Long before the Barclays Center even existed, and back when the Nets were still playing in New Jersey, there was a fight in downtown Brooklyn, between a developer with a vision of a sports arena and soaring buildings, and homeowners fighting to preserve their neighborhood.
Barclays opened last month to great fanfare, and the Brooklyn Nets will take on the New York Knicks there on Nov. 1.
But neighbors in the area complain about overcrowding and noise. Others are still waiting for the jobs and affordable housing that Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner promised.
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No matter which side of the Atlantic Yards debate you’re on, Steve Witt’s new satire of the controversy is worth a read. Longtime Brooklyn journalist Witt covered the Atlantic Yards saga from its beginning, and it’s now the subject of his latest book, “The Street Singer.”
Q: What inspired you to write this novel?
The initial inspiration came after Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Brooklyn Nets. At the time Bruce Ratner was going broke and the economy hit the skids. The irony that it took a Russian oligarch to save a $5 billion project in New York City, the center of American capitalism, sparked the idea for a fictional satire about modern American society.
Q: The novel’s protagonist, a subway musician, is pretty supportive of the Barclays Center. Do you agree with him?
I’m supportive of the Barclays Center. Brooklyn, even with gentrification, remains heavily immigrant, and a third black with many people struggling to live week to week. (But) the thought of Palestinian kids from Bay Ridge sitting next to Orthodox Jews from Borough Park next to kids from Brownsville in the nosebleed section of the arena to watch the Nets play makes me feel positive about the future.
Q: What do you say to criticism that the Barclays Center took people’s homes away, via eminent domain, and that developer Ratner has yet to deliver on the jobs and affordable housing he promised?
As a journalist, I seldom bought into the eminent domain argument concerning Atlantic Yards. The gentrified few nearly killed the project with their endless court battles with eminent domain being among their trump cards. But they themselves displaced poor people to get property around Atlantic Yards. As for the affordable housing and jobs, Ratner’s style is to build and not flip real estate, so I think it will get done.