By Francesca Norsen Tate
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This weekend, a landmark Brooklyn church will present a viewing of the documentary My Brooklyn, a story of the tensions between revitalizing neighborhoods and protecting the well-being of citizens who already live and work in those communities.
My Brooklyn unfolds director Kelly Anderson’s personal journey, as a Brooklyn “gentrifier,” to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. The story begins when Anderson moves to Brooklyn in 1988, lured by cheap rents and bohemian culture. During Michael Bloomberg’s election as mayor in 2001, a massive speculative real estate boom is rapidly altering the neighborhoods she has come to call home. She watches as an explosion of luxury housing and chain store development spurs bitter conflict over who has a right to live in the city and to determine its future. While some people view these development patterns as ultimately revitalizing the city, to others, they are erasing the eclectic urban fabric, economic and racial diversity, creative alternative culture and unique local economies that drew them to Brooklyn in the first place. It seems that no less than the city’s soul is at stake.
Meanwhile, development officials announce a controversial plan to tear down and remake the Fulton Mall, a popular and bustling African-American and Caribbean commercial district just blocks from Anderson’s apartment. She discovers that the Mall, despite its run-down image, is the third most profitable shopping area in New York City with a rich social and cultural history. As the local debate over the Mall’s future intensifies, deep racial divides in the ways people view neighborhood change become apparent. All of this pushes Anderson to confront her own role in the process of gentrification, and to investigate the forces behind it more deeply.
Anderson meets with government officials, urban planners, developers, advocates, academics and others, who both champion and criticize the plans for Fulton Mall. Only when Anderson meets Brooklyn-born and raised scholar Craig Wilder, though, does Anderson come to understand that what is happening in her neighborhoods today is actually a new chapter in an old American story. Wilder relates his family’s experiences of neighborhood change over generations.
The film’s ultimate questions become how to heal the deep racial wounds embedded in our urban development patterns, and how citizens can become active in restoring democracy to a broken planning process.
The screening takes place on Sunday, Aug. 11 at 4 p.m. at the Church of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, Clinton and Montague streets in Brooklyn Heights. The suggested donation is $10. Everyone is welcome!