Never having abandoned the heartland

No doubt "Battle for Brooklyn" will be of most interest to New Yorkers, and particularly to people who live or work in the city's most populous borough. But the film's basic situation -- local residents and community activists vs. the development schemes of major politicians and big business -- is an archetypal element of urban life, one that can be found in almost any city, large or small, from Maine to California. What distinguished kazillionaire developer Bruce Ratner's plan to remake the center of "America's fourth-largest city" (to borrow the boosterish phrase of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz) was primarily its size and audacity, along with the fact that the ensuing battle turned very ugly and inevitably attracted the attention of the national media, much of which is headquartered a few miles away across the East River.

[. . .]

But I would never have denied that the dilapidated Long Island Railroad yard along Atlantic Avenue that Ratner picked as his centerpiece, along with the mixed-use area around it, was in need of revitalization. The question was more about how it would be developed, and who would get a say in the decision-making process. I think the same question was being asked all along by Daniel Goldstein and Shabnam Merchant, the activists who met and got married and had a daughter while the filmmakers were watching them fight against Ratner's plans.

Goldstein got involved at first by happenstance, because he lived in a condo building Ratner planned to demolish, and where he ultimately became the last holdout after every other owner had sold out. I'm not sure he and Merchant would put it exactly this way, but their struggle -- and those of a ragtag collection of local activists and residents -- eventually became more symbolic in nature, an act of resistance that was always likely to end in defeat. Among other things, they wanted to expose the way Forest City Ratner, the development corporation, had gamed the system by using its pull with powerful officials like Markowitz, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer, and had used odious and divisive racial politics to bulldoze local opposition.

As "Battle for Brooklyn" makes clear, TV news cameras were hypnotized by an easily comprehensible angle, the idea that the development fight pitted privileged white yuppie newcomers, who were a bit too easily offended by construction equipment, against poor, black longtime residents who wanted jobs, affordable housing and a Brooklyn basketball team. This was never true or fair. If anything, it was a perception deliberately created by Ratner, who funded "grassroots" community groups that hadn't previously existed, hired local black ministers as consultants and recruited the now-notorious ACORN to rally housing-project residents to his cause. African-American officials who actually represented the neighborhood, including City Councilmember Letitia James and the local assemblyman and state senator, were uniformly opposed to Atlantic Yards, and correctly perceived Ratner's promises of local jobs and affordable housing as empty. (‘“Battle for Brooklyn:’ in breaking news, Goliath beats David,” Salon, 17 June 2011)

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Really, Andrew?

You live in Brooklyn? That's just astonishing! Imagine a Salon writer who lives in Brooklyn....oh, wait. ALL Salon writers by edict must live in either A. Brooklyn (preferably Park Slope) or B. San Francisco/Berkeley.

It's amazing how you guys manage to bypass every writer in flyover country, thousands of cities, 48 states (and Guam and Puerto Rico!) and all types of writers from every religion, race, culture, ethnic group and economic level.

How many writers here are from (or working IN) the Midwest? The South? The Southwest? Rural Maine or urban Des Moines, Iowa? Arizona or Rapid City, South Dakota?

Huh. That would be NONE.

How many writers here are affluent, educated, WHITE, urban and live on the East or West Coast? Huh, that would be ALL OF THEM.

No wonder we have no diversity here of opinion or attitude or lifestyle or awareness of how the other 95% of American lives, works, thinks, dreams. No wonder you are clueless and wrong about almost everything.

Also, Andrew: there are no middle-class neighborhoods, nor middle class people in Brooklyn, or anywhere in New York City. That ended a long, LONG time ago when prices escalated past madness.

You may like to think you are middle class, but no middle-class person could afford to live in Brooklyn, where rents top $2000 a month for a small rental unit, and $500-600K for a small co-op or condo.

If you can afford these prices, which are standard for the area, you are not middle-class and you likely have NO IDEA what middle-class even means. The average household income in the US is around $45,000 a year, Andrew, which translates to about $2200 in take-home pay. In other words, it would require almost 90% of average American take-home pay for a family to live in just a 1 bedroom Brooklyn apartment (probably having to stuff the kids in a closet or large bureau drawer).

Either you are vastly above the mean (or median, or average, or all three) OR you are on the parental dole somehow to be able to afford to live there, OR (my own personal theory) you are not middle-class but well into the affluent class. Are you Bill and Melissa Gates? Of course not. But please don't insult real, struggling middle class families in American by claiming to be one.

Also: I don't know anything about Atlantic Yards, but I wonder why you think you have achieved "victory" in creating a wasteland of parking lots instead of AFFORDABLE homes for people who are not as wealthy and privileged as YOU ARE. Is this a kind of closet racisim? Isn't it true that no matter the corruption of the stadium deal (which I believe is likely true), what you really wanted to do is block low-income housing, and keep poor and working class people (ESPECIALLY those with black skins) out of your white, affluent, yuppie enclave? To protect your housing values, by keeping the area "upscale" and exclusive?

Interestingly, your colleague Mary Elizabeth Williams, wrote about this in great detail in her book "Gimme Shelter"; it was fascinating for me (far away in flyover country) to read about the obsession the literati has with Brooklyn, and certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and why (the chi chi coffeeshops and boutiques and restaurants, and "all the right people are there", etc.). It would have been a much more interesting article had you addressed any of this honestly. (Laurie1962)

Please cool your jets on the class warfare

At least when you have NO IDEA what you're talking about -- and I do mean you, Laurie or Laurel or whatever you're calling yourself these days.

(This is really irrelevant, but I won't resist: Yes, our writers mostly live on the coasts -- that's where writers gravitate to! Our current editor in chief, Kerry Lauerman, grew up in Indiana. Joan Walsh is from Wisconsin. Off the top of my head, other people in recent Salon history have been from rural Pennsylvania, Texas, upstate New York. There aren't any national journalism jobs in those places.)

Now then:

Median household income, United States of America, 2009: $54,554

Median household income, Brooklyn, NY, 2009: $42,932

That comes from the Census Bureau. You want to start this discussion over again?

Brooklyn is in effect a large city, with an economically, demographically and racially mixed population of 2.5 million people and all the associated problems that come with that. (Only about 36 percent of Brooklynites are white, despite what you may think you know from other sources.) It absolutely, definitely has middle-class neighborhoods, and mine, which was historically an African-American neighborhood of single-family houses and now is more mixed, is definitely one of them. (I don't live in Park Slope. Can't afford to.) And how much do you think a movie critic for an Internet publication gets paid, exactly? Trust me, my household income would not define me as "rich" in Oklahoma, let alone New York City.

As I think I made clear in the piece, African-American community leaders like Councilwoman Tish James, state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and the more progressive preachers were among the leaders of the campaign against Atlantic Yards. The collapse of Ratner's huge dream for the Yards only had a little bit to do with the activists, though, in the end. It was mostly a result of his grandiose overreach, since he didn't stick to undeveloped land and sought to condemn and drive out numerous residents and business owners, and even more than that a result of the financial collapse.

No one thinks those acres of empty land and parking lots are a victory. They are a monument to greed, pride and stupidity. And it wasn't people like Tish James or Dan Goldstein who were the proud and stupid ones. (Andrew O’Hehir)

Never having abandoned the heartland

The cultured go to Brooklyn/Berkeley, not really ESSENTIALLY because that is just where the jobs happen to be, but because it's prequisite to establishing them as natural aristocrats -- the best of the best, who not only know what real culture is and where it is most undistilled to be found, but have it them to insist on manifesting themselves there. What is important in their letting you know how they origined from Indiana et al. is not so much their having been born but their having LEFT there. They can pretend otherwise, and seem inclined to want to -- you turn instantly European and not-American if you just loathe on the stupidly unpretentious, Nabokov style -- but what they mostly want you to know is not that, at base, they're still of the working class, but rather that they're so much not that that even being born a world apart couldn't prevent them from junking it behind them, once independent and adult. They're showing their essential modesty in a savy way that mostly works to highlight their exceptionalism. They laugh when people understand them as elite, as they know that, even in living in a way they casually, easily admit to really, really enjoying, there is pretty much everyday sufficient aggrievances, humiliations, to make plain what they still mostly are, sigh, are at best modestly-empowered, and possibly most truly, anonymous and small. And because those aggrieved at them are so ignorant to jolt them to guffaw at the inflation and ridiculousness of their visions rather than to secure and consider their truths, they don't have to think on how their everyday true understandings of what it is to live "at court," which serves as ready counter, both shows them as not now merely newly arrived and makes them seem, I think, actually part of the complicated but undeniable nesting of manners and experience that produces the miracle of community, of civitas, that rightly draws subsequent others in.

Yet there is a sense that that this is all quickly becoming passe. Whereas before, to be relevant, to be truly part of "the discussion" with the distinct, those in focus, those that matter, YOU'D BETTER call this nexus your home -- or have gone to the right MFA schools, if not -- I think it's quickly becoming a place that will ID you as actually irrelevant, the wrong part of a publicly shared joke, really. It may be that right now if you want to secure a place as a relevant writer/thinker in the upcoming age -- which is different than just feeling safely ensconsed as one -- your best bet would be to NOT make the move to Brooklyn/Berekeley, as it'll make you seem ungrounded, detached, flighty, vain, thin -- opposite of hearty, and oblivious to the obvious. Better for you to really demonstrate your essential groundedness, your true proletariansim, your relevance in an age where bards must be of the same sinew and blood of the suffering -- else just be boutique -- to have never left Indiana. I think writers are cottoning on this. Look for more and more of them to announce -- in what really amounts to a self-serving, tactical move -- to their being possessed of that (now special) something that drew them, not to seek out New York, but to stay faithful to home. (Perhaps too, to their never having been part of any signficant MFA program, mostly out of sensed distaste for the kind of seekers, the enfranchised mama-boys and princesses, who'd find themselves there.)

The future in writing, I'm sensing, may belong much more to the Aaron Traisters (Pittsburgh) of the world than to the Rebecca Traisters (Brooklyn). They'll be the ones society will highlight; they'll be buoyed and sought out; and it's going to be bloody hard, as they posit their beer-bellies and craggy appearances smack down, immodestly, before us, to target them as they now really are -- elite. Our cultural critics are going to have to get really good, or these bullies are going to ride rickshaw ...

Link: “Battle for Brooklyn”: and in breaking news, Goliath beats David (Salon)


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