Every time I drive down Flatbush Avenue towards the BQE on my way to work, I see another new building going up, giving downtown Brooklyn a "skyline" it never possessed before, save the Williamsburg Bank Building. To some, this may be a sign of economic progress, of new jobs, a growing tax base, of growing energy and vitality giving the borough a reputation for dynamism and hipness known around the world.
when you consider what these buildings are, and what was there in those
neighborhoods 10, 20 or 30 years before, you may, as I am worry that
this development is to say the least, a double edged sword.
new structures are not office buildings. They are residential towers
where apartments will be rented, or condominiums sold, for astronomical
prices. Many of these apartments will not even be occupied. They are
being purchased as pied a terres, or investments, but the global rich.
Their residents, if you can call them that, will not be active voting
citizens concerned for the health of their communities. They sole
concern, other than their safety on the occasions when they are present,
will be the status of their investment.
What is also
concerning is the impact these structures are having on rent levels in
every nearby community, as well as the quality of commerce and street
life in the areas where they are located. Almost without exception,
these new structures adjoin an area that was once known as Fulton Mall, a
place which was the epicenter of Black commerce, politics and street
life in downtown Brooklyn. It is here people of African descent, in all
their variety congregated, on weekdays and on weekends, in the tens of
thousands, where you could find book sellers, pamphleteers, and people
selling mixtapes, along with food and clothing from every portion of the
Disapora, as well as clothing stores and appliance stores which catered
to this largely working class and immigrant population which lived in
easy access by subway of Fulton Mall.
It is no accident
that some of the greatest hip hop artists in history grew up a stone's
throw from Fulton Mall, or within easy subway access and every single
one of them frequented the area. The police presence was visible, but
not highly militarized. This was Black Brooklyn territory and people
kept their peace with one another. There were children and families at
all times of day and night and the vitality of the space was palpable.
special space, and special feeling is quickly eroding. The police
presence is greater, the rents are higher, and the stores catering to
working class and immigrant clientele are being pushed out. The ethnic
and class cleansing of what were once predominantly Black neighborhoods,
Fort Green, Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy is proceeding with breakneck
speed, and the epicenter of Black Brooklyn is increasingly shifting to
Flatbush, East Flatbush and Canarsie.
The emerging Brooklyn of empty towers and militarized police may to some be a step forward.
But all I feel is a tremendous sense of loss.