Thursday Day — Williamsburg after Williamsburg* — Part I

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Thursday One — Williamsburg after Williamsburg* — 10.19.06
1. About this Thursday
2. About Williamsburg Gentrification
3. Williamsburg (not) for Sale
4. About the *
5. About Not An Alternative
6. About Chto delat
7. Useful Links
please note:
this event will begin at 3:00
and we will meet in williamsburg
for more info on part two of this event, which is at 16beaver please visit:
1. About this Thursday
When: Thursday Oct. 19, 2006 at 3:00pm-5:30pm
Where: Corner of North 7th and Bedford (1st Brooklyn stop on L-Train) Who: All are invited
What: Walk & Discussion
this event is organized with Not An Alternative & Chto delat
What is it to still live in a city today? When does one stay and fight, and when is it time to just leave? As the neo-liberal city becomes an ever present reality, it is difficult to forget David Harvey’s assertion that New York City was the epicenter of this experiment (in the mid-70s).
As this experiment continues in many parts of this globe, it is
interesting to walk through and appraise one of the most recent efforts of raking a neighborhood of its identity, its inhabitants, its community, and its public resources & facilities – here in the city where it seems to have all started.
We hope you will join us for this walk. We will attempt to focus on the visible evidence, but to further contextualize the struggles past and present, we will be speaking with individuals along our walk. We also welcome all those who have their own ideas and questions to give further input into our collective inquiry.
2. About Williamsburg Gentrification
Over the last 10-15 years, the communities of Williamsburg and Greenpoint have been designing a community plan for rezoning and development. Originally initiated as an effort to ban noxious industries along the waterfront, and to bring more economic vitality and clean businesses to the area, Neighbors Against Garbage was one of the first groups to lead the charge. Especially since the closing of Fresh Kills Landfill, more than 1/3 of all of NYC’s garbage passes through waste transfer stations along Kent Avenue.
The community discovered a section of the city charter called 197a, which allows communities to design their own plans for development. Over the last decade, local Community Board 1 and members of the community
conducted an extensive and inclusive process of commissioning studies and soliciting input from affected parties. There is a now a 197a plan for Williamsburg (calls for light industry and residential zoning), and another one for Greenpoint (calls for residential zoning). In addition to rezoning, these plans include proposals for the expansion of social services (EMS, public transit, fire, etc.). Unfortunately, the 197a are recommendations: they are not legally binding.
In response to the community’s initiative, and to pressure by developers and property owners, the City Planning Commission got involved in the last 3 years to work on a rezoning plan for the area. The city’s involvement is also a result of the Bloomberg administration’s aggressive housing plan aimed at increasing the production of public housing. It should be noted that while there is a great need for additional housing in NYC,
Bloomberg’s plan would build more than 20,000 units over the next 10 years but only 8% of these would be affordable to the average New Yorker.
In 2003, the city released their plan for the rezoning of 20 waterfront blocks and 150 inland blocks. The plan differed dramatically from the Community’s Plan, particularly in regards to the scale of development.
Residents and community groups in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area collaborated on an aggressive grassroots campaign to pressure the city to alter their rezoning proposal and address community concerns over 4 key realms: the density of development, the amount of affordable housing, the amount of parks and green space, and the protection of local manufacturing and industry.
Artists played a significant role in raising the profile of the campaign, coordinating media stunts, visibility efforts, street art initiatives, parades and press conferences. While they were latecomers to the campaign, their efforts were oriented around supporting the work of the community groups. The framing of this particular struggle against gentrification was pre-established.
In May of 2005, the Williamsburg/Greenpoint rezoning was passed in the City Council. Politicians and many local groups found cause to celebrate: the plan allocated the greatest percentage of affordable housing of any rezoning in New York City’s history. While this was a victory for the affordable housing community, many groups felt that the overall plan was a disaster. The details of the housing agreement are dubious, and the secondary displacement resulting from a 25% population increase (more than 40,000 new residents in less than a decade) will forever alter the composition and character of the community.
What happened in North Brooklyn is emblematic of global trends – the dislocation of mixed use, mixed income communities, the exportation of industry and manufacturing in favor of high-income residential developments, an ideology of trickle-down economics that endanger the middle class.
Questions to consider:
What is the role of the artist and the creative industries in fights like this?
How do artists contribute to these processes of gentrification and how can they become part of possible solutions, instead of the problem?
What is left to struggle for in Williamsburg?
For more background information:
3. Williamsburg (not) for Sale
Over the years a large group of artists involved with 16Beaver have lived in the ever expanding terrain of Brooklyn referred to as Williamsburg. “Yuppie Go Home” was the welcome sign in 1998 for people moving in. At the time, the neighborhood was still struggling against proposed power plants along the waterfront, hazardous materials sites, landfill proposals, and other forms of pollution. After all, Williamsburg remains one of the most polluted areas in the entire city. There were debates on the streets, pamphlets and flyers arguing for the city to build the environmental hell it wanted to create in Williamsburg. It was the only hope to still afford living here.
The history of artists moving into this area stretches further back though. We know artists who moved here in the 70’s and 80’s and some even earlier. But a significant turn took place beginning in the mid 90’s and the steam really started to build in the late 90’s. By 2001, it seemed an inevitability that Williamsburg would suffer the same fate as most neighborhoods which experience similar processes. Shops, boutiques, bistros, galleries, and eventually the only working people working (not living), and the only artists waiting (tables).
5,10,20 years, how long?
The neighborhood wanted to save the waterfront, build a park for kids and the community. Real Estate taxes slowly and then rapidly climbing, greed, fueled by more youth, more restaurants, more bars, more independent, small-time dreamers. Artists who would be business people, old-time residents who decided to cash in and others who no longer recognized this place they called home, or could not longer afford to stay.
Zoning, rezoning, and amazing people fighting the right fights.
Neighborhood groups attempting to design their own plans for development.
But when your city mayor is a billionaire, its hard to imagine anything other than concessions. Warehouses to art studios to shops and lofts to luxury residences. The future is calling.
The story of gentrification seems almost cliché in a city like New York. The residents won? They built a small turbine, they listened about the park, they decided this water front was really worth saving. And so the stampede began. Firehouse closed after protracted struggle.
Artists made work dealing with this and that. But it all seemed like an unquenchable thirst, a cut that would not stop bleeding, a belly that would not stop growing, a appetite that could eat other appetites, an avalanche, a irresistible force.
The Northside was moving south, east, and further north. More galleries opened and more artists moved in, almost oblivious or helpless to what was going on. As older residents and older artists with older leases left.
Who knows how people meet their rent. How many of them are sharing how little space?
And when greed could only go so far, the garbage site, tow truck yard, takahashi bus depot, … All slowly left, in came the large developers, … the small time dealers and dreamers could only fuel this fire so far. The scorching started then. A few years ago really. One building popping up. Another going down.
Construction site after site. Blocks demolished, residents forced out. Rent jacked to astronomy. You need to know space to do this math, to make these calculations. There are “gains” we are told and it is hard to be cynical considering what was being proposed. “40 stories? Well, ok, if you insist, we’ll give you 25?”
Guarantees of low cost or affordable units within these towers that will deny lifetime residents views that only pollution and neglect could afford them.
“Hope exists, but not for us,” Franz Kafka once wrote. No doubt he was talking about hope not being a property of our’s, but something that comes or calls, like happiness. But for those without property, its hard to be hopeful.
_It_s a symptom of the empty new prosperity of our city” says Patti Smith about the recent closure of CBGB, the historic bar club that opened in the early 70’s on the Bowery.
Sometimes one wonders if what we are witnessing is the death of New York City as we have known it, as it becomes more and more difficult to actually afford living here? Or did every generation living in this town feel as if this was the end, that its days were numbered?
Next wave of blood and sweat set to push the next poor working people out, the next move to Flatbush and Bushwick and Prospect and Washington Heights and Bed Stuy …
Thinking through this further, major centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, … the stories are the same. And London and Rome and Seoul and Yerevan and Tehran and … one wonders how far these
speculations into the financialized ether will go?
These were some thoughts scrolled for the walk. But the real desire was to see it, this spectacle of greed, this newest monument to gentrification, and to work past the hopeless nostalgia and speak with others, who have other perspectives, who are struggling to still hold onto the community they know.
Moreover, to explore the issues of complicity as well as ongoing
resistance as well a the possibility for exodus.
4. About the *
Stop Bedfraud Avenue, Bedfreud Avenue Stop
Yuppiesburg, Williamsbourgeois, Evictionsburg, Selfhatredburg,
Williamsbragger, Exodusburg, Williamsburgler, Bastardsburg, Billgatesburg, Cheesyburg, Trendyburg, Forgetitburg, Crooksburg, Gentriburg, Benzburg, Criminalburg, Barneysburg, Barbieburg, Trumpburger, Scheißburger,
Scheisterburg, Toxicburg, Bitterburg, Stinkburg, Leavethisburg,
Greedifcation, Hipsterburger, $burg, Fuckthisburg, Loserburg, Lousyburg, Redevelopmentburg, Hindenburg, Verwaltungsburg, Investmentburg,
Revengeburg, Slackerburg, Stencilburg, Wannaburg, Oncewasburg
5. About Not An Alternative
Not An Alternative is a not-for-profit cultural production company whose mission aims to facilitate and engage in the work of creating social change. Our practice is based on transforming popular understandings of key symbols associated with particular campaigns. Not An Alternative also operates a multipurpose space The Change You Want To See Gallery and Convergence Stage based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
6. About Chto delat
Of course, we will be having a discussion with them in the evening, but since they are joining us for this walk, here is a short description.
Chto delat is a collective platform. It opens a space between theory, art, and activism with the goal of politicizing of all three types of praxis.
The platform is coordinated by a workgroup of the same name. It includes artists (Tsaplya and Glucklya, Nikolai Oleinikov, Kirill Shuvalov, and Dmitry Vilensky), philosophers (Artem Magun, Oxana Timofeeva, Alexei Penzin), and writers (David Riff, Alexander Skidan) based in Petersburg and Moscow. The group was founded in the spring of 2003 in the action “The Refoundation of Petersburg.”
Since then, Chto delat has been publishing an English-Russian newspaper on issues central to engaged culture, with a special focus on the
relationship between a repoliticization of Russian intellectual culture and its broader international context. These newspapers are usually produced in the context of collective initiatives such as art projects or conferences.
7. Useful Links

Chto Delat