Like most Brooklynites, I didn't break out the champagne when Jay-Z officially opened the Barclays Center arena. Quite the contrary: This odious monstrosity represents the death of a vibrant, diverse culture at the hands of a corporate monolith.
North Park Slope, where I live, is now literally in the shadows of the Slug (as some of us call it). And now, we will be overrun almost every night by cars searching for parking, by drunk fans spilling out of the center late at night, and, eventually, by large-scale commercial development to give them a place to eat and drink.
But let's take a moment to remember what's here now, on October 02, 2012, right before it disappears.
North Slope and Prospect Heights are multi-ethnic, multi-class neighborhoods. You see everyone on the street here, from all kinds of backgrounds: yuppies and young parents to the south, immigrant families to the north and east, lesbians and gays and straights, creative types, 9-to-5ers, workers. Within a mile of Barclays Center, there are over 100 restaurants, mostly local and independent, many of them serving local and organic food in literally every cuisine of the world (there's a fantastic French Caribbean place right in the shadow of the Slug). There are co-ops and quirky thrift shops, Pentecostal churches, brownstones and city housing; there are lots of bicycles on the street.
All this will soon be gone. No neighborhood can withstand an onslaught of a Barclays Center and all it brings with it. Already many businesses have been forced out by increased rents, and we know what they will be replaced by: the same chain-restaurants and sports bars, the same monotonous culture (if that's the right word) of expensive skyboxes for some and cheap thrills for the rest.
It's fitting that the Slug is named after a corrupt international bank, recently implicated in massive financial scandal in Britain. Barclays has about as much to do with Brooklyn as the Slug does, which is to say, nothing at all. The name Barclays also connotes the wheeling and dealing that marked the Slug's genesis: shady deals involving officers of Bruce Ratner's Forest City Ratner company, a Russian billionaire saving the project with a ridiculous infusion of cash, payoffs and bribes of city and state officials.
And tonight, when the bright-blue illuminated Barclays sign will be visible down fifth avenue, past the falafel place and the second-hand store, the Mexican restaurants and the Chocolate Room, it will remind us all who's the boss in this town: money.
What were we thinking, really, building this little island of diverse and community-led institutions? Park Slope, and the North Slope in particular, is a precious and unique bubble, an experiment in a different kind of urban renewal, one led by community gardens and neighborhood institutions. Did we really think we could survive the money machine? Sure, when rents were low and crime was high, the developers stayed away. But as soon as what was built here became attractive to the moneyed classes, the writing was on the wall. Once again, something unique is being displaced by something ordinary and crass.
Today, the Slug is the tip of a pincer of Manhattanization, reaching down from the Manhattan Bridge along Flatbush Avenue: high-rises filled with expensive co-ops, the antithesis of a neighborhood. The people who can afford to live in them, and who want to live in such places, are professionals with no time for community-building. Judging by their taste in real estate, they want to be catered to, to have things be convenient and exclusive: a gym in the building, a quick walk to the subway. Many of them probably believe the free-market economics that says that Barclays Centers are good things, that they create jobs and growth, that they "revitalize" areas with a lot of "potential."
Really, of course, there was nothing free market about the Barclays Center. Real capitalism was already here, in the form of bodegas and boutiques. The Slug is the bastard child of real-estate leverage and government subsidies. It was concocted by people who never lived here, one of whom (Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire) has hardly even been here. Tens of billions of dollars were thrown around: buying the Nets basketball team (the lynchpin of the whole project, since only a sports franchise could justify the expense of the center), fighting endless lawsuits from scrappy community organizations, paying off public officials, and building a huge arena out of scale with its neighborhood. Real capitalism is about small businesses creating a diverse market ecosystem. Mega-capitalism is about big money squashing all of it like a bug.
I'm a renter here in the North Slope, and when things get really bad, as they inevitably will, I'll relocate to somewhere else. New York is always changing, and this is not the first neighborhood to be plowed under by greedy developers. But before this one dies, let me add one more elegy to the many that have already been written for this place. It was beautiful, while it lasted.