Battle for Brooklyn Response

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The most obvious thing I noticed in the film was how standard it was for gentrification. Towards the end of the film, one of the staff who helped create it said the Atlantic Yards Project was the biggest case of eminent domain in American history. Eminent domain, as far as the film portrays it, is deeply undemocratic because a billionaire like Ratner can take over city space for his own purposes. He can easily use his wealth to lobby the government or influence it in some other way to deem an area blighted, and therefore needing to be removed, without a civic decision.

The film is like Streetfight in that you can study mayor Bloomberg and Ratner like you can study James Sharpe, and find similar ways they all abuse political and corporate power to serve their own ends. Throughout the film Bloomberg and Ratner frequently use glamorous clichés to captivate their audience, words such as “world class city”, “vision”, “success”, “cherry on top of the cheesecake”, “progress”, “groundbreaking”, and so forth. Such language should make an intelligent and observant person feel suspicion. Ratner and private developers know to captivate an audience’s attention by giving them their bread and circuses, like by throwing expensive parties and inviting celebrities to give cameos. The baseball stadium itself is a circus, used to give Ratner his money. (In the end of the film he gained $726 million dollars while Brooklyn lost $40 million.)

The private developers employ two particularly insidious tactics. Firstly, they both know how to “play the race card”, as the deviant homeowner Daniel Goldstein said. They invite token black spokesmen to appeal to Brooklyn minorities. After all, if a black person isn’t alarmed at a billionaire and private developers seizing the property of poor minority homeowners, then why should you? Ultimately, they divide minority groups, fueling self-defeating intraracial conflicts. Their second tactic is repeatedly use talking points that have some grain of truth in them but are ultimately false. For instance, they claim building the stadium will create 10,000 jobs, from construction, to management, to VIP services. The facts speak otherwise, as most of the minority construction workers will be out of state and the minorities who are evicted from their homes will lose their entire life’s savings.

The buildings Ratner and the private developers build resembles the modernist buildings Jane Jacobs criticized in her work. The stadium itself takes up most of the space, and the buildings that should have accompanied were never built, at least by 2011. I doubt the stadium was built with people as more than consumers in mind. In the film Golstein and other people show models and computer simulations of how the stadium and new buildings would look like. In all models the stadium and buildings are disproportionately large. They stick out in the neighborhood like an eyesore and have the same austere, imposing, and inhumane architecture Jacob’s describes as like a cemetery.

Goldstein describes his ordeal as a war of attrition. He is right. Unfortunately, the little guy rarely wins such a war. He simply does not have the money, resources, or time to outlast a billionaire. The film can be fairly interpreted as another obvious example of private owners and corporations plowing over the people’s civil rights and destroying people’s lives in the process. Battle for Brooklyn proves how hypocritical and flimsy our “democracy” really is.

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