Kelly Anderson’s acclaimed 2012 film “My Brooklyn” follows her journey as a “Brooklyn gentrifier” trying to understand the forces reshaping the various neighborhoods she has lived in since 1988. The filmmaker collaborated with Allison Dean, a journalist and urban planner, on the project, which hones in on Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall between 2006 and 2012.
Anderson, who now lives in Sunset Park with her daughter, will be screening her film locally on Saturday, March 12 at 4pm — followed by a Q&A — at Irish Haven (5721 4th Avenue, near 58th Street). Those interested in attending the screening can rsvp at email@example.com.
1. Tell us a little about “My Brooklyn.”
The film documents the makeover of Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall, a bustling and profitable African-American and Caribbean commercial district that was viewed as a failure by the city and by many newcomers to Brooklyn. As a hundred small businesses were displaced to make way for luxury condos and chain retail, Allison and I uncovered the people and policies that were driving this seemingly natural and beneficial neighborhood change.
The film’s ultimate question becomes, who has a right to live in the city and determine its future?
2. Why show the film in Sunset Park now?
In Sunset Park we have seen the transformation at Industry City, which displaced manufacturing tenants and then artists. Now that site is hosting the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, two events that are clearly aimed at attracting a more affluent, “creative class” demographic to the neighborhood.
Recently a discussion happened on the Sunset Park Parents listserv about the fact that we now have five upscale coffee shops in the neighborhood, and what that means. We talked about how neighborhood change be policy-driven, and what we might do to protect the area from the displacement of tenants and small businesses that inevitably seems to come as an area gets targeted as “desirable” for development. Some residents decided to organize a screening of My Brooklyn as a way into discussion of these issues, and that’s why the screening is happening. People will be coming from community based organizations and hopefully the Community Board as well. I am looking forward to a productive and rich discussion.
3. Can you talk about some of the changes people are seeing on the ground in Sunset Park since the arrival of Industry City?
Just the aforementioned coffee shops. Housing prices have gone up by at least 50 percent since I moved here six years ago. I read a while ago that some landlords are not taking Section 8 vouchers anymore. I’m sure there are situations where tenants are being forced to pay illegally high rents in rent-stabilized apartments, but I am extrapolating from what I heard about in other Brooklyn neighborhoods.
4. Whose fault is gentrification? Or is it a natural result of several forces?
I don’t think the word gentrification is very useful. I think the problem is the speculative use of land to make money, and the government helping real estate interests do that by changing the laws to accommodate them. I don’t blame a family for selling a brownstone in the neighborhood if they want to cash out, nor can I blame the person who buys it to live in.
The problems are 1) the displacement of renters who can’t afford their rent as it goes up 2) illegal harassment and displacement of renters from their housing 3) the absence of any laws that would protect commercial tenants – there is a huge crisis of small business closing in the city due to exorbitant rent increases extortion by landlords 4) rezoning by the city that accommodate the needs of big developers but don’t deal with the real needs of neighborhood or affordable housing and economic development.
5. The New York Times recently dubbed the western half of the neighborhood Sunset Park West and declared it one of the hottest up-and-coming neighborhoods. What are your thoughts as a resident and someone who has examined gentrification patterns?
What can I say? It’s happened to every neighborhood I’ve lived in. I think residents are more informed and active now, though.
6. Since we are Sunset Park Voice, we need to ask: What your favorite thing about Sunset Park?
The diversity of people that I share the neighborhood with.