Last night, we attended a viewing of “Some Call It Home,” a documentary on the gentrification of Downtown Brooklyn. Like many cities in America, Brooklyn is rediscovering and redeveloping its downtown. Old buildings have been torn down and glass-covered towers have shot up, often at the expense of lower-income residents. While the economic downturn may decrease the city’s development budget, not to mention the demand for luxury housing, long-established communities are already affected by empty storefronts and increasing rents.
The next district slated for development is Fulton Street Mall, a collection of mostly locally-owned businesses. It may not look like much, but it’s actually the third largest retail district in New York City, right behind Madison and Park Avenues. However, more and more companies have been evicted, their buildings seized by eminent domain, with the end goal of of creating “a cleaner, more contemporary physical environment on Fulton Street with improved landscaping, modern street furniture, and additional seating and public spaces. These new improvements will make Fulton Street a better place to shop and to do business. The project will start in early 2009 and should be completed by early 2011.”
The development plan also calls for commercial space, a new hotel, and luxury residences. While higher-income residents will bring more discretionary income, it seems unlikely that they’ll spend it at the current establishments, and many business owners are concerned they will be priced out.
Of course, the flip side of this argument is that development brings better-paying jobs and more tax dollars, and that a vibrant, exciting (but somewhat pricey) downtown is essential to creating a successful city. Can any city truly balance the needs of current residents with the demands of development? Should cities offer incentives to private developers if they increase an area’s wealth but turn it into a generic strip mall? And is the destruction of established communities part of the natural life of a city, or an unnecessary side effect? These questions are becoming increasingly significant for a growing number of cities across America – and the answers increasingly divisive.
“Some Call it Home” doesn’t conclude the debate but provides the necessary background for understanding the problem. Watch the trailer below: