Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Road To Brooklyn": Jay-Z's YouTube channel massages the Atlantic Yards story into "change is inevitable" and it's a "win-win"

The message of Road To Brooklyn: Down By The Yards, a six-minute initial installment of a web series on Jay-Z's YouTube channel, is unsurprisingly this:
  • change is inevitable
  • Brooklynites--especially those associated with the music industry--are enthusiastic about the arena
  • marginalized opponents are the cause of delayed benefits
  • it's a win-win (according to Borough President Marty Markowitz)


That's thanks to some artful interviewing, selective footage, and unwillingness to do journalism. But this isn't journalism, so there's no acknowledgment of the Culture of Cheating. It's this:
In the premiere episode of ROAD TO BROOKLYN, JAY Z's Life+Times looks at how the Barclays Center arena and new home of the Brooklyn Nets arena came to become a fixture in the borough.
Starting off

So it begins with a woman, Shanelle Gabriel, who expresses her initial worries--can people afford to live here?--but then segues to say that people accept it, "this is a change." (Unmentioned: she's featured on HBO's Def Poetry Jam.) Then comes the pulsating "Brooklyn, We Go Hard" and a gallery of faces of the people interviewed.

The next interviewee, Johnny Famous, pronounces, "It's a good look for the neighborhood." (Unmentioned: he's a hip-hop personality.)

Then, Donald Kapkel, "fourth-generation Brooklynite," declares, "I have a deep, deep love for Brooklyn, and Brooklyn history, but change is inevitable." (Btw, his name that does not show up in any records search.)

Then Christopher Her declares, "The Barclays Center is amazing, man. I can't wait for it to be done. I think it's going to be a major improvement to Brooklyn."

Tommie Sunshine, a music producer, declares, "I love the fact that it's going to be walking distance from the house."

"With change comes great prosperity," declares Howard Grandison, "and this could be one of those things." (The New York City Independent Budget Office thinks differently. But the names Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov are not mentioned.)

"I'm excited to see how the arena is going to jump into the culture and artistic movement that has already begun," declares Artesia Balthrop, described as "producer."

(According to what seems to be her Twitter bio, she is associated with Jay-Z's channel.)

Enter Goldstein

At about 1:10 in, the music becomes more muted. We meet a rather soft-spoken Daniel Goldstein in the back of his Park Slope apartment, who describes how he used to live in a building that was located in what's now center court.

Cut to some excerpts from the documentary Battle for Brooklyn--first, Goldstein describes his apartment, then he appears awkwardly at the podium for a very early press conference. The movie, of course, tracks his evolution to a polished and powerful public speaker; this does not.

"The fight against Atlantic Yards, the fight to kill the project, which is what the fight was, is over," Goldstein says on camera, apparently interviewed months ago. "It's two years since the groundbreaking for the arena, moods change"--and here it sounds like a video cut--"you do have to move on."

I'm not clear what Goldstein said in what was clearly a much longer interview (update: he's since said they ignored all his criticisms), but suffice it to say, people have both moved on and not; Goldstein was integral to demonstrations around the time of the arena opening that aimed to point out unfulfilled promises and suspect processes behind Atlantic Yards.

An unrebutted neighbor

Then comes Wayne Bailey, described an "Atlantic Yards resident," which is impossible--there's no housing. Rather, he lives in Newswalk, the large apartment building just east of the arena between Pacific and Dean Streets, and has devoted significant time to documenting abuses during the construction process, including for Atlantic Yards Watch, an initiative unmentioned in this episode.

"This is an attractive nuisance," Bailey declares, explaining that construction workers tear downs signs to create free parking. "There's been a rat problem, during the day," he says, noting that construction workers leave bags of trash on the street.

"Here's a Poland Spring bottle, and it's green," he adds, indicating that maybe it wasn't water. Bailey goes unrebutted, and soon we move on.

Pronouncing on the "wasteland"

"Atlantic Yards, man, was just this big vacant wasteland," inaccurately declares radio show host (and former hip-hop executive) Reggie Osse aka Combat Jack, surely earning approving smiles from Forest City Ratner. "It was just a great big hole that took up a lot of space. A lot of drug use, a lot of drug activity. Prostitution. It wasn't safe at all. So it is an improvement."

First, not just a "hole." The railyard is 8.5 acres of a 22-acre site. Ratner and the state don't control the whole site. Ratner hasn't even paid for most of the railyard. And the crime--well, he says it even better (and more inaccurately) than AKRF, the consultant that did the Blight Study for the state.

Reinventing New York

"New York reinvents itself, and develops, and changes, and changes a lot," declares ESPN columnist Paul Lukas. "So people talk about the good old days--well, the good old days were also a change from something before the good old days. So New York is in a constant state of reinvention, and this is part of it." (Unmentioned: he's said "I’m strongly opposed to the new arena."

"I don't think Brooklyn is going to change suddenly just because an arena came there," declares David Hershkovits, co-founder of Paper magazine. "It still has a great heart and soul. It really fits in the with this whole rejuvenation of Brooklyn. It's probably going to be good for the people, ultimately."

"We've kind of already adjusted, us lifers of the community... to the gentrification," declares Marvin Barksdale, founder of Widget.fm, a music hosting site. "It's unfair for someone to come in the past ten years and say, Look, now I want you to stop."

That's a version of the Roger Green argument--"I was born in Brooklyn"--as it unfairly casts objections to Atlantic Yards as the complaints of newcomers.

Enter Marty

"There's no question that the businesses around the arena will flourish, because of people coming into the area," declares Borough President Marty Markowitz. (Well, some businesses. Others will be displaced.) "This is a win-win for everyone and, as you know, the housing, slowly, will begin being built around the arena, and that will include a significant portion of affordable housing."

Then we see a shot of a June 2012 protest led by several clergymen. "This is the biggest development deal in the history of Brooklyn, and we haven't seen the number of jobs, we haven't seen any housing, so now, the people of Brooklyn, it's time that we all come together and unitely say, 'Enough is enough,'" declares the Rev. Clinton Miller, who elaborates that he's not against the Nets coming.

"It is too slow," agrees Markowitz, who then offers an all-purpose explanation: "There is a reason for it, eight years of lawsuits, that's why."

Unmentioned: Ratner has made two self-sabotaging--if rather little-noticed--statements:
  • he repudiated the ten-year timeline to build the project previously endorsed by his company and the state
  • he claimed that high-rise, union-built affordable housing isn't feasible, even though that's what he long planned and the state approved twiceAnd New York State gave him 25 years to build the project.
"But we can't go over yesterday, yesterday's over," declares Markowitz. "But there's no doubt that the buildings will be accelerated"--after they've been delayed?--"and will be constructed in the years ahead."

In closing

The music picks up in the last minute. Sean Malcolm, editor-in-chief of King magazine (KING | The Illest Men's Magazine Ever!), states, "If they actually start building up these skyscrapers... it's going to look pretty sleek."

DJ Clark Kent, wearing a Brooklyn Nets hat, says, "Anything that goes down in that building might be, like, major money just pouring into the city." (Not Ratner or Prokhorov, of course.) "If  [slain rap star] Biggie [Smalls], he'd probably be part-owner too."

Not the tweet at right from Rafi Kam, who points out some more connections sympathetic to Jay-Z and the arena.

Then a cherry-picked quote from Goldstein, "You can't hold on to anger about this sort of thing, or anything, for too long, without risking your health."

"I believe in change," states Balthrop. "I feel like, in order for us to progress anywhere, in this world, this country, this city, this borough, that you have to be open to change."

There you go.

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