I was raised in Brooklyn, just a few minutes from where Jay-Z christened the Barclay's Center on Friday night. The cover of New York magazine this week sums up the two sides of the Barclay's Center perfectly. It reads, "Brooklyn is finished."
On the one hand those in favor of the Barclay's Center and the Atlantic Yards project think this the finishing touch our borough needed; those opposed think the borough as we know it is no longer. They worry about the changes it will bring to the neighborhood, the traffic, the closing of a whole slew of mom and pop shops. My thoughts on the matter fall somewhere in between those two points of view.
The Atlantic Yards project, contrary to popular belief, does not solely consist of the new Brooklyn Nets arena, and is not exclusively the brain-child of Jay-Z. The project, is under the watch of developer Forest City Ratner headed by Bruce Rater, a name which now sparks pretty vehement controversy on the streets of Brooklyn. In addition to the Barclays Center, the project also includes the construction of 16 high-rises in the surrounding neighborhoods; to me, that's where the problem lies.
To my mind the stadium itself is exciting. Yes it will change a few things, but (to me, at least) the good outweigh the bad. The Barclays Center was built on top of a train terminal and sits right at the subway hub of Atlantic Avenue; this means, people from all over the borough and the city can get here pretty easily and pretty cheaply. It's also been decades since Brooklyn had its own professional sports team (sorry Brooklyn Cyclones), and quite honestly the last sports team that old-time Brooklynites speak of with any pride are the Dodgers who moved to Los Angeles in 1957. The Dodgers' old home is now a housing project just a few blocks from where I live whose only homage to the former team is in its name "Ebbetts Field."
Outsiders forget that Brooklyn is more than the hipster reputation it has earned in recent years. In fact, that whole hipster thing only began in the last 10 years or so. The Brooklyn I remember is a true melting pot; a place that people and cultures from all over the world call home. Some Brooklynites live in upscale brownstones, and some live in Marcy Houses were the Barclays Center's reigning king grew up. But each of us has borough pride. Giving the borough a new touchstone, a team to support, and a cultural hub is, yes a business move, but also a place where that pride can be expressed and realized. Just the number of people I've seen who have switched their Yankees caps for Nets caps is proof of that.
Where I do think the Atlantic Yards project oversteps is in the 16 high-rise buildings it is planning on. The arena can be justified: it will bring change to some brownstone streets, but will also bring new business, and a new icon for the borough. The high-rises seem an overstep, and an out of place addition. Brooklyn is not a high-rise borough, sure there are a few in the downtown neighborhood but they stick out like sore thumbs. The Barclays Center, that rust covered monolith, somehow looks like it belongs.
On Friday night Jay-Z performed his first show at the new stadium. He told the crowd he grew up 15 minutes away in "murder muder Marcyville." That's the symbol that the new arena brings to many. That a Brooklyn boy from the projects, can grow up, change music, and change his borough. I guess it's true, no matter how you look at it "Brooklyn is finished."