Downtown Brooklyn Accountable Development Campaign

Organizing for Community-Led Economic Development and Against Gentrification:

Major urban centers in the United States are in the midst of a massive development boom. As a result, developers and corporate interests - aided by politicians at all levels of government - are initiating large-scale building projects in low-income communities that in many instances threaten the social and economic fabric, history and identify of those communities. In Downtown Brooklyn, the story is no different. The Mayor’s Downtown Brooklyn Plan, like many development plans happening around the City, places millions of dollars of public subsidies into the hands of developers who will permanently transform – and possibly eliminate – low-income communities. Residents of Fort Greene, particularly on Myrtle Avenue, directly across Flatbush Avenue from Metrotech, are affected by massive development due to the Downtown Brooklyn Plan’s rezoning. Land that for 30 years held a grocery, Laundromat and a 99-cents house wares store has now been emptied for a development project years away. Local residents are at a loss without basic services. Senior citizens from the community are forced to travel over 15 city blocks to purchase food and medication. Many communities in Brooklyn need public dollars for basic infrastructure and services like schools, housing, parks and job training, not stadiums or skyscrapers.

The existing community which lives, works and shops around Downtown Brooklyn and Fulton Mall has been shut out of the decision making process regarding redevelopment plans for several years going on decades. There is ample reason to believe that if these developments are allowed to go forward, the social and economic fabric of the community will be destroyed, and one more Black urban Downtown, rich in history and culture, will fall prey to gentrification. In order to prevent this from happening, we are working to ensure that the redevelopment plans are reopened and reexamined from the critical viewpoint of addressing existing community needs and history.

The Downtown Brooklyn Plan places millions of dollars of public subsidies and tax abatements into the hands of developers who will permanently transform our community without regard for the needs and history of the people who are already here. These public dollars are being siphoned from building community infrastructure and services such as schools, housing, parks and job training, to support high-end retail to replace an already thriving shopping district. Fulton Mall is the third largest dollar volume retail district in New York City (gross revenue of nearly $1 billion annually) and attracts as many as 100,000 shoppers a day. But despite the mall’s enormous success, the City of New York has declared this area to be "underutilized" and in need of revitalization. The majority of the businesses Downtown are owned by people of color, many from immigrant communities, who cater to the tastes and economic needs of largely African-American, African, Caribbean and Latino consumers. Despite modest means these shoppers have helped to make Fulton St. Mall the unprecedented success that it is today.

While the Plan says it will “creating a high-end global vision for Fulton Mall and integrating this vision in the overall scope of downtown Brooklyn,” neighborhood residents fear that existing development plans will dislodge the current community. Development efforts in the Downtown Brooklyn thus far, such as the development of Bruce Ratner’s Metrotech corridor in the 80's, have subsidized the creation of high-end office space for financial services companies with a dismal record of employing local residents. These are the very companies that city officials envision as major tenants for the new developments in the Fulton Mall area.

Since the early 19th century African Americans and other racial groups, social groups and houses of worship and in Fort Greene have shaped the area’s diverse development. Apart from the known history of the area’s settlement due to it’s proximity to the water and other NYC boroughs, the first “Coloured” school, where the Walt Whitman houses now stand, opened in 1847. Abolitionists formed the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1857, and hosted speakers such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and also aided in the work of the Underground Railroad. Half of Brooklyn’s African Americans lived in that area though labor competition for jobs at the nearby Navy Yard, forced black skilled laborers away. By the mid-1950’s, Fort Greene was in serious decline as a result of the earlier Depression forcing many homes to be derelict or abandoned. A growing number of newcomers reclaimed the area in the 1960’s by a movement led by Herbert Scott Gibson, an African American. All such historical events have gone on in what experts are calling an unusual history of racial and class diversity in this area.

Today, Parts of Fort Greene, particularly on Myrtle Avenue, directly across Flatbush Avenue from Metrotech, are experiencing the negative effects of massive development due to the Downtown Brooklyn Plan’s rezoning. Land that for 30 years held a grocery, Laundromat and a 99-cents house wares store has now been emptied for a development project 3 years away. Local residents are at a loss without basic services. Senior citizens from the community are forced to travel over 15 city blocks to purchase food and medication. The Ingersoll Community Center, rebuilt and beautiful, remains unopened, while area youth have no place to go while city funding to other area after school programs have been cut.

The existing community which lives, works and shops in Downtown Brooklyn and Fulton Mall has been systematically shut out of the decision making process regarding redevelopment plans. There is ample reason to believe that if these developments are allowed to go forward, the social and economic fabric of the community will be destroyed. Long-time residents will be displaced, economic gaps will widen and social disparity will be greatly accentuated. Additional social costs include increased vehicular traffic to the area (increased traffic accidents, etc.), decreased sunlight (detrimental to community greens space), diminished air quality and increased energy demands. In order to prevent this from happening, we are working to ensure that redevelopment plans are reopened and re-examined from the critical viewpoint of addressing existing community needs and history.

FUREE and the downtown Brooklyn residents that make up our membership are currently organizing for development plans that retain the character, culture and history of downtown Brooklyn while creating more affordable housing, living wage jobs, job training, and space for youth activities, child care centers, and green space/open space for families and consumers alike.

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