The very talented and very vocal writer/director Spike Lee has recently spoke out, somewhat angrily, on the downside of gentrification in New York City. While many living in “the Big Apple” seem to be content having their neighborhoods rise in value, that doesn’t always bode well for those who are having a tougher time economically. In many cases, these are groups of people, often times African-American and Hispanic, who have been embedded in the culture and history of such areas. They are literally being forced from their homes due to this controversial phenomenon. Of course, the famous wordsmith, Lee, used a fair mixture of curse words and comedy to make that point, a sentiment that surely many other New Yorker’s agree with.
As time marches on for the “city that never sleeps,” so many areas that were once affordable for low to middle-income families (such as areas in the Bronx and Brooklyn), are now floating away, like helium balloons, from their grasp. The reason can be found simply by looking at the meaning of the word gentrification which, in part, implies the displacement of the poor as a result of the influx of the rich. This notion, regarding displacement, is certainly the source of Spike Lee’s outrage, completely unleashed at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. The famous director was there to give a lecture in honor of African-American History Month. Lee, who’s own seemingly negative feelings toward gentrification have not been a secret, was addressed by an audience member. The attendee asked Spike if he’s ever looked at the “other side” of the argument. One can assume he was referring to the positive attributes of gentrification.
This is when the man, made famous by his own realistic depictions of NYC in amazing cinematic explorations like Do The Right Thing, let loose by commencing, hysterically, with: “Let me just kill you right now.” He then went on to make many personal statements such as: “I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?”
Spike Lee’s anger was apparently also the result of a recent article written in the New York Times. The article he refers to poses both sides of an argument to preserve the beauty and history of landmark areas in Bedford-Stuyvestant, a Brooklyn neighborhood. Those in favor feel the efforts to protect these undoubtedly beautiful buildings, known as brownstones, will prevent the addition of much more cheaply constructed edifices to the area. However, those opposed simply feel that focusing efforts on the upkeep of landmarks in the area will only prevent much-needed affordable housing.
It’s apparent, based in his Tuesday night rant, that the Brookly-raised director is on the latter side of the argument. Spike is simply not happy with the way things are going in his old haunts. Perhaps, Lee’s impromptu “speech’’ on gentrification can be summed up with the following thoughts: “You can’t just come in the neighborhood…like you’re [Christopher] Columbus and kill off the Native Americans…You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.”
By Josh Taub