‘We agree that our community can benefit greatly from jobs and resources that prioritize local residents, regardless of their citizenship status. However, we will not rush into a plan simply because a few certain elected leaders have expressed their opinions on a district neither of them have lived in.’
Sunset Park is situated in the south-central area of Brooklyn. It is beautifully placed in between the predominantly Arab-American community of Bay Ridge and the high-roller community of Park Slope (conveniently Mayor Bill de Blasio’s home, prior to taking office). In the 1600s Sunset Park’s rich soil would attract many Dutch farmers who would use slave laborers to reap the land for cash crops. Later, the Irish would call this area their home, followed by the Polish, Finnish, Italian, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Asian communities. This being said, we are a community of immigrants who’ve helped build the city to what the world now recognizes as the financial capital.
Today, one the most existential threats to the local community lies within the fogged and heavily controversial Industry City rezoning. Change is not new to our community; all communities go through change. However, the displacement and gentrification of Sunset Park and its residents is not change — it’s neighborhood destruction.
Our community is in a debate about the future of our residents and local mom-and-pop shops. The economic impact of the pandemic has left many local businesses in complete disarray. Additionally, many local residents have tested positive and passed away from the Novel Coronavirus. We agree that our community can benefit greatly from jobs and resources that prioritize local residents, regardless of their citizenship status. However, we will not rush into a plan simply because a few certain elected leaders have expressed their opinions on a district neither of them have lived in.
A rezoning brings long-lasting changes to a community, whether that is for the greater good of local residents or the destructive advancement of gentrification. Making the claim that the city “can create 20,000 jobs or destroy them” is never “as simple as that.” These comments were utterly irresponsible, and we suspect carry the agenda of the deep-pocketed real estate industry. However, we don’t blame them: newly-won elections have the tendency to stroke one’s ego into stepping into conversations they have no representative right to be in. They also seem to embolden developers into pulling on the strings they’ve attached with their campaign-donated dollars.
Additionally, 20,000 jobs will not immediately come into fruition; the process is much longer than what these Queens and Bronx politicians make it out to be. These jobs are not guaranteed to come anytime soon, nor is there a guarantee that they’ll employ a local workforce. A land-use review process takes time and collaboration between the local council member, longtime community residents and the developers, a process our community has shown it wants to be included in.
This is not the first time a rezoning was proposed in Sunset Park. One rezoning which brought great concern to the community was the 2007 plan which would have allowed for a 12-story building to be constructed. The Pratt Center for Community Development composed a 21-page report of feedback from community workshops, which were hosted by then-Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez and Community Board 7. The survey conducted by the Pratt Center discovered that the community’s number one concern was the displacement of current residents and the need for new affordable homeownership units. In this rezoning, the community was able to negotiate with the developer to decrease the size of the building down to 6 stories. More than a decade later, these issues are still the community’s main concern when it comes to the Industry City rezoning.
The city’s top elected officials must also stop penalizing council members who refuse to vote against their priorities. Shortly after this year’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget vote in June, we became aware that council members who had voted against the budget received significantly lower funding from Speaker Corey Johnson’s discretionary budget. District 38 received no discretionary funding, creating an even more difficult environment for local residents. These politically-driven actions only serve to hurt New Yorkers living in predominantly Black and Latinos communities like Sunset Park.
Despite the classist discrimination that the development lobby and their politicians’ parade, it has never been more important to listen to the voices of local residents and the leaders they’ve elected to decide the fate of this unique community. United Mexicans of America will always stand firm with the people of the Sunset Park community, and we look forward to working alongside well-established organizations like Uprose, Mixteca, and the Sunset Park Popular Assembly to stand against the current proposed plan. United Mexicans of America (UMA) is a local Sunset Park action organization that seeks to catalyze a renaissance within the Mexican community by using Mexican nationalism as the common denominator. Our focus revolves around revolutionary self-reflection, looking at ourselves through multiple frames and being constructively critical about personal history, as well as ancestral history. We believe in critical civic engagement, which includes analyzing the historical roots of contemporary struggles, envisioning remedies and solutions, then manifesting the aforementioned into action in order to change our micro and macro-community.
Brian Garita is the co-founder of United Mexicans of America (UMA), based in Sunset Park.