Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The New Brooklyn Skyline and the Ethnic Cleansing of Fulton Mall

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.

However, 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.

These 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.

That 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.