Directed by Kelly Anderson
Director Anderson is a gentrifier and she knows it. The Hunter College professor, a white lady, moved to Park Slope in the 80s and bounced around different nearby neighborhoods, infatuated by the lower rents and racial diversity—so she was troubled as more and more people of color were pushed out of the various communities in which she lived. “Except,” she says, “in Downtown Brooklyn.” Her documentary chronicles that neighborhood, specifically Fulton Mall, the eight-by-three-block shopping district once (recently) known for retail that appealed predominately to African-American and Caribbean-American consumers: black-history bookstores, barber shops and salons, soul-food restaurants, wigmakers, and street-table merchants, including one who boasts he has the biggest collection of Malcolm X recordings in probably the world.
Many of those places—and the people who ran them and patronized them—are now gone; more than 100 small businesses have been or will be displaced. A visit to the area in 2011 at the end of the film finds depopulated blocks lined with shuttered storefronts, new luxury-condo towers looming overhead. Anderson began filming in the early aughts, around when Bloomberg announced a plan to redevelop Downtown, with new office and residential towers, upzoning the area to allow for buildings five or six times the previous height-limit. But Downtown, Anderson convincingly and infuriatingly argues, was never a place in need of revitalization: it was a bustling commercial center, one of the city’s busiest and most profitable. The problem was cultural, which is to say racial: Downtown was a place that black people went to and white people didn’t; the city wanted to increase the area’s “retail diversity,” bringing in high-end chain stores to appeal to residents of new luxury housing.
My Brooklyn documents one of the last remnants of pre-Giuliani New York, capturing legendary locales like the Albee Square Mall, a meaningful place in hip-hop history, before they were razed. But it’s most valuable for its expository sections about the history of gentrification and urban development, going back to explicitly racist Depression-era redlining to explain how whites fled the cities and how blacks moved into neighborhoods abandoned by banks, government and the middle class. Above all, the movie does an excellent job of outlining how gentrification results from city policy—how the mayor has downzoned upper-middle-class neighborhoods to preserve their “historic characters” while upzoning lower-income communities to allow for the development of expensive new residential properties. “The process of gentrification in New York is not about people moving into a neighborhood and other people moving out of a neighborhood,” says Craig Wilder, a history professor at MIT. “The process of gentrification is about corporations sectioning off large chunks of those neighborhoods and then planning out their long-term development.” That is, don’t hate the hipsters—hate Bloomberg and his real-estate pals.
Opens January 4