Maker Park disrespects North Brooklyn past, present & future
by Emily Gallagher
Oct 17, 2017 | 800 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, a fellow community member brought to light an Instagram account operated by the artist advocating for Maker Park.

The account was filled with photos of the advocate and his two friends who are working on this project, and memes of pop-culture images of disbelieving or laughing faces.

Accompanying them was text that read things like, "That face when they try and erase historic industrial structures in favor of a lawn," or another post lauding a dream of "yoga in the tanks, boat rides and how to build a Bauhaus birdhouse."

Other posts belittled the desire and fight for open space at the site of the old Bayside Fuel Terminal on the Bushwick Inlet that has been happening in this community over 30 years.

This dredged up a lot of vitriol online, especially from those who are adjacent to the fight, maybe not having participated in it directly but who are appreciative of it.

To me, the rhetoric around Maker Park brings up a major problem with public memory and neighborhood identity that happens through gentrification.

Social scientists call this process "Disneyification," meaning that a real and complicated history, with real and complicated repercussions, is flattened and turned into something consumable, quaint and "fun."

For example, a toxic legacy of difficult, blue-collar work and hazardous materials that caused cancer in many native Greenpointers being repurposed as a unique place to do yoga.

I first became familiar with the term "Disneyification" from Sharon Zukin, a sociologist who has studied the gentrification of New York City. She described a process where real estate interests claim a site and try to turn it into something "authentic" and "consumable."

Authentic, instead of being a quality of a person who is sincere or an idea that is aligned with the facts of the past, is now defined as something experiential and consumable.

To quote, authenticity “is used as a lever of cultural power for a group to claim space and take it away from others without direct confrontation, with the help of the state and elected officials and the persuasion of the media and consumer culture." This seems to be the goal of Maker Park.

The consumption aspect of Maker Park runs deep. It promotes itself as a real alternative design for the public space recently purchased by the city, but it is not.

It has no real legs with the elected officials, would never pass an environmental impact study, and has no reality outside a very ambitious leader, who even managed to put "Maker Park" on Google maps even though it does not exist.

It is a strong branding effort by three young creative types in cahoots with some architects and other problematic participants who, if I may say so, have a habit of being disconnected from community needs.

It is being pushed by individuals who use the word "my" to describe “it” - “it” being essentially a business venture, not a public service, but trying to behave like one with "public meetings" that are really just art shows with free food.

There is a lack of political awareness, social connection or respect to the institutions already functioning to make decisions about our neighborhood via a democratic process.

The best way to celebrate Greenpoint's industrial legacy is not by preserving some mid-century toxic oil storage tanks that need extensive environmental remediation and were not designed to be occupied by people.

One good way, though, is to strengthen the Industrial Business Zones that, along with the park, are a result of the 2005 rezoning of North Brooklyn. Currently, hotels and other hospitality-based businesses are allowed to occupy buildings zoned industrial, and while this may keep a building there it does not keep well-paid, skilled jobs or manufacturing.

If we are interested in preserving important Greenpoint buildings, we could join Preservation Greenpoint in their efforts to get historic buildings of local significance landmarked so they will not be torn down.

Not the site of toxic chemical holding, but the sites of human action and innovation that still endure in our neighborhood.

Another wonderful way to honor the industrial history of our neighborhood is to realize something that has been craved by community members for more than 100 years: unencumbered open space.

Yes, believe it or not, it would be nice to have an open space that is large, beautiful, and not constantly occupied by some costly activity or shopping. A place where creativity can truly thrive.
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