The protests against developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed basketball arena are getting more creative every day. On Sunday, February 22, Freddy’s bar hosted Eminent Dom-Aid: ten hours of live music, poetry, and other assorted entertainment. Organized by Carolynn Black, the event drew attention to the myriad of talents that call Prospect Heights home. It also was an opportunity for groups such as Develop Don’t Destroy to raise money and awareness in their continued fight against Ratner’s Atlantic Yards stadium, office, and condominium development.
Around Prospect Heights, one sees the hazard sign-styled banners of Develop Don’t Destroy in windows and on building walls. Meanwhile, attendees of a February 3rd comment-free Community Board 2 meeting held signs stating ‘The Community Says NO!’ Angry with the Borough President’s office—which, in the words of organizer Shellie Hagan, has been “disingenuous and nonsensical” in dealing with the neighborhood’s concerns—some used their allotted three minutes at a February 18th public hearing at Borough Hall to recite Shakespeare and quote from Alice In Wonderland.
The night at Freddy’s brought out many locals who find their community—and, in many cases, their homes—in jeopardy due to Ratner’s plan. Sam Zygmuntowicz, a violin maker who has “lived and worked in some combination” at 475 Dean Street for 15 years and been a resident of the neighborhood for 23 years, played a song called “Don’t Tear Us Down” with his band Jaybird. In it, he describes “waiting on the wrecking ball.” After his set, Sam explains, “I don’t call the protest NIMBY, I call it Not in My Living Room.” Noting the “essential injustice” of the whole proposal, he quipped, “I have a three year old. I’ve been teaching him if you want something, you don’t grab for it, you ask. Now no one is asking me.”
Freddy’s Manager Donald O’Finn takes issue with “public money for private gain.” On a personal note, he says of Freddy’s, “This is one of the best bars in New York City, which arguably makes it one of the best bars on the planet. That some guy can come in because he has money and railroad anything is fucked up.”
Ever since Forest City Ratner’s January bombshell, community opposition has been mounting. More and more residents of this quiet neighborhood have been speaking out at Community Board meetings, committee meetings of the Borough President, on the web, and on the street in an attempt to make more people aware of the implications of the Atlantic Yards development.
It hasn’t been an entirely uphill battle either. While Prospect Heights wrestles with visions of basketball and chain stores, residents of other neighborhoods are engaging in battles of their own as developers push to “give Brooklyn a skyline,” which is a central part of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan. As described on the City of New York’s website, this massive redevelopment initiative involves “a series of zoning map and zoning text changes” which would open up much of downtown for high-rise development of a scale not previously seen in the borough.
As a result, there’s a growing feeling that the powers that be fully intend to build a “New Brooklyn” full of gleaming office towers and Outback Steakhouses on the rubble of the very communities that people currently call their homes. Opponents in many neighborhoods are banding together to speak out about the very same things that people find disagreeable about Ratner’s plan.
While opponents of Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project are understandably worried, sitting at Freddy’s that Sunday, one can see that most are extremely confident. This is not the story of a community on its mortal bed, looking to fight the good fight, but expecting to lose. Rather, it is the story of people who work and live and play in this “blighted” neighborhood, love doing so, and plan on squaring off against the developer. “We’re gonna win this,” is the refrain from Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, and one feels after discussing the issues with her that they have the tools and the conviction to make this statement a fact.
Asked if he thinks the community is going to stop this development, Freddy’s manager O’Finn says, “actually, yes.” Talking with neighbors on that particular Sunday evening, one finds a Brooklyn vision different from the one coming out of Borough Hall. In this view, it will not be a basketball arena that ushers in change— instead, the very same residents that are now contributing day by day will continue to make Prospect Heights a great place to live. In this view, on the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue five years from today, there won’t be a new concrete and steel corporate complex, but instead a familiar place where people can get together for a couple of drinks with friends, enjoy some live music, and make themselves at home.
ContributorBrian J. Carreira
BRIAN CARREIRA is a writer living in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianCarreira.