Dependent, defenseless, disenfranchised, disabled, and vulnerable to change are usually the characteristics of impoverished and distressed neighborhoods. Neighborhood changes are all about who possesses the power or authority to do what.
Let's see who possesses the most power to influence Black urban neighborhoods, explore the effects of being powerless in your neighborhood and how you can assert power in your neighborhood through non traditional ways. An example will exhibit the effects powerful decision makers have had on Brooklyn's notorious Brownsville neighborhood.
For nearly a century, powerful decision-makers used their ability to physically and socially alter Brownsville making it resistant to gentrification as other NYC neighborhoods endured. But for this neighborhood, resistance to gentrification comes with a price.
To some, gentrification is a blessing, providing safer streets, more public infrastructure, and cool new bars and eateries. However, to many others, gentrification is an epidemic: displacing thousands of people, closing hundreds of mom and pop stores and depleting neighborhoods of what was strong and unique cultural values.
Within the past decade, neighborhoods throughout the City of New York and throughout America has undergone some sort of urban resurgence, with improvements to streetscapes, transportation centers, civic centers and opportunities for new restaurants, bars, and galleries businesses. These physical and social changes have significantly impacted everyday life in the city and revitalizing once seemingly abandoned parts of the city.
Brownsville is one of Brooklyn's eastern most neighborhoods, surrounded by Canarsie to its south, East New York to the east, Crown Heights and Bedford- Stuyvesant to its North and East Flatbush to its west. Compared to the city's 41% completed college education attainment and 11 percent unemployment rate, Brownsville is notoriously known as one of the City's most challenging neighborhoods with a dismal 18% completed college education attainment, 16% unemployment rate, the highest in injury assault rates and the second highest incarceration rate in the city.
If the residents of a poverty stricken neighborhood such as Brownsville are generalized as powerless, then who are the ones in power and possess the following characteristics: Authoritative, capable, dominating, forceful, and persuasive.
Robert Moses, the "Master Planner"
Ever since its conception, it seems like Brownsville has been plagued by the effects of poverty. According to Ginia Bellafante's Resurrecting Brownsville, the neighborhood was once a predominately Jewish neighborhood, consisting of poor and working class residents, with a sustainable local economy. However, in the 1940s, the neighborhood was transformed to a public house mecca after slum clearance policies by Robert Moses relocated thousands of Black families in undesirable areas of the city. Brownsville, - which currently houses more than 21,000 people comprising of 1/3 of the neighborhood's population.- was a dumping ground for the City's relocated Black and poor families from more desired lands in Manhattan.
Robert Moses played a major role in the physical transformation of many New York City neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn, including Brownsville. ... Moses was known as a "master planner", New York City's Park Commissioner from 1934 to 1960, and Chairman of the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel authority from 1936 to 1968, and was responsible for building public beaches, pools, parks, parkways, bridges, tunnels, and highways throughout the city. Unfortunately, many of his projects were not inclusive to most of his constituents, the poor and people of color, including Black Americans and Puerto Ricans, who were migrating to New York en mass.
Emperor Michael Bloomberg
Fast forward to the 21st century, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration initiated a vigorous attempt to curtail homelessness and out-priced residents, but instead exacerbated the very same problems his administration tried to fix. During Bloomberg's 12 year tenure, NYC underwent a very apparent first wave of gentrification through housing and urban planning policies. The high disproportion between applicant to affordable housing was exacerbated by tens of thousand of affordable units went off-line as landlords exited subsidized programs and regulated apartments went market rate.
In addition, the administration was often blasted for poor management of the city’s public housing system, The city discontinued the "Advantage Program" which gave homeless families priority for Section 8 vouchers, and cut funding to many rental assistance programs.
The Bloomberg administration, under the Director of City Planning, Amanda Burden, re-zoned nearly 1/3 of the city's land uses to favor new residential and mixed use development allowing large development companies to participate in a land grab well into Di Blasio's Mayoral term.
Bill Di Blasio
Di Blasia's Housing policies are not that far from Bloomberg's. Despite the continuation of creating more affordable housing units, As part of the Mayor’s initiative to reduce the record level of homelessness in NYC, NYCHA completed the rehabilitation of 865 apartment to house homeless families from shelters into permanent homes.In addition, the city pays landlords more than $2,000 per month through the cluster-site program which incentivized landlords to push out low-income residents to house homeless men and women with guaranteed rent paid from the city. Anti-homelessness advocates criticize this policy as being wasteful and ineffective.
In attempt to curtail the homelessness problem in New York, Di Blasio has announced a plan to open nearly 100 homeless shelters throughout the City to reduce the number of homeless people who participate in the cluster-site program and reside in commercial hotels.
These housing policies create new implications for a neighborhood like Brownsville, in which the City claims nearly 40% of residents live below the poverty level. Housing people without homes but need dire resources in an already low-income, poverty stricken community exacerbates the poverty level in the community and makes health and education resources become more scarce. Di Blasio, seems to have continued the same policy initiated by Robert Moses; concentrating the City's poor into undesirable neighborhoods.