A huge factor in contributing to the difference in opinion between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses is the idea that the automobile is the greatest influencer on the modern world. Robert Moses destroyed major cities and neighborhoods to push highways through cities; He believed this to be a progressive. Looking from the outside in, this idea of more roads and intersecting highways appeared physically appealing. However, there was little concern for the things that contribute to the sense of community within a city: the people. Jane Jacobs believed communities should be viewed from the street level. She opposed the belief that the car reigns supreme. But rather it is the people that inhabit these cities, those that walk, the social interactions between residents and business owners, the local businesses, etc. that contribute to the greatness of a city and foster a sense of community.
While I agree that the automobile is a great influencer on the modern world, I do not believe it is the greatest. There is a social component to cities that Jacobs acknowledges which is not taken into account by Moses. Putting so much pressure on the use of the automobile contributes to depleting this social component. If everyone got from place to place by use of a car, there would be less foot traffic in stores. There would be less interaction between people. There would also be much less hustle and bustle which is expected of a city area. Consider most of the smaller cities in the south; There is little life because of the lack of people seen on the roads and sidewalks. This is the total opposite of what comes to mind when people hear the word “city.”
The movie, “My Brooklyn” definitely appealed to the most sensitive parts of my inner being. The video focused on a super controversial topic, gentrification, by discussing the redevelopment of Downtown Brooklyn and various Brooklyn neighborhoods. However, I found the interview between Kelly Anderson, a white Brooklyn resident, and Craig Wilder to be the most interesting part of this film because he gave a lot of insight on the issue of Redlining and White Flight. “Redlining is the practice of denying access to credit and financial services to homeowners and prospective home buyers based on the perceived economic riskiness of a neighborhood.” These areas were being considered unworthy of investment and this was determined by the percentage of African-American presence. If an area was more than 5% black it was redlined. Wilder talks about growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was also redlined. His family owned a Brownstone home in the neighborhood. While the area was diverse during his mom’s time, in the mid-20th century there was a mass abandonment of white residents (White Flight) due to the lack of economic resources caused by the redlining. White residents that were in a more financially stable position to move out, did just that while Black residents were forced to stay in the area in isolation. The area became known as Do or Die Bed-Stuy. However, because other areas of Brooklyn are now becoming costly, white residents are relocating back to these low-cost neighborhoods. I applaud Kelly Anderson on acknowledging that she is a part of the problem. Though her only goal was to reside in a neighborhood that would allow her to live comfortably on her annual salary, she acknowledged that the change in demographic caused the businesses to change as well. As businesses changed, the cost of rent increased, forcing minority families out. The entire process is very upsetting. Hearing Mayor Bloomberg, developers, and city-planners talk about how these developmental changes are for the betterment of Brooklyn and seeing what it is doing to the communities and those that reside in them, causes me to wonder: What is a “better Brooklyn” in the eyes of these people of power? One with a little minority groups as possible? What is the fate of these minority groups? The whole thought is very sad and unfortunate.
On Thursday, we received a visit from guest lecturer and author of “Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal,” Joseph Alexiou. He debriefed is on the history of the Gowanus: where it came from, who built it, why is it there, what is being done right now to eliminate the contamination, etc. While it was very informative, I still struggled to keep up with all the information a bit. There are still many things that I am still confused about. However, I will discuss a few things that stuck and intrigued me.
He first introduced the Gowanus as a 1.8 mile long industrial body of water located in New Amsterdam. It was interesting to learn about Brooklyn in the past years as far as the evolution of boroughs/towns and how the Dutch made claim to this area. The Dutch used the creek as a source of transportation for boats carrying different materials. During the height of its use, the Dutch would use mill ponds to collect water during flooding. These mill ponds had houses and when water from rain fall collected, the wheel would turn and grains, peas, etc. would be grounded. I found it interesting how even back then, in a time of very little advancement, the Dutch settlers were able to adjust to an unavoidable situation and use it to their advantage.
The issue of flooding gives light to the attributes of the Gowanus from the past that still exists today. We discussed how the sloping roads/terrain in the area was a primary cause of flooding because the rain would run down to this central point. Such sloping is still evident in the Park Slope and the Gowanus area now. Also, the reconstruction of the Old Stone House of Gowanus (first strong building structure in NY), which uses some of the original material, is present in the middle of the park on 4th Avenue between 3rd and 4th street today.
I also feel like the lecture really helped us to understand just how polluted the canal really is. You hear the term “pollution” and you instantly think GARBAGE: plastic bags and styrofoam cups. But we really got in depth about what pollutants are actually contaminating the canal. The canal houses industrial waste going as far back as the time of the Dutch settlement from sources such as ink factories, paint factories, coal yards, sewage, etc. The Gowanus Canal has years worth of sediment layers containing fecal coliform, heavy metal, toxic waste, NAPL, etc. There are are so many layers that it appears as though the best solution, rather than digging it up, would be to cover it. I thought that was INSANE.
Crown Heights, Brooklyn is home to Ebbets Field Apartments and where I reside. Prior to being built, Ebbets Field Apartments was a baseball field and home to the Brooklyn Dodgers only about 50 years ago. So one could imagine that it has always been a fairly populated area attracting baseball lovers from all over. However, much has changed since then. Crown Heights is an urban area. Subway lines and bus lines include the B, Q, S, 2, 3, 4, 5, B49, B48, B43, and the B44. Nearly every fast food chain imaginable is within walking distance and with attractions such as Prospect Park, Prospect Park Zoo, The Botanical Garden, The Brooklyn Museum, and the Grand Army Brooklyn Public Library all within a 5 block radius one can be led to believe the area is primarily commercial. But these are the exact reasons why living here is so enjoyable.
Many of the residential buildings look the same; they’re all laid with reddish-brown brick and cement which gives the impression that they are sturdy and heavy. The bricks are not smooth, of course. They are rugged. There are little to no single family homes. Most of the residential buildings are multifamily homes or apartment buildings with 20+ stories. To me, this gives off a sense of peace, unity, and COMMUNITY among the residents. The 2-3 family homes appear average sized when standing in front of or next to them; they are not overwhelming at all. They’re quite welcoming actually. However, many of the apartment buildings like mine, for example, which varies from 21 to 25 stories and totals 1300 apartment units, can be seen from great distances away. So when standing in front of the building it almost feels as though the building can fall on you at any time.
The commercial buildings tend to be more exciting and ornate. For example, Medgar Evers College is next door to my apartment building and their buildings are made with 50% or more of glass. This makes the building appear luxurious and light in weight. Popeyes is another example. With its brightly painted colored exterior, drawing of trumpets and other instruments and fake balconies, it gives life to the southern (Louisiana) culture right here in Brooklyn. Other commercial spaces include numerous corner stores, Rite Aid, Buzz Night Club, numerous auto shops, cafes and bars, two major supermarket chains, a few different bank branches, and more. However, the area lacks clothing stores. One would have to head towards the Flatbush area to shop for clothing.
I would say the area contains an abundance of vegetation. We have your basic trees along the sidewalks. Many of the large apartment buildings have large gardens while the 2-3 family homes have front yards that tend to be rich in greenery. There are a few community gardens in the area and then we have Prospect Park, Prospect Park Zoo, and The Botanical Gardens, as mentioned previously, which are rich in greenery and flowers as well. This gives the residents in the neighborhood a real appreciation for nature.
The area is populated with an abundance of Black West Indians and Africans. Thus, there are many West Indian restaurants in the vicinity. However, gentrification is upon us. The cost of rent is increasing, forcing black families out and with all the attractions nearby more Caucasian families are moving in. Therefore, businesses that appeal to this racial group are now popping up. But at the moment the area is very diverse. Overall, I would say it’s a great place to live.