Documentary focuses on North Brooklyn development trends
by Andrew Shilling
Apr 18, 2013 | 5132 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Domino Effect directors Megan Sperry and Brian Paul
The Domino Effect directors Megan Sperry and Brian Paul
Megan Sperry and Brian Paul, filmmakers of The Domino Effect, hosted a screening of their North Brooklyn-centered documentary about the devastating effects of real estate development at a Greenpoint church last week.

Following the screening, which took a multifaceted look at the history of developments surrounding the Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg, the directors fielded questions from dozens of concerned residents who filled the church basement.

“Our goal was to create a film, to educate people and to mobilize them,” Sperry said.

The film looked at the neighborhood before the factory initially closed and then asked the community what they wanted to see from Two Trees Management Co., the building’s new developer.

The 11-acre project is set to bring in 2,284 new dwellings, with 660 of those set as middle to lower income units.

“I think the thing we forget about is the commerce in Brooklyn before,” Sperry said. “There has been this kind of paradigm shift to where short-term developers are bringing retail that is not beneficial to the community in the long run, because they pay minimum wage.”

Greenpoint Reformed Church Reverend Ann Kansfield has made it her mission to connect the neighborhood since she first came to the church in 2003.

In addition to hosting The Domino Effect screening in the church’s basement, church volunteers bring Greenpoint a full calendar of dinners for the needy, grocery distribution, AA classes, art labs and hosts Girl Scout meetings.

“It’s an active church,” Kansfield said. “There’s a lot of need for community space and community activities and there just aren’t a lot of easily accessible spaces for the community in North Brooklyn.”

While she notes the importance of staying locally connected, she also recognizes the struggles of her ministry, pointing to recent developments like the Domino factory as a dividing factor in the neighborhood.

“So many people are now motivated solely by money, and so properties are no longer available for community use because developers want to develop them,” she explained. “The daycares are going away because they know they can sell it to a developer and make a lot of money. If everything is only about the money, often times we fail to look at the effect it has on building communities.”

Kansfield often opens and closes the doors to her modest church at 136 Milton St., just steps away from the fast-paced lifestyle of Manhattan Avenue.

She explained that several members of her congregation can no longer afford the rising rent, and many have had to move to neighborhoods like Ridgewood, Midwood and South Brooklyn to stay afloat.

“It’s my opinion that communities that are diverse in their economics, and their racial and ethnic makeup, and their political makeup, are much stronger and deeper communities,” she said. “That’s one of the big fears. I think a lot of the people are afraid around here because they don’t want to be left out.”

Dave Reina has owned David Reina Designs at 76 Guernsey St for the last 16 years, a papermaking equipment manufacturing company in close proximity to the old sugar factory.

“I understand the development, but I would rather see lower density,” Reina said. “At the good price they (Two Trees Management Co.) got that property for, they could make a lot of money even with six-story buildings and not have to make these 60-story towers.”

Reina came to the screening expecting to see exactly what he got from The Domino Effect.

“I came thinking the film was going to be using that title, but to describe what has been happening around the neighborhood,” he said. “Domino is a good representation of the whole big problem.”

State Senator Daniel Squadron agrees that while development is necessary, it must be done conscientiously, with consideration of the community already in place.

"As North Brooklyn grows, it's vital that development is done responsibly and in a way that protects the communities that make our borough the vibrant, diverse place it is today,” Squadron said. “That means, among other things, providing the community with real input, ensuring affordable units and creating good jobs."

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