My Brooklyn is a thoughtful piece of documentary journalism that synecdochically uses the controversial redevelopment of the Fulton Street Mall—the third most profitable commercial district in NYC, which was targeted by developers because it didn’t cater to the upper class that are starting to live around it—to talk about the process of gentrification. Director Kelly Anderson, a teacher of film and media at Hunter College, has been both a participant in and, when she was priced out of her Fort Greene apartment, a sufferer of gentrification. Starting from Anderson’s own experiences, she and writer-researcher-producer Allison Lirish Dean have admirably created a doc that offers diverse perspectives on, and takes a long-view look at the history of, a subject that people on both sides of the issue can’t (or won’t) fully understand: The rich and powerful lie to both themselves and their victims, and the poor, being excluded from the decision-making process, feel so helpless that they accept the former’s deceitful mantra that change is inevitable and good.
My Brooklyn blames the damage caused by gentrification on poor public policy, such as when a city government rezones an area to make room for new, more expensive properties, often at the expense of current residents and businesses. Additionally, interviews with Craig Wilder, a professor of history at MIT, help explain further how the evils of gentrification have less to do with the people who migrate than with the bankers, insurers, and lawmakers who more or less control people’s ability to move or stay put through the practice of redlining, in which a certain group of people are denied financial services based on their race or class. These often unseen forces are powerful; they’re a major player in Brooklyn’s history, and they should serve as a lesson about the abuse of power and the insidiousness of racism. Yet as My Brooklyn makes convincing, might still makes right, as we see similar powerful interests, both of government and private business, at play in the Fulton Street Mall, plowing through attempts to counteract their bluntness, such as FUREE’s activism and the respectful recommendations made by the Pratt Center in regard to the how the new developments might incorporate some of the old and help preserve the local character.
Though My Brooklyn does occasionally feel like it could have benefitted from more elaboration on topics it touches on too briefly, it still offers a complex understanding of defining changes that happen in cities the world over, ones that’ll likely continue to increase as more people move into urban areas. Anderson’s refreshing honesty about her feelings of both guilt and excitement at the changes that take place when a neighborhood begins to accommodate this new class of people will likely be relatable to many who’ve moved to lower-income neighborhoods. And for those who know who the Brooklyn Nets are, but not what gentrification is, My Brooklyn can be eye-opening.