What We Talk About When We Talk About Gentrification: A Conversation With My Brooklyn Director Kelly Anderson

09/18/2012 3:48 PM |


A few different people in the film mention that issues of gentrification and displacement are often less about new, more affluent residents moving into neighborhoods than the government-approved corporate development that inevitably follows them (whether it’s wanted or not). The city obviously plays a large role in this – are there specific policies or safeguards that you think could alleviate this problem and help to keep neighborhoods affordable even as they change? Is a healthy symbiosis of old and new residents possible and realistic?

I don’t know if it’s realistic, but it’s certainly possible to do development in ways that promote more equity and less inequality. Many planners and policy people have come up with creative ideas and plans for other cities. Certainly New York City should zone more carefully and specifically in places like Downtown Brooklyn, so that a plan that was originally intended to create offices and 18,000 jobs doesn’t morph into a luxury residential boom without any oversight or accountability to those who passed the original plan. Commercial rent control is another really important tool that other cities have but that is totally opposed by the Bloomberg administration — in fact they have created a very friendly environment for big box chains, and less supportive of small business, as evidenced by the stories in the film. Residential rent control is really important also.

The are programs in place now that give developers an incentive to include 20 percent affordable units in exchange for greater height limits. The problem is that these units are generally not affordable to the population that’s getting displaced — they are based on the average income for the entire metropolitan area. Also there’s very little monitoring to make sure those units remain affordable — so I’m not sure that really is working to preserve neighborhood diversity and stability.

Given your own experiences, what would your advice be to newcomers to neighborhoods that are traditionally more working-class? Would you advise them against moving into the area? Do you think there are specific ways to avoid creating an unintentionally negative impact?

As Craig Wilder says in the film,”Gentrification isn’t about people moving into a neighborhood, and other people moving out of a neighborhood. It’s about corporations.” Everybody needs housing, and people are going to go where they can find housing they can afford in neighborhoods they like. It’s inevitable and part of what has given New York City its character over generations is the influx of new people. So I’m not against individuals moving into Brooklyn. What the film emphasizes is the extent to which city policies like zoning and developer subsidies have increased real estate speculation and spurred development that has had a negative impact on the communities least able to defend themselves. So the end result of government action has been, in the case of Downtown Brooklyn, massive profit for private developers (some of whom came up with the plan in the first place), the displacement of more than 100 small businesses, and the complete obliteration of a deep-rooted successful black commercial and cultural space.

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