Just Because It's My Brooklyn Doesn't Mean It Can't Be Yours

Fulton_Street_Mall_by_David_Shankbone_crop.jpg
David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons
Fulton Street Mall
On Saturday afternoon, Rerun Theater at Rebar was full. It seemed only fitting that even the name of the place is a do-over, its chairs the back seats from old minivans--and not just because Rerun is a venue for post-film festival movies that don't yet have distributors. Today the theater was screening Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean's My Brooklyn, a documentary about gentrification, public policy, and community in and around Downtown Brooklyn. In the film, Anderson unearths the political catalysts and private interests behind the gentrification of the borough she now calls home. It's worth noting that Rebar is in DUMBO, a neighborhood whose name is short for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass," and which was adopted in the late 1970s by residents of the area, hoping that its ugliness would deter developers. It didn't.

There's that saying about New York being made by the people who move there. Anderson, a Montreal transplant, has no patience for that idea, because it conveniently dismisses the contributions and legitimacy of the people who were born in the city. When she moved to a mostly black and Puerto Rican Brooklyn in 1988, Anderson lived blocks away from the now-demolished Albee Square Mall, where hip-hop got its start. So what happened to the Albee (now the site of City Point, the mixed-use mega shopping hub), where venerable Jewish department store Abraham and Strauss used to carry Fubu clothing and gold chains, where Snoop Dogg and Funkmaster Flex used to shoot music videos in the 1980s? It was a casualty of the eternal search for cheap rent.

Was the borough of the 1970s and '80s the real Brooklyn? Photographs taken by Jamel Shabazz, which open the film, seem to say so. Sometimes in color and sometimes a wistful black-and-white, they mostly depict African-Americans in and around Downtown Brooklyn--a little girl drinking from a hydrant, lanky young men in tiny shorts carrying a boom box. Anderson underscores that feeling of nostalgia with interviews from local residents and business owners in what's left of the Fulton Mall. What's Downtown Brooklyn?, she asks them. "It's got an urban feel," says one young black man. "It's free." Rahsun Houston, a social worker who grew up selling flowers on a corner in Downtown, remembers the mall as an icon. Then he walks Anderson down a shuttered Duffield Street. "To be honest, I don't come down here much anymore, because there's nothing left for me to come down to."



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