Brooklyn Queens Connector: To build a trolley, or not
Carmelo Anthony says 'yes,' but Sunset Park group says 'no'
Knicks Player, Red Hook Native Carmelo Anthony Endorses BQX
On Nov. 28, New York Knicks player Carmelo Anthony endorsed the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) in a video released by the Friends of BQX, a not-for-profit organization created to support the city’s efforts to build a streetcar line.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $2.5 billion trolley, which was proposed in February, will run along the Brooklyn waterfront from Sunset Park to Astoria, Queens. The city plans to begin work on the BQX in 2019 and start service in 2024.
Anthony, who was born in the Red Hook Houses, voiced his support for the streetcar project after experiencing firsthand how a lack of transportation can affect a community.
“Red Hook is very isolated,” Anthony said in the video. “It’s almost like an island by itself within Brooklyn… When I was a kid, traveling was very difficult. There’s not that many options to get out of there. If you don’t catch the bus, ain’t no telling when the next one is coming. It forces people to stay in a bubble. So you give up. A lot of people give up.
“I want the kids to have a different experience than what I had; to get out of Red Hook and go places,” Anthony continued. “The more transportation opportunities that we can bring to a place like Red Hook is going to enhance the mindset of the people that’s from that area. The BQX is this evolution of Brooklyn.”
The video was produced by students of the Red Hook Initiative, which is a career readiness program that helps middle school kids, high school pupils and young adults prepare for careers in digital technology, video production and media.
The students were responsible for setting up the equipment, filming, interviewing Anthony and editing the footage.
“Carmelo’s support will help us reach even more New Yorkers who stand to benefit from this new, reliable public transit option but are only hearing about the BQX for the first time,” Executive Director of the Friends of BQX Ya-Ting Liu told the Brooklyn Eagle when the video was initially released.
In response to the video, UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization and a group that promotes the sustainability and resiliency of Sunset Park, wrote a letter (see right) to Anthony expressing its concern over his endorsement.
In response to the UPROSE letter, Friends of BQX sent the following statement to the Eagle from Executive Director of the Red Hook Initiative Jill Eisenhard.
“On behalf of the Red Hook Initiative, we want to thank Carmelo Anthony for speaking up for the transportation needs in our community,” said Eisenhard. “The time Carmelo spent getting to know the young adults in our Digital Stewards program who produced the BQX video showed them that they matter, as does their community.
“His personal experience living in Red Hook brings authentic credibility to his passion for the BQX and the need for this infrastructure,” she continued. “Carmelo clearly demonstrated his understanding that the BQX will open doorways to employment, education and opportunity for young people and families in Red Hook, as well as the other NYCHA communities along the corridor.”
To watch Carmelo Anthony’s endorsement video, visit goo.gl/16LtY8.
AN OPEN LETTER TO CARMELO ANTHONY
Dear Mr. Anthony,
We are writing to express our concern over your recent endorsement of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX. Founded in 1966 by Puerto Rican activists, UPROSE is a 50-year-old community-based grassroots organization in Sunset Park committed to environmental and social justice. At the center of our work is the empowerment of community to advance their own agenda and drive local development in the interest of racial, social and economic justice — oftentimes in contrast with the top-down interests of privilege and power. The proposed BQX flies in the face of this community-based model and instead puts luxury real estate development at the center of the agenda.
Here in Sunset Park, you are a hero and we hold you in high regard as an uncompromising advocate of communities like ours. For this reason, we were deeply disappointed and stunned to see that your staff did not do their due diligence in reviewing this proposal before advising you to endorse it. The BQX is a novelty project of several powerful real estate interests along the Brooklyn/Queens waterfront. Together, they make up the so-called Friends of the BQX. While their public relations team emphasizes the public housing along the route, they do not highlight the real estate developers’ waterfront properties that are in actuality driving this proposal. The public relations team does also not highlight how the project is proposed to be funded: by inflating real estate values along the route and then taxing them. What this means is the guaranteed displacement of low and working-class residents, mom-and-pop shops and blue-collar industrial businesses. Moreover, there is no guarantee that BQX riders would be able to transfer for free to MTA subway and bus lines. In essence, this is transportation for the privileged at the expense of the poor. There are city government staffers privately referring to this proposal as the GX, or Gentrification Express.
You state you are concerned about the current lack of transportation in Red Hook and other working-class communities. This is a very real and long-standing concern that we share. However, with only a thin veneer of transportation justice, the BQX is designed to displace the very community that it purports to serve. If the city and their real estate partners genuinely had transportation justice in mind for the Red Hook community, they would seriously be considering working with the MTA to bring Bus Rapid Transit service to the neighborhood, which is cost effective, resilient and accessible financially to community. Instead the BQX is the only transportation option they are considering for this area. Why has the call for more transportation options to Red Hook been ignored for decades, and only now that the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying is there interest in a shiny and unaffordable streetcar? Given the federal budget cuts that are surely coming New York City’s way, why are we promoting expensive and exclusive services that are likely to further burden our communities?
We find it very unfortunate that the Friends of the BQX are so successfully putting black and brown faces on a real estate-driven project. Given your extraordinary story and your commitment to justice, our community embraces how you use your platform to put a spotlight on injustice and inequity. We were hoping to connect with you directly to raise this concern; however, given our limited capacity as a grassroots organization, we are making this a public appeal. In the interest of justice and the good of our communities, we hope to have a private conversation with you about your endorsement of the BQX and the very real displacement threats that the proposal poses. If you would like to discuss this further, we can be reached by phone at 718-492-9307 or Twitter at @UPROSE. We look forward to hearing from you.
Executive Director, UPROSE
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