A couple hundred people sat quietly on wet astro-turf watching a movie in a dark park about a man and his community’s fight to keep an arena out of their neighborhood.
A few blocks over, thousands of people waited eagerly under shimmering lights to see Brooklyn’s favorite rapper baptize that arena.
These two snapshots from a Friday night in Prospect Heights tell the story of people from two seemingly opposing sides, who may be more closely unified than divided in thought.
“I’m sure it’s going to be an electric moment in that arena when Jay-z says ‘is Brooklyn in the house?’ I’m sure it’s exciting. I’d be excited to be there,” said Daniel Goldstein, the man in the movie who fought against the arena. “But I cannot be excited, and so many people cannot be excited about something that exists now that went through this corrupt process.”
Goldstein is the main character in the movie Battle for Brooklyn, which chronicles his fight to prevent his apartment and other homes and establishments in Prospect Heights from being displaced by real estate developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development project.
“I was out [at Barclays] holding up the big sign, and people came up to me who were going to the show or were just hanging out. They listened and they agreed with what I had to say,” Goldstein said. “Most people coming out there had no idea there was a project beyond the arena. They learned what the promises were — 10,000 jobs, 2,300 units of affordable housing — and [once] they learn that, they agree.”
Just as Goldstein likes Jay-z but refused to attend the concert, many concert-goers were concerned about certain aspects of the project but were still excited to attend Jay-z’s performance.
“I feel conflicted. With, that being said, I’m a huge Jay-z fan. So, I’m excited to see him three blocks from my house,” Melissa Broudo, a three-year resident of Prospect Heights, said. “I do feel that many people were displaced. They were displaced from their homes. Restaurants and bars were displaced, and that’s really problematic.”
Broudo, a social justice lawyer, ventured to the concert with her friend and colleague, Lisa Caldez. The two exchanged thoughts on the impact of the arena.
“What I do see as positive, is that this has been a huge job creator. I’m a lawyer. I’ve had clients who have come and looked at jobs here. So, I think that’s exciting,” Broudo said.
Caldez chimed in.
“But the jobs that are being created aren’t the kind of jobs that are sustainable jobs,” she said. “Service industry jobs aren’t the kind of jobs that people around here really need and can support families properly. It’s seasonal and it’s sort of inconsistent.”
Even those who were not so conflicted about their purpose at the arena, tried, at least to some extent, to consider opposing viewpoints.
“I don’t really want to mess up people’s time when they go inside,” said Christina Gonzalez, one of several Occupy Movement protestors in attendance. “But it’s like, Jay-z came from the hood, and now he got rich from our money. We bought his concert tickets. We bought his albums. We bought his clothes. Now he comes and puts this big rusty spaceship in the middle of Brooklyn. Now we’re supposed to come here and cheer for him. I’m not with it.”
While Gonzalez views the concert as a slap in the face to Brooklyn, many others saw it as a triumph.
“This is history in the making, so 100 hundred years from now, just like when Yankee Stadium opened, this is something that’s going to go in the history books forever,” Dwayne Walkes, a concert-goer, said. “[Jay-z] doing this basically shows us that it can be done. He grew up in Brooklyn. He grew up in an impoverished neighborhood. He’s from Marcy Projects.”
One woman, who came up from New Orleans with a group of friends to see the concert, didn’t have any idea about the controversy surrounding the Atlantic Yards project.
“Like I said, we’re from New Orleans, we just found out about it today. I’m pretty sure [Jay-z] would step up if he could. I don’t know the situation, so I’m not going to say too much,” Crystal Bolden said. “I would be shocked to know that “Hov” would just sit back and not [do anything]. This is his hometown.”
Robert Hernandez, an Occupy supporter and resident of Brooklyn, fears that New Yorkers are being lulled to sleep.
“They have all these weapons of mass distraction, and that’s what it is, these people need to wake up,” he said. “People need to really see that housing will be affected. The price of food will be affected. Jobs, Where the fuck are the jobs?…Bloomberg even said it himself, he wants to turn New York City into a luxury city. So what does that mean for [black] and [brown] people? Nobody gives a fuck?”
Back at the screening, Goldstein insists that misinformation and the lack of information is really what divides many of those who support the arena from those who are opposed to the current Atlantic Yards project.
“Hopefully the film will be used to as a tool to both educate the public, but also to help get a change at that site because the way it’s going is no good,” Goldstein said.
Although the Barclays Center is up and running, He says there is still time to correct the project.
“The next step is to get Governor Cuomo to pay some attention to us in Brooklyn, because this is a state project, to take away phase two of the project which is everything from 6th Ave to Vanderbilt [Avenue] between Dean [Street] and Atlantic [Avenue]” Goldstein announced to those in the crowd. “And, open it up to multiple developers, community developers [and] for-profit developers to expedite the building of affordable housing, and the creation of living-wage jobs.”