“My Brooklyn” is a moving, informative but ultimately very sad documentary about how a vibrant diverse neighbourhood can be wiped out by the forces of gentrification.
It is a story about the rapid transformation of Brooklyn and its impact people’s lives. But it offers wider food for thought about how the global process of gentrifying low-income urban neighbourhoods continues to advance.
The story focuses on Fulton Mall, an affordable downtown Brooklyn shopping area and low-rent district. In the 1980s it became the hub of hip hop and the nucleus for African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. It was a diverse place with many possibilities.
The film includes extraordinary photographs from Jamel Shabazz who provides a pictoral history of Brooklyn in the 1980s and captures what was and is in danger of being lost.
By 2000 the surrounding areas had become dominated by white people and more upwardly mobile. Some of the people in the newly gentrified neighbourhoods expressed overt class and racial contempt for Fulton Mall and its culture.
However, the planned destruction of the neighbourhood began in earnest with the 2002 Downtown Economic Plan.
The elite decided that downtown Brooklyn shouldn’t be left to things of little value like Fulton. The agenda was driven by the Brooklyn Partnership group that was dominated by developers ruthlessly determined to upscale the area and create a huge profit windfall.
The initial plan focused on massive expansion of office towers. However in the end a different kind of market frenzy ruled and a flood of new luxury high-rise condos sprouted.
This was all made possible by major changes to zoning. Zoning in the area was radically upscaled.
A community-based Black and Latino group called Furee did its best to organize and fight the changes but were frustrated by innumerable obstacles and the power of Big Money.
Many small businesses that catered to the community were evicted. Meanwhile, gentrifiers openly boasted of the classy new stores and major chains moving into the neighbourhood.
As one man laments, “Now I don’t hardly go back to downtown Brooklyn any more; there is nothing for me.” The filmmaker Kelly Anderson laments the fact that much of Brooklyn became much less diverse as it gets far less affordable. Black and Latino communities are displaced and pushed further to the outer margins of the city.
The film has an uncanny similarity to what is happening now in the DTES and serves as a warning to us. It is a haunting story of what can be lost unless we learn from experience and find ways to stop gentrification.
”My Brooklyn” was shown as Vancouver’s Doxa film festival. Carnegie Community Centre Association president Gena Thompson was there to speak about the shared struggle of low-income people in the DTES with those in Brooklyn. The film makers were also present.