Oy Vey! There Goes the Neighborhood.

16 November 2015

Oy Vey! There Goes the Neighborhood.
by John Ros

NEW YORK — Tilting listlessly on the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge, the newly developed (and developing) skyline of Brooklyn seems to encroach upon the magnificent metal structure built more than a century ago. This structure, like its counterpart to the south, says Brooklyn and Manhattan like no other can.

Q train: Manhattan to Brooklyn

The drastically changing landscape of Brooklyn is in part due to the development of Two Trees Development, LLC. Their website boasts, “Fueled by a frothy economy and unrelenting demand, developers hit the gas on residential projects over the past 18 months. Overall, Brooklyn development topped 41.6 million square feet … spanning nearly 600 projects and 45,359 apartments…”

A DUMBO one-bedroom loft from Two Trees is a steal at their 65 Washington location which goes for a mere $3,225, compared to their 60 Water location where a slightly smaller studio lists for $3,336. The only thing frothy here is the mouths of these investors, offering out-of-reach housing for most Brooklynites. Worse, these actions are displacing them farther and farther in-borough or out-of-borough because so many cannot compete with the so-called rising market values. Granted these prices may not be all that shocking for the DUMBO area, but with recent expansion throughout Brooklyn and Queens, where does it stop? And when did it begin?

Brooklyn Bridge Park looking toward Manhattan.

It seems fitting that Two Trees commissioned the new Deborah Kass sculpture in Brooklyn Bridge Park. OY/YO measures 8 x 17 x 5 ft., a reappropriated piece from a much smaller scale sculptural edition from 2011 bearing the same name. The seeming gesture of largess, in the shadows of the aforementioned East River crossings, competes with the sculpture’s luxury surrounds. The soft “review” by The New York Times fails to get into the meat of the piece; the article’s overly obvious stance adds to the constant dilemma of “plop art” with little more purpose than giving the elite lurking in the towers above something to discuss. If we regurgitate the same press release over and over, perhaps we too will believe. The more important questions are being ignored. “Do we really need more giant, expensive, out-of-reach sculpture?” If the answer is yes, “Who is it serving?”

The Two Trees website attempts to compare OY/YO to familiar road signs on the Williamsburg Bridge and BQE, “Leaving Brooklyn: Oy Vey!” and “Leaving Brooklyn: Fuhgeddaboudit” respectively, stating, “OY/YO references Brooklyn’s ethnic communities with whimsy and warmth.”

The problem is, the very ethnic communities they are talking about are being displaced by their market-driven actions. Soon all that will remain are these inane tokens — sad gestures, or worse, slaps-in-the-face, to the many who build these neighborhoods, who are being forced out because of the slash-and-burn strategies of such vultures.

Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Timing seems ever important here. If it was twenty years ago, with DUMBO’s waxing art prominence beating the walls of the now-defunct artists’ lofts, there might be good reason for OY/YO’s inclusive message to be reverberated throughout an active community. Had that community and our elected representatives taken care to maintain a cultural livelihood, while also encouraging progress for all, perhaps this would have a much different effect. But with the current gentrifying trends, seemingly unavoidable, as we shrug our shoulders in inevitable defeat, has this sculpture and this park already become a token of our loss?

These questions come at another fitting crossroads, the Real Estate Summit hosted by the Brooklyn Museum. Ben Davis of ArtNet News put it best:

“On November 17, people will be protesting outside the Brooklyn Museum. … That’s the day that the museum will be playing host to the all-day Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, where, for $500 a ticket, over 800 developers will converge to hobnob and plan new ways to jack up your rent. … The agenda advertises that it will help you learn how ‘to find overlooked neighborhoods to invest in,’ teach you, ‘what you need to know about the latest batch of newcomers’; and provide tips on attracting sources of ‘international and institutional capital’ to fuel the gentrification machine.”

17 November 2015 is the date. Starting @ 7.30am, there is a protest organized by the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network to fight back against the mouth-frothing investors looking to take over your neighborhood. We deserve better as artists, but more importantly we all deserve better as citizens. If we do not come together to stand up against this continuous greed, there will be nothing left for all the New Yorkers that do not fit into these slick, smooth-boxed towers built in the name of progress. This is not progress. This is blatant disregard. All we will have left to ourselves is a bunch of forgotten, meaningless tokens, allotted to us by the elites, happy with themselves for “supporting culture,” as the native community members, artists and poor all fight among each other for the crumbs the wealthy have thrown out of their multiplying glass towers.

All images by the author