(Dis)Placed in Sunset Park Resources

 The Fight Against Gentrification

One of the things I love most about the neighborhood where I grew up is its diversity. The vast majority of residents are people of color, immigrants and working class European Americans. It was one of those working class communities where immigrant families could actually afford to live and even purchase a home if they were so fortunate.

Since the 1950s Latinos, specifically Puerto Ricans, have been living in Sunset Park. Today, the majority of immigrants (as opposed to Puerto Rican migrants) come from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and other parts of Central and South America like Ecuador, Colombia, Perú, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  

Between 1990 and 2014 the number of immigrants living in Sunset Park doubled.

According to the recent census almost 50 percent of the neighborhood is Latinx and about 40 percent is Asian. In addition, there is a growing Arabic speaking community coming mainly from  Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco and other parts of the Middle East.

My family was part of the first wave of Cantonese-speaking Chinese families to move into Sunset Park back in the late 1970’s. Today, most of the people immigrating from China are coming from Fujian province. Asian residents have been the fastest-growing group. The number of Asians in the area increased by 241 percent between 1990 and 2014. By 2014, Asians accounted for more than one-third of the population. Sunset Park is now home to one of the largest concentrations of Chinese residents New York City, surpassing the number living in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Today, however, the community is at risk. Major plans are underway to gentrify the Sunset Park neighborhood. Developers have been pushing to change zoning and land use laws so that developers can demolish existing low structures to build taller luxury housing. Many parts of Sunset Park are still zoned for manufacturing and not for residential or commercial use. Zoning laws may seem unimportant at first. In fact, it is vital to organize our communities take control of them.

According to scholar and former Sunset Park resident Tarry Hum, “Brooklyn is the symbolic capital of New York City’s ‘maker’ movement comprised of artisans and artists, designers, craftsmen, builders, innovators, and inventors. The adaptive reuse of the borough’s extensive industrial waterfront is integral to an innovation economy that derives social and economic value from place-based global branding.”

Industry City (formerly Bush Terminal) is a $1 billion venture comprised of 16 factory loft buildings of 6-12 stories with 6.5 million square feet of floor space across 7 blocks covering 32nd to 39th Street by the waterfront. Developers are trying to position it as one of the nation’s largest innovation maker hubs. This innovation economy ecosystem is centered on “art and design, film and TV, retail, fashion, technology, and specialty food sectors”, according to Hum.

The impact of Industry City is already palpable, displacing Sunset Park’s working class residents of color and many small businesses. Jamestown, the developer behind Industry City, has been pushing to rezone the neighborhood so it can build more luxury housing and commercial structures. A few blocks south of Industry City is Sunset Industrial Park which is being redeveloped into a distribution center attracting corporations like FedEx, Verizon and possibly Amazon.

There is also development on the Chinatown side of Sunset Park where I grew up by 8th Avenue. Since 2012, overseas Chinese and domestic investors from Flushing, Queens along with banks from China have been the major force behind the gentrification. Much of this development is happening one block away from my family’s house. On 62nd Street and 8th Avenue there is a mega-development underway called The Eighth Avenue Center that will include a 17-story office building, a 10-story hotel, condo buildings and a shopping center.

A Chinatown arch called the Brooklyn Friendship Archway may be built on 61st Street and 8th Avenue. It is a “gift” from Beijing’s Chaoyang District, yet $2 million taxpayer dollars will be needed to subsidize the project. The archway will only boost tourism and real estate values while pushing out working class residents.

And finally there is the Winley Plaza Condominium, under development on 8th Avenue and 56th Street, outfitted with luxury condos and medical offices, that will cost $33 million to build. In addition to these large developments, dozens of other properties are being bought by developers to turn into luxury condos and hotels. These developers are pushing for changes in zoning laws around  8th Avenue so they can build more residential and commercial spaces. In August 2018, a plan detailing the scope of work for the Eighth Avenue Center mall was released and public hearings will be scheduled.

The stakes are high. The fight against gentrification is real. The fight is now.

Resources and what we can do:

To get involved in resisting displacement in Sunset Park Brooklyn, contact the following groups:

UPROSE: Founded in 1966, UPROSE is Brooklyn's oldest Latino community-based organization. An intergenerational, multi-racial, nationally recognized community organization, UPROSE promotes sustainability and resiliency in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood through community organizing, education, indigenous and youth leadership development, and cultural/artistic expression.  https://www.uprose.org/

POWWA: Protect Our Working Waterfront Alliance (POWWA) is a broad coalition of residents, businesses, labor, housing advocates, faith leaders, and others. All are committed to protecting the industrial character of the Sunset Park waterfront to: protect and expand career-track manufacturing jobs, protect working class residents from displacement, and develop for climate resilience. https://www.uprose.org/antidisplacement/

Coalition to Protect 8th Avenue is a group of residents, activists and citizens who are concerned about how the new commercial developments in the Chinatown part of Sunset Park will negatively impact the current working class Chinese immigrant community. https://protect8thavecoalition.wordpress.com/

Information about Zoning Policy:

Case Study: Chinatown Working Group (CWG) created these materials breaking down the important of zoning and fighting rezoning in the fight against gentrification in Manhattan’s Chinatown

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