My Brooklyn: How Bloomberg Destroyed Downtown

01/02/2013 4:00 AM |

My Brooklyn
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

7 Comment

  • I’m not so sure integrating neighborhoods is a bad thing. It’s pretty despicable to say otherwise. I now feel welcome on Fulton St, which is something I couldn’t say ten years ago.

  • one might counter that it’s “despicable” (seriously, dude?) to call displacement “integration.”

  • Martin Luther King espoused a world where children of all races walked together in unity. The fulton mall, as it was, was not united. In order to make an omelette, you have to crack eggs.

  • What’s despicable is how ignorant you are, Adam. Your arguments are ridiculous and childish. The last thing you need on this earth is to feel welcome in another low-income underprivileged neighborhood. Your white male privilege welcomes you into places in this world that most of us only dream of. How about we try “integrating” Columbus Circle and the Upper East Side next?

  • So entire ethnic, and socio-economic groups should be displaced in favor of high rise, high-end commercial development so that you, Adam, can feel welcome? Please rethink your comments. You invoke Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, which suggests some awareness of the sensitivites regarding gentrification.
    Thank you.

  • Yo Adam, I am a white boy who has always shopped at Fulton Street and I think all that stuff is in your head. If need be I could probably show you how to put a little bop in your step and some twang in your slang so maybe you might fit in a bit more, but honestly the only thing you need down there is cash to shop.

    I seriously can’t believe there is an Armani Exchange on Fulton Street, that is something I would have never believed. I am excited to see this movie to contribute to my thoughts on why Brooklyn has changed so much so fast.

  • The Albee Square Mall had been declining for *years* before it was razed. My parents used to take me there when I was a kid in the 80s. After a while there wasn’t much left to the establishment at all. (More information here:…) I’m not going to be nostalgic for the Albee Square Mall unless developers were going to restore it to its former glory and bring in some quality retailers.

    Re: Adam’s comment – “I now feel welcome on Fulton St, which is something I couldn’t say ten years ago.”
    I didn’t know that too many people not from a certain background were checking out Fulton Mall. I don’t think that Fulton Mall was not making certain people feel welcome. This is how I saw things: Certain people wouldn’t (cross over from Brooklyn Heights/BoCoCa/wherever to) go to the Fulton Mall because they chose not to. From what I’ve been told years ago the clientele used to be more diverse racially and economically. (See also Marty Markowitz’s comments in this article:…) Over the years as Fulton Mall changed, some of the clientele chose to go elsewhere. Now this type of clientele is coming back, and some of the less affluent clientele is being priced out. Don’t get me wrong; I like Starbucks, and some of the stores on Fulton Mall were junky, but there should be enough space for everyone.

    P.S. I’m still surprised that Macy’s, who had taken over A&S’s old spot, has managed to remain open all these years!