Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thoughts on the Williamsburg Domino-Development Documentary that Screens Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 9:00 AM

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The Domino Effect, a 50-minute documentary, is a solid primer on the Domino development in Williamsburg—and a harsh critic. More broadly, it seeks to link the death of American industry with the maneuverings of the Bloomberg administration to lay the blame for the displacement of working peoples from neighborhoods throughout New York City—to varying degrees of success.

The problem with Domino, the film suggests, is what it represents: the triumph of real estate as the economic engine of the new New York over old New York's manufacturing sector, which sustained the working class for generations. As one resident points out, a city needs both housing and industry to survive and thrive. Domino was once the flagship sugar refinery of the country's largest sugar company, employing at its height 4,500 workers; when it's finally developed, it'll be home to 2,200 new apartments, as many as 30 percent of them "affordable," the rest luxury.

This transition to a real estate economy, especially in Williamsburg, was precipitated by the Bloomberg administration: its 2005 rezoning, passed by the City Council, allowed for mass waterfront and inland development of previously industrial properties. (Unfortunately, the housing boom was quickly stalled by the recession, leaving hulking half-built towers where small manufacturing concerns once stood. Too often in Williamsburg, the film points out, jobs have been lost, and new housing hasn't even been built to replace it.)

But if the Bloomberg administration can be held responsible for facilitating the transition to an unsustainable real estate economy—with everybody else working in retail, making the city just a place where the rich people buy things—I'm not as convinced, as the film argues, that the mayor was also to blame for the death of the manufacturing sector. Domino did once employ 4,500 people, as I said, but that was in 1919. By 2001, before Bloomberg took office, it had fewer than 300 employees. When the factory closed in 2004, the city promised that it would remain zoned for manufacturing, but quickly broke that promise. But would retaining those few industrial jobs have made a difference against a larger national trend toward deindustrialization? Do that many jobs substantially affect the economic health of a community?

I don't know! But engaging with the film and asking such questions is the point. It's being screened as part of Filmwax's monthly Brooklyn Reconstructed documentary film series, which will include a Q&A with the filmmakers, members of the community, and anyone else who shows up. So go see it—and ask your own questions.

The film screens tonight at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture in Park Slope. More information here.

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