Brooklyn Beats: A Media Narrative on Gentrification, Growth, Class, Race, Whole Foods and Kiddy Punk

5th Avenue in Park Slope as it currrently looks in springtime. Photo by Jonathan Cohn.

Could I have avoided this? Was it my fault? Was I stupid to move here a month ago?

Doug Black, Safety Not Guaranteed, NY Press, Nov 21

Back in the 90s, many Park Slope residents saw no reason to spend time on 5th Avenue; it was deemed “questionable,” “unsafe for kids” and “run down,” hardly an extension of the Slope’s family-friendly ambiance. But a stroll on 5th in 2006 proves quite the contrary.

Atossa Abrahamian, Brooklyn’s Organic Renaissance, PSReader, Fall/Holiday 2006

Union Hall [newly opened on Union Street and 5th Avenue] has universal appeal. Need a drink? Looking for some live music? Are you a closet bocce champion? Heck, you can even get your milk and cookie fix here.

Anne Marie McKenna, The New Wave, PSReader, Fall/Holiday 2006

THE children whispering and fidgeting in front of the stage at Union Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn, looked like any kids awaiting, say, a storyteller. Then Zora Sicher and Hugo Orozco, the two 11-year-olds who make up the band Magnolia, climbed onstage and broke into a hard-driving original song called “Volume.” It was clear this was not quiet time.
“There’s like a huge, huge kid-rock scene here,” said Jack McFadden, known as Skippy, who booked the show at Union Hall. “It’s really very indicative of Park Slope, since so many of the parents who live around here are hip and have these hip little kids that they dress in, like, CBGBs T-shirts.”

Lucio Westmoreland and Care Bears on Fire performing this month at Union Hall in Park Slope, during the CMJ Music Marathon, in a showcase for bands of 10- to 17-year-olds. Photo by Joe Fornabaio for The

Jessica Pressler, Mama Was a Riot Grrrl?
Then Pick Up a Guitar and Play,
NY Times Styles, Sunday November 19

Located a few avenue down from Park Slope, Gowanus is not unlike 5th Avenue was a couple of years ago, and appears to be awaiting similar changes. … Organic megastore Whole Foods Market has made plans to build a franchise on 3rd Avenue between 1st and 3rd Streets.

Brooklyn’s Organic Renaissance, PSReader

The Gowanus Canal brings hours of family fun! You haven’t lived until you’ve paddled a canoe through the yards of feces and used sanitary products that bob playfully in the water. A wise person once said: You can’t spell Gowanus without ANUS.

A New Twist On Healthy Living, Random Brooklyn website

The supermarket’s site itself… does bring up a certain irony: Whole Foods purchased land containing toxic soil and gasoline storage tanks, which means that the company’s all-natural, pesticide free products will be sold at a location that is currently in dire need of environmental remediation.

Brooklyn’s Organic Renaissance, PSReader

The sign at the proposed Whole Foods Site in Gowanus. As printed on the Random Brooklyn web site.

Our goal is to sell the highest quality products that also offer high value for our customers. High value is a product of high quality at a competitive price.

From the Whole Foods Market Declaration of Interdependence,

As people get exposed to the foods that are healthier, they will also come to terms with the fact that those foods often cost more. (These people) will find that our co-op is a way to help reduce the cost by participating in a community run organization… while some may find it unnecessary.

Joe Holtz, General manager, Park Slope Food Co-Op, quoted in Brooklyn’s Organic Renaissance, PS Reader

The East New York Food Co-op, scheduled to open tomorrow, in time to supply Thanksgiving shoppers, will be a healthful addition to an area with high rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, and where French fries are easier to find than ripe tomatoes.

Lisa Amand, A Food Co-op Brings Together the Flavors, and the People, of East New York, NY Times Metro Section, Nov 19

“The Co-op abandoned a policy of searching everyone’s bags because some check-out workers were only searching the bags of people they suspected of being shoplifters – and often the accusation was based on race.”

Dana Rubenstein, Has lefty esthos at Slope Food Co-Op led to crime? Brooklyn Papers, November 11

Modeled after the successful Park Slope Food Co-op, whose members are helping clean, paint and stock the new shop, the East New York store will sell bulk grains, grass-fed meats, tofu products, spices and many vegetables grown without pesticides…
The 33-year-old Park Slope store has 12,800 members; the East New York store has 5. Still, Mr. Holtz is optimistic that it can succeed. “There might be unemployment in that neighborhood, but there are many people with jobs, with regular lives and with kids going to school,” he said.

“At the United Community Centers farm on New Lots Avenue in Brooklyn, Phillip Scott, left, 16, and Tannya Mercado, 18, picked produce to be sold at the East New York Food Cooperative. ” Photo by Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

A Food Co-op Brings Together the Flavors, and the People, of East New York, NY Times Metro Section

“The pickpocket seems to know how our organization works, that member labor turns over several times in a day, allowing him to come back everyday, sometimes twice a day, without being recognized.“

The Linewaiters Gazette, Park Slope Food Co-Op‘s in-house paper

“Most of the Co-Op Training is, ‘Hi, you’re a new member, you’re on our team, great, we’ll team you with this person.’”

Joe Holtz, as quoted in Has lefty esthos at Slope Food Co-Op led to crime? Brooklyn Papers

“Crown Heights is a perfect example of… transformation. It has undergone a miraculous change, as Brooklyn real estate agents never fail to mention. Crime is down and renters are getting a steal. Far from the powder keg of years past, it’s officially up-and-coming and a stone’s throw from Prospect Park.”

Safety Not Guaranteed, NY Press

“Black and brown folks have been driven out of central Brooklyn… we’re tired of being pushed out.”

Bertha Lewis, head of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, in The Battle For the Soul Of BrooklynNY Magazine, Aug 14

Though Brooklyn as a whole has been losing white residents for decades, the number living near the [Atlantic Yards] project site — in neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Boerum Hill and Prospect Heights — has grown steadily in recent years, according to census data.

Nicholas Confessore, Perspectives on the Atlantic Yards Development Through the Prism of Race, NY Times, Nov 12

“There’s a class of people who are going to the opera. And there’s a class of folks who will go to a basketball game and get a cup of beer.”

Assemblyman Roger Green, in The Battle For the Soul Of Brooklyn, NY Magazine, August 14

“Most people, if they’ve heard of this proposal at all, believe you’ve been hired to design a sports arena, to house the New Jersey Nets, a team owned by Mr. Ratner. Anyone who’s glimpsed the drawings and models, however, knows that other, larger plans have overtaken the notion of a mere arena. The proposal currently on the table is a gang of 16 towers that would be the biggest project ever built by a single developer in the history of New York City. In fact, the proposed arena, like the surrounding neighborhoods, stands to be utterly dwarfed by these ponderous skyscrapers and superblocks. It’s a nightmare for Brooklyn, one that, if built, would cause irreparable damage to the quality of our lives and, I’d think, to your legacy.”

Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, from An Open Letter To Frank Gehry, Slate Magazine, June 19

The view of the future Atlantic Yards from Carlton Avenue and Bergen Street. Photographs by Eric McNatt; Illustration by Jason Lee. Photo and Caption from The Battle for The Soul of Brooklyn, NY magazine, Aug 14

The [Forest City Ratner] Atlantic Yards plan, with its extensive use of eminent domain and its reshaping of the neighborhood with 16 skyscrapers, harkens back to a Robert Moses-era misunderstanding of what makes a community a neighborhood and sustainable in the long run…

Charles Wilson, Atlantic Yards In Black and White PSReader

“Black people need to know that if a white person can be forced from their home through Eminent Domain, it could happen to them too.”

Chris Owens, (unsuccessful) Democratic candidate for Congress, quoted in iJamming! 2005, at a March against Atlantic Yards

Particularly notable is how effectively (Bruce) Ratner has leveraged the politics of race and class in his favor, considering that the (proposed Atlantic Yards) development is primarily made up of luxury apartments and office space.

Atlantic Yards In Black and White, PSReader

“If this thing doesn’t come out in favor of Ratner, it would be a conspiracy against blacks.”

James E Caldwell, head of Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, as quoted in Atlantic Yards In Black and White, PSReader

Both BUILD and ACORN receive funds from Forest City Ratner.

Perspectives on the Atlantic Yards Development Through the Prism of Race, NY Times

A September poll by Crain’s New York Business shows that …. 26% of whites characterized themselves as somewhat or very unfavorable towards Atlantic Yards – compared to 30% of blacks. The opposition among residents who made less than $20,0000 was 29 per cent; among city residents who made more than $100,000, it was … 29 per cent.

Atlantic Yards In Black and White, PSReader

Demonstrators on a march to City Hall opposing the Atlantic Yards project. Photo by Tony Fletcher

The project’s leading political booster, Borough President Marty Markowitz, is white, and its leading opponent, Councilwoman Letitia James, is black.

Perspectives on the Atlantic Yards Development Through the Prism of Race, NY Times,

“Forest City Ratner has no significant diversity mixture. The company continues to operate in Brooklyn, where the general population is over 40% black and the company’s consumers are more than 70%…None of the 23 most senior executives we noted at Forest City Ratner are black.”

Rev. Dennis Dillon, Atlantic Yards News, 2005

The number of retail jobs that state officials say will be created by Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development ignores the reality of his two existing shopping malls directly across the street, where job performance has fallen short, according to Ratner’s own data.

Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls created a combined 1,680 jobs — a whopping 42 percent, or 1,220 jobs, less than what should have been created according to the state’s standard job-projection formula.

That state formula — one job for every 300 square feet of shopping area — is now being used to create the impression that Ratner’s Atlantic Yards’ proposed 247,000 square feet of retail space would generate 824 jobs.

Ariella Cohen, Ratner Jobs Fall Short, Brooklyn Papers, Nov 11

“Those are jobs that [will] go to people in our community,” said Ayesha Morgan, a Fort Greene resident who worked at the Atlantic Terminal Target.

Ratner Jobs Fall Short
, Brooklyn Papers

From East New York to Brooklyn Heights, we’ve come to recognize that the appeal of Brooklyn is that it exists on a human scale, and it allows the type of “eyes on the street” and face-to-face interactions on the sidewalk and common area that Jane Jacobs said we so important to the social fabric of urban communities.

Atlantic Yards In Black and White, PSReader

“There is a palpable social naivete where people, like myself, assume a level of security based on improved crime statistics in the New New York, so much so that they abandon a healthy sense of fear.”

Illustration accompanying Doug Black’s essay Safety Not Guaranteed in the NY Press

Safety Not Guaranteed, NY Press,

Ratner’s design flies in the face of everything we’ve learned over the past 50 years about what makes communities successsful, regardless of the ethnic make-up of the neighborhood.

Atlantic Yards In Black and White, PSReader

Before I could process the event, I toppled to the pavement, dizzy and confused. I instinctively covered my face to the sea of pounding limbs and barked orders. I surrendered all control over the situation, and one frenzied moment later, it was over. I listened to the fading echo of sneakers hitting asphalt and assessed my condition. My ears were ringing and stabbing pain pulsed through my head. My bag and all of its contents were gone. Two weeks earlier, the FBI reported that in New York City, there’s only a single crime for every 37 citizens. Lying on the garbage-strewn sidewalk, I realized I was that one.

Safety Not Guaranteed, NY Press,

More than a few of New York’s baby-face rockers have famous parents in the entertainment business, who have encouraged their children’s artistic streaks and served as role models for professional success. Lucian Buscemi, 16, the son of the actor Steve Buscemi, along with Julian Bennett-Holmes and Jonathan Shea, both also 16, have become something like the kingpins of the Park Slope kid-rock scene.

Mama Was a Riot Grrrl? Then Pick Up a Guitar and Play,
NY Times

Entering my building, I wonder if this is one of the last times I’ll call this apartment home. I envision the future neighborhood, devoid of grimy bodegas, and I can see strollers and Starbucks dotting the street. Then again, I’d probably have to move to the next danger zone to afford the rent.

Safety Not Guaranteed, NY Press

Instead of offering the 100 cheeses available at the Park Slope co-op, the East New York store will sell basic, inexpensive foods chosen to appeal to area residents. “There will be eight kinds of cheese, nothing more exotic than Jarlsberg,” said Ms. Jones-Daley, who added that she hopes the store can recruit members from surrounding neighborhoods, in part by selling goods at lower prices than supermarkets or bodegas.

A Food Co-op Brings Together the Flavors, and the People, of East New York, NY Times Metro Section

The issues that Whole Foods Brooklyn raises are indicative of the underlying ups and downs of urban living. Gentrification happens ruthlessly and relentlessly but it can create good jobs and somehow benefit the environment. Housing costs will rise, and people will move out, only to invest in new areas and begin a new vicious cycle. You win some, you lose some – and that is the unfortunate, but strangely balanced consequence of living in one of the world’s most exciting and diverse cities.

Brooklyn’s Organic Renaissance, PSReader

5th Avenue in Park Slope as it will look once dwarfed by Frank Gehry’s Atlantic Yards showcase, Miss Brooklyn.

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1 Comment(s)

  1. 22 November, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Criminy, but that’s a lot to read. A veritable smorgasbord and just in time for the biggest gorge-day of the year.

    But I can’t help but wonder: Couldn’t you just summarize it all in, like 100 words or so? Or post it as a vid on YouTube? :)


    P.S. – The New Wave link to the PDF is broken. Here‘s the correct one.


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