here.

From their site:

Battle of Brooklyn, a documentary which chronicles the efforts of local community activists to stop a massive development that threatens to decimate their neighborhood. Our main character, Daniel Goldstein, refused to sell to the developer and now New York State is attempting to seize his home via the power of eminent domain — a hot button issue that has made headlines across the country. (Dan and his family are not the only ones whose home is threatened. However, in order to tell the most compelling story the film increasingly focuses on him and his family.).

Now we’re approaching the end of this incredible story: If the developer doesn’t get shovels in the ground by Dec 31, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to proceed. If he does, Dan, his family, many other owners and renters, and the larger community outside the project footprint that have come together, will have lost their fight…and their homes. After shooting 300 hours of footage over six years, we have a character driven film that shines a bright light on the world of New York politics, billion dollar real estate, urban renewal, and the power of grass roots community activism.”

We Want To Hear From You, Here . . .

December 4th, 2008
Dramaturg Jocelyn Clark
Photo: Michael Premo

Brooklyn, USA is a proud layered tangle of diverse communities, united by – if nothing else – a love for the borough.  Over the past couple months The Civilians have been intently listening to people passionately sharing stories about their neighborhoods and the development reshaping our communities.  New York City is in a constant state of change.  The process and powers represented – or not represented – in how it occurs is an important theme running through every chapter of the cities history.   As students in one of our Community Labs discussed, many of the issues in the contemporary story of NYC development are not new.  Change is, arguably, a vital force in the kinetic energy that electrifies the city.  With such a richly layered history rooted deeply in the fabric of our city, change that threatens to dig up that history and build anew  has the potential for seismic reverberations.

Countless hours of interviews were recorded with people across the political, social, and class spectrum from tenants to homeowners, developers, business owners, business patrons, politicians, community organizers, the dispossessed, the displaced, the old, the new, the elderly, the youth, and on through the spectrum.  Our ears were wide open to all as we traversed the borough block-by-block, listening to people in their homes, and around their neighborhood at cafe’s, bars, restaurants, bodegas, community gardens, barber shops, church basements and community centers.  Some were more forthcoming then others, all had something to say.

This part of The Civilians process is called the investigation phase.  It is just the first step in our process as we explore the complicated layers of community and community change.  Take a moment to peruse through some of the excerpts posted here.  They represent just a fraction of the stories  and opinions we heard.  Some of the stories here represent a voice often visibly absent from popular media.

Today our work-in-progress presentation of Brooklyn At Eye Level opens at the Brooklyn Lyceum.  As a part of The Civilians Investigation phase we invite you to share your own stories or reflections on the performance, by posting a comment below.  Please use this space to share your own neighborhood stories, or thoughts on your community and the dynamics of change you’ve experienced.  We are also interested to hear reactions to stories in our presentation, keeping in mind that this is the first iteration of a series of outcomes.  Were there stories you hadn’t heard before or pieces you felt were missing, for example? I ask that you reserve comments about the specifics and details of the proposed Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yard’s Project to other blogs.  If  you would like to make comments privately please email us at projects (at) thecivilians.org.

- Michael Premo, Project Coordinator

Brooklyn at Eye Level
Photo: Adrian Kinloch

Its about Pride!

December 4th, 2008

Civilians Actor Greg McFadden
Photo: Adrian Kinloch

“My mother was a Dodger’s fan.  She went to Dodger’s games.  She taught me to love the Mets because they were INSTEAD of the Dodgers. The key thing to understanding, is it isn’t really a sports story.  The reason the Dodgers still loom so large is that their name was not the New York Dodgers.  Their name was the Brooklyn Dodgers.  And that is to say what the Dodger’s are a simplified emblem of is something that people are mourning even though many of them don’t know they’re mourning it – which is that Brooklyn used to be it’s own city.  So the real scar , the one the Dodgers leaving became the outward comprehensible more recent emblem of . . .  And that is what is so much at the heart of so much of this complexity in Brooklyn identity is this doubleness of shame and pride that we were our own city with our own vital urban centers.  At the same time we were a second city because Manhattan, New York was always greater than Brooklyn.  But Brooklyn was Brooklyn.  And then we elected or someone elected on our behalf that we should subsume this beautiful magnificent identity into this other one.  And so there’s always still this doubleness of “We’re proud to be New Yorkers.  We’re angry to be New Yorkers.  We’re really Brooklynites.”  And it’s this conflicted stolen identity that I think meant…it’s so often the case that people relate more to symbol than to an actuality.  This team is just 25 guys who went to LA and became another team.  This happens all the time.  But the BROOKLYN Dodgers spoke to Brooklyn as a city unto itself.  And if they had been named differently or played in another part of the city, it wouldn’t have meant anything at all.” – Met’s Fan and Fourth Generation Brooklynite

The Unity Plan and Lack of Oversight

December 4th, 2008

Civilians Actor Joaquin Torres, preparing for rehearsal
Photo: Michael Premo

“the Unity Plan would have been much better…it had affordable housing like 80 percent [sic] affordable. ..  It had lower, lower . . . buildings.  No skyscrapers.  It had some open space, and the plan was presented  . . . we had a fit because of “what kind of process is this?”  There’s no oversight of this project . . . they didn’t have to go through the ULURP process, which is the Unified Land Use Review Process by the City Council where you go to the Planning Board and from the Planning Board to the Borough Board then to the Planning Commission then to the City Council [for] a final decision.  Because it was state property, the rail yards, they didn’t have to go through ULURP.  But yet, they got money out of the City Council budget because the Mayor is supportive of it, the borough president, Marty Markowitz is supportive of it.” – Public Servant

Poor People Need to be Lifted out of Poverty

December 3rd, 2008

Civilians Actor Billy Eugene Jones
Photo: Adrian Kinloch

“Here’s the TRICK…you say to poor people that you need affordable housing.  POOR PEOPLE DO NOT NEED AFFORDABLE HOUSING. Affordable housing is something that makes being poor more comfortable.  So if your income level is here (left hand low) and the housing market is here (right hand higher than left)…rather than increase your income and bring you up to where you can afford a house…we’re going to leave you where you are and we’re going to build some new lesser quality houses down here (brings one hand down to other), where you are, so that you can stay poor…and being poor is now a little bit more comfortable.  POOR PEOPLE NEED TO BE LIFTED OUT OF POVERTY.  The idea is to do away with poverty not make poverty more comfortable.” – An Elder from Around the Way

Economic Apartheid

December 3rd, 2008

“I really felt it was a blatant misuse of eminent domain [proposed Atlantic Yards development].  I was hoping that the best thing would be to tear down Atlantic Center and put the arena there.  . . . .there were 2 other better sites . . . including Atlantic Center, which is just a horrendous situation.  Up until a few years ago, everything that went in there went out of business.  It is basically subsidized by the state, they have a variety of state offices there…That’s how Ratner gets his income base.  It’s not…Have you been there?  It’s not a pleasant place to shop.  I think I’ve only been there once.  It really hurt Fulton St., the mall.  Which used to have a Macy’s, a Martins, etc. . . . Here, [proposed Atlantic Yards footprint] Ratner owned a couple of parcels but he didn’t own everything.  He needed eminent domain and the powers of the state…And I’m a great believer in eminent domain for a public purpose.  It’s a dangerous route to take; a public purpose is NOT what gets a greater economic benefit in a place, that replaces a low-income or manufacturing or low tax-generating facility site, with a higher use.  Or a low-income family with a middle-income family, then it becomes very difficult.  Because you’re making an economic judgment and using an economic measure to guide policy. . . That’s economic apartheid.  And that’s what we’re beginning to see.   Even though it isn’t around racial segregation of people, it’s around the economic segregation of uses.  It becomes very dangerous.” – A Student of Jane Jacobs