On Tuesday we watched the movie Citizen Jane – Battle For The City, which was a documentary about developer Robert Moses vision for New York and how Jane Jacobs fought to stop these changes. One thing that really stood out to me was Robert Moses obsession with highways. He was willing and ready to literally destroy anything to build a highway thinking that was the future of New York City. An example of this was how Moses plowed through the Bronx to build the Cross Bronx expressway, leaving hundreds of people with nothing but an eviction notice. During the movie as we watch him in an an interview regarding this development he showed no remorse or compassion for these people. While when he tried to make a highway going through the Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village Jane Jacobs and a assemble of other mothers rallied together to stop these plans. These two circumstance are perfect example of race and class differences. While Jane Jacobs wasn’t an activist from the start but her journalism background, environment, and resources helped her be successful. The community in the Bronx were in the same predicament as the community in the “My Brooklyn” movie, where they weren’t aware of the situation or taken into consideration. At the end of the day, we have Jane Jacobs to thank for the the city we have today, because her role in Greenwich Village lead to her getting involved with other areas in the city that know and explore today. We also have Robert Moses to blame for the decay of South Bronx. Something Jane Jacobs said was “ the city is a problem of organized complexities…..it looks like chaos but when looking in closer there’s a balance”, Robert Moses never tried to look closer
After watching the movie “My Brooklyn”, my reaction towards it was anger. This movie was a perfect example of gentrification in Brooklyn, and how minorities and the lower and middle class always end being the losers. The film starts describing around the great depression they started to red line neighborhoods and neighborhoods with more than 5 percent of blacks in the area the neighborhood were given a D rating, in a sense that these neighborhoods were bad or low down, primarily based on a race. Fast forward to the 2000s Downtown Brooklyn to outsiders is this run-down area but to the minorities that live and shop there it’s a vibrant community full of life. Suddenly the city and developers realize the potential of Downtown Brooklyn and start reshaping the characteristics of it.
What upset me the most about the changes that occurred was that there was no compensation to the people that were already there. For example the bagel shop and barbershop were given 30 day notice to leave, where they have been working for years. So now they have to figure how they are going to find another place to rent, where they are going to put their equipment, and how are they going to survive. Or how when the community the ban together to be involved with the new development, all their concerns were disregarded. How can you displace people like that, or view them as unimportant. Then on top of that develop buildings that don’t help the community that’s already there. And it seems whatever the community tried to do was just dismissed.
At the end of the day as a minority it’s hard watch a movie like this because it’s so accurate to what we face today. For someone to view my neighborhood as an area that needs to be upgraded, but the only way to do that is to kick out everyone that looks like me is messed up. Minorities constantly can’t catch a break and people have the nerve to ask why we are mad? I’m not saying that change is bad because it does have benefits but developers and the city needs to work with what’s already there. Don’t see minorities as a problem because Downtown Brooklyn was always the same, it’s everyone else that that saw what everyone who was already there saw. That’s why we need to stay aware of what’s going around us, because this is our Brooklyn
Last week we had guest speaker Joseph Alexiou who is the writer of Gowanus: Brooklyn Curious Canal. It was fitting for us to have Joseph with us after going to the Gowanus area ourselves and exploring the neighborhood yet, Joseph Alexiou gave us an in depth history, development, and future of the Gowanus area. One thing we learn is when the Dutch first settled in Brooklyn it was farm land, you could grow vegetables, fruits, and there were even oysters in the Gowanus canal. Being a Brooklyn native it’s hard to imagine Brooklyn being anything other than an urban area.
Something I appreciated was that we visited the Gowanus Canal before the lecture because it made it easier to visual the rich history we learned from Joseph. For example we learn Edwin C. Litchfield had a huge involvement with the development of Brooklyn. He established trade along the Gowanus Canal, where many barge ships would pass and dock; this created a lot of diversity. Litchfield saw Brooklyn as an up and coming area which is still true until this day. On the other hand, all improvements have it’s faults such as people who were poor living around the Gowanus Canal which was polluted by nearby factors, engulfed by a horrid smell, flooded often, and had a high crime and death rate. Also because of the high amount of barges being transported bridges would stay open which caused a lot of traffic. A fun fact I learned that is that 3rd street is wider than any other street in the area because that’s where Edwin C. Litchfield office and house was located, and it has twice as many street lamps.
A quote Joseph Alexiou said was “all of Brooklyn stories relate to real estate”. This applies to Gowanus because all the issues is becoming an up and coming area that people want to move to, so developers are swarming to get property to build. Unfortunately for developers the Gowanus became a Superfund site, which means it’s an area that’s polluted requiring a long-term response to clean up the hazardous material contamination. At the end of the day the Canal is still polluted and waste is still flowing into it. People like Bloomberg didn’t want Gowanus the be a Superfund site because once you claim an area is toxic how can you market luxury apartments in that same area. The city of New York even tried to convince the government that they would clean the Gowanus better and cheaper than the Superfund organization just because they knew they would have to pay for the Superfund site clean up. In the end the Superfund organization won which slowed down development not completely stopping it. It’s estimated that the canal won’t be cleaned until 2030.
Altogether I learned a lot from Joseph Alexiou lecture that I can pass down to others. He was informed, upbeat, and held our attention throughout the time. I also liked the fact that you can tell he did extensive research to stand to talk to us about this subject, since he cited so many resources. Joseph lecture help realize that as a New York I sometime take where I live for granted for not learning more about what’s going on around us. So from this moment on I’ll try to go explore different area, and learn about the history and what’s in store for it’s future.