A monolith born from the power of the city and the predators of private real estate.
Representative of multiple failings both within the community and outside of it, the Rheingold rezoning is the biggest development project in the recent history of the community of Bushwick. A rezoning from precious manufacturing and commercial space to residential development, the rezoning allowed private for profit developers to begin manufacturing a mini neighborhood within the black and brown working and middle class community.
The rush of the ULURP process, the pressures creating conflicts of conscious for elected officials, non profits without the backbone to organize and fight, a community scrambling to grasp the technical details while understanding they are up against history and NYC's same old story of oppression.
Brooklynites spoke at townhalls of the struggles gentrification had brought them; too high rents, racist rental practices, violence by slum lords, the deterioration of community self determination. Others spoke out against allowing a developer to build another place they would not be welcome. These conversations brought to light the fact that while no private development could address the needs of the community, private development could destroy it.
Mitigations against the impact, bandages to quell the harm, were touted as benefits for the community. The result was a deal that saw the community receive peanuts; hundreds of thousands of dollars to non profits, land transferred from the developers to community groups for senior housing and promises of three bedroom homes and 30% total affordable housing, jobs and union labor, green space and resources for local schools. All things the community deserved by right and not by concession from negotiations with profiteers.
The developer Read Group never met even those commitments, quickly splitting the goldmine the site had become between Rabsky Group and All Year Management. Now even the silver lining in a development process many, willfully or otherwise, believed could not be stopped was in jeopardy of being realized.
Words from the architectural firm hired to design the site describing the desire to create a "European village" revealed the true intention of the profiteers and serve as representative of the hidden desire of all gentrifiers, developers and new residents alike; colonization.
We organized again, watchdogging the site and fighting for accountability. Years of tooth and nail pursuit for what we were due while maintaing belief in the face of those who said we did not deserve anything at all.
To the date of this writing, the building continues rising and the agreements are still unfulfilled. Every gaze on this site brings a pit of despair knowing that I will see this reminder of the past for the rest of my life.
But alongside that remains the reminder that we are resilient. I remember our sleep-out and occupation in the summer of 2015 following a march on the site demonstrating our unity and strength. We were met with a warm summer night amongst friends and allies taking back our dignity and looking towards the future. A sleep-out on Bushwick avenue, a victory in and of itself, where bonds were created. Bonds that have lasted and served us in the new challenges facing our community. It is one the fondest memories of my life. The smiling faces of my friends in the dim yellow light cast overhead that night will fill me with joy and strength into my future days.
We were also gifted the clarity to understand the struggle a bit more deeply and came to realize the lessons of our experience
The private real estate market will never meet the housing needs of black and brown communities of working people.
Never trust a developers commitment whether written, signed, verbal, contractual or otherwise.
The process of community input is not in your favor. ULURP, Impact Studies, and public hearings are the preferred battlegrounds of the elite. Do not fight on their terms or on their timeline. It is not the strength of the community. Fight outside of it. Rally, march, hold on to your lands.
Believe in your neighbors and believe in your courage to stand up and Take It Back. Before its Gone.