Few real estate decisions have rankled citizens and elected officials as much as the Atlantic Yards program. Spearheaded by Forest City Ratner and its founder Bruce Ratner, the program was dedicated to invoking eminent domain on a small residential area in Brooklyn, supplanting the residents in place in order to allow Ratner to build a new basketball arena and add sixteen skyscrapers to the area, which apparently already featured Ratner architecture. In other words, a Bruce Ratner theme park, the horrorshow foreshadowed by the new documentary “Battle For Brooklyn.”
Booting those already in place didn’t seem an issue for some, as Ratner doled out hefty paychecks to those that vacated the premises. Others held out, including Daniel Goldstein, the sole resident of an apartment high-rise who shrugged in response to Ratner’s overtures. As a result, Goldstein ended up living a Kafka-esque nightmare, the only person holding out in his empty building. We see the toll this takes as his fiancée walks out on him, but it’s a testament to the influence of Develop Don’t Destroy that this documentary also features Goldstein finding love in the arms of another and even having a child.
Goldstein participates in Develop Don’t Destroy, which susses out the rotten Ratner situation immediately. In addition to negotiating directly with the state and bypassing the possible votes of elected officials, Ratner also funded BUILD, a “grassroots” organization dedicated towards promoting the potential of these new developments to create new jobs, when anyone who has seen one of these new stadium deals occur understands that the jobs won’t exactly be forthcoming. There is inherent richness in exploring yet another insidious way corporations attempt to co-opt original, distinct thought, and how coverage and support of BUILD continues even after the company’s IRS ties with Forest Hills Ratner emerge.
Directors Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley attempted to present all sides to the story, but that’s difficult when one side, the pro-Ratner contingent, seems either only capable of parroting Ratner’s own dubious catch-phrases, or unthinkingly pursuing their dogma for the sake of the glamour and glitz of Ratner’s money, and his future tenants, the New Jersey Nets. As a part-owner of that team, Jay-Z shows up in footage, looming uncomfortably as a constant reminder of how powerful Goliath really is. While fingers aren’t pointed, Galinsky and Hawley depict a fairly complicit media, including the New York Times, gung-ho about the artistic contribution the area will provide thanks to then-developer Frank Gehry (he was since let go from the project).
Galinsky and Hawley’s approach isn’t altogether artful, but it is honest, showcasing the struggle of people attempting to maintain their principles as their living situation is deemed “blighted.” Unable to boot several residences, Ratner has various state-run organizations evaluate buildings and determine their worth before a proposed bulldozering, literally cutting swaths through a community that remains in their homes. Despite attempts from Develop Don’t Destroy to draw up a new plan that would save residencies and still give Ratner his stadium, the opposition is muffled at every turn.
Kudos to Galinsky and Hawley for not even harping on the cruelest irony of the soon-to-be-erected Barclays Center, that it will house the Nets, one of the saddest franchises in all of basketball. Since the Atlantic Yards deal was announced in 2002, the Nets have averaged a feeble thirty-six wins a year, bottoming out and losing millions in a twelve-win ‘09-’10 season that saw them finish last in the league in attendance. The franchise banked on salary cap space and a promising free agent slate in 2010, and not a single blue chip player was enticed by the potential to play in Brooklyn. Credit where credit’s due: pro athletes refused to be a part of the crooked corporate narrative that New York state officials unthinkingly promoted. [B+]