The latest installment of “You Can’t Photograph That!”

May 28, 2010

Although it’s completely legal to photograph just about anything and anyone from a public sidewalk in New York City, photographers, videographers and filmmakers continually get harassed by rent-a-cops, security guards, NYPD and others.  Examples here, here and here.

I was out shooting time-lapse photos of the Atlantic Yards site yesterday (May 27, 2010), specifically, the site of the Barclays Center Arena at the intersection of Flatbush & Atlantic Avenues in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. I set up my camera & tripod on the sidewalk of Flatbush Avenue near its now-closed intersection with Pacific Street so that I could shoot thru the chain-link fence and a gap in the netting that surrounds the construction site. After about 10 minutes of shooting, three construction workers walk up to me on the outside of the fence. We had the following exchange:

Construction worker #1: “Can we help you?”
Me: “No, thanks.”
CW #1: “What are you taking pictures of?”
Me: “The construction of the arena”
CW #1: “You can’t take pictures here. I’m gonna have to ask you to move along…”
Me: “Yes, I can take pictures here. I’m on a public sidewalk.”
CW #2 (to the other workers): “We can just close it up from the other side.”

They walk back inside the construction area and close the gap in the netting covering the fence. Watch it here:

Fair enough. I had already shot most of what I wanted.

So then I decide that I’ll shoot from a vantage point I’d been thinking about for some time: from the intersection of Hanson Place and Fort Greene Place on the edge of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal and Center Malls, looking south to Atlantic Avenue and the Barclays Center site. I thought this angle would give a sense of what’s to come on Dean Street & 6th Avenue if/when the Barclays Center Arena is built. I suspect that the backside of the arena on 6th Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street would resemble the loading docks of the Atlantic Terminal Mall on Fort Greene Place, and the traffic congestion would probably be worse, at least when there’s an event at the arena.

I’m setting up my tripod on the southeast corner of Hanson Place and Fort Greene Place, next to the northwest corner of the Atlantic Center Mall. I haven’t taken one photo before a guy in a suit comes up and we talk:

Guy In Suit:What are you taking photos of?”
Me: “I’m taking a time-lapse movie of the traffic.”
GIS: “You can’t take photos here.”
Me: “Why not?”
GIS: “It’s private property.”
Me: “It is?”
GIS: “Yes. The city demapped this block. It’s now owned by the owner of these buildings.”
Me: “Really?”
GIS: “Yes. We clean the block. We maintain it. If you were to take photos on a city street, I couldn’t stop you.”
Me: “So, is across the street a city street.”
GIS: “Yes.”

So, I head north, to the opposite/north side of Hanson Place, on public property, and shot this:


636 Pacific Street – Last Days

May 7, 2010

636 Pacific Street, near 6th Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

I shot this video from the former apartment of Dan Goldstein and his family.  They were the last residents of the building, and one the last families to be living in the footprint.

I shot this on May 4, 2010, one of their last days in their home.

I shot this on May 6, 2010, their last night in their home.

See more photos of 636 Pacific Street.

Some background from Atlantic Yards Report.


Freddy’s- Last Days

April 30, 2010

Freddy’s Bar & Backroom, a neighborhood watering hole for decades, and more recently, a center of Atlantic Yards opposition, will close its 485 Dean Street location for good tonight. Although the bar will relocate several blocks away into Park Slope, I don’t think it will ever be the same.

Freddy’s website
More about Freddy’s on Atlantic Yards Report
And more from Atlantic Yards Report

I shot this time lapse video on April 29, 2010 just before sunset. In the hour I stood watch over my camera, as it recorded buildings in their last days, some seized via eminent domain and all soon to be demolished for a basketball arena, I was treated to local history lessons from some who were born on the block and have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives. Stories from a time when the neighborhood would not have been considered “a great piece of real estate,” in the words of Forest City Ratner CEO Chuck Ratner.

  • Stories about the social club at 487 Dean Street, across 6th Avenue from Freddy’s, where kids waited in line to play Donkey Kong, the hot, new video game. That building has been demolished.
  • Stories from a man who rented the apartment directly above Freddy’s, as well as several other apartments in the footprint, some of which have already been demolished.
  • Stories about fresh-baked treats from Pechter’s Bakery, which used to operate in the now demolished Ward Bread Bakery.
  • Stories about the Chunky candy factory, about the Fort Greene Meat Market at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
  • Stories about playing stick ball behind the 78th Precinct building, probably using Spaldeens (those famous pink rubber balls), which used to be manufactured at the Spalding Building (the large brick building on the right in the video).
  • Stories about other local spots in the hood like The Hut and Winner’s Circle, now long gone.

So, this is your last chance to enjoy a pint or three at Freddy’s and take a glimpse back into a small corner of Brooklyn history before it’s gone.  See you tonight.


Hong Kong v. Brooklyn

March 29, 2010

Wing Lee Street [map], the last intact block of 1950s “tong lau” architecture in Hong Kong, and now surrounded by high rise buildings, is threatened with “redevelopment.” (Good background articles: HK Magazine’s “There Goes The Neighborhood” and CNN Go’s “The pros and cons of preserving photogenic Wing Lee Street)

In 2003, Hong Kong’s Urban Renewal Authority (URA) revealed plans where Wing Lee Street would be demolished. Those plans, which have sparked community opposition, are being reconsidered due to Wing Lee Street’s sudden popularity, which is owed to the success of the local film “Echoes of the Rainbow” or “Sui yuet san tau.” The film was shot on Wing Street and has won the Crystal Bear award at the Berlinale Film Festival.  The filmmakers thought themselves lucky when they found the architectural time capsule. Other filmmakers have resorted to reconstructing old Hong Kong neighborhoods in cities as far away as Shanghai, at great expense.

Wing Lee Street is now a popular site for photographers and others who want to see one of the few remaining pieces of old Hong Kong. (See hundreds of photos by others on Flickr and my photos) The redevelopment plans are being revised to possibly save all of the houses. Ironically, the husband and wife team of director Alex Law and producer Mabel Cheung were able to complete Echoes of the Rainbow with funding from the Hong Kong government’s Film Development Fund.

I find myself wondering: if an award-winning movie had featured some of the now-demolished and soon-to-be-demolished buildings within the Atlantic Yards footprint, would we be looking forward to a neighborhood blighted with “temporary surface parking lots” surrounding a money-losing (for the taxpayer) arena?


“Eminent Domain as Central Planning”

February 25, 2010

This photo of 493 and 495 Dean Street was used in the article, Eminent Domain as Central Planning, by Nicole Gelinas. The article was published in the Winter 2010 issue of City Journal.  An excerpt:

Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, industrial and forlorn for much of the late twentieth century, was looking better by 2003. Government was doing its proper job: crime was down, and the public-transit commute to midtown Manhattan, where many Brooklynites worked, was just 25 minutes. That meant that the private sector could do its job, too, rejuvenating the neighborhood after urban decay. Developers had bought 1920s-era factories and warehouses and converted them into condos for buyers like Daniel Goldstein, who paid $590,000 for a place in a former dry-goods warehouse in 2003. These new residents weren’t put off by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s railyards nearby, and they liked the hardwood floors and airy views typical of such refurbished buildings. They also settled in alongside longtime residents in little houses on quiet streets. Wealthier newcomers joined regulars at Freddy’s, a bar that predated Prohibition. Small businesses continued to employ skilled laborers in low-rise industrial buildings.

But Prospect Heights interested another investor: [Atlantic Yardsdeveloper Bruce Ratner

These homes were determined to be “blighted” and would be demolished for Atlantic Yards.  A high rise building would replace them (and 3 other homes, 2 of which have already been demolished).


Dean Playground time lapse

February 20, 2010

Dean Street near 6th Avenue
Prospect Heights
Brooklyn, New York

February 18, 2010
11:45 pm – 12:35 pm

This stretch of Dean Street would be within the notch in the southern border of Atlantic Yards, the 22-acre development (16 high rise towers and a basketball arena) proposed by Forest City Ratner.

The Williamsburgh Bank Building, the clock tower on the left (aka One Hanson Place), would not be visible if the high rise tower is built as planned at the corner of Dean Street and 6th Avenue, replacing 5 homes. Two houses have already been demolished (487, 489 Dean); three others would be demolished (491, 493, 495 Dean).

The Barclays Center Arena, an 18,000-seat basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets, would be on the far left, its southeast corner at the intersection of Dean Street and 6th Avenue.


Atlantic Yards is __Plan_B___?

November 23, 2009

A neighbor emailed me a tip that these posters had recently been put up on the edge of the Vanderbilt rail yard.  By the time I snapped this photo, a couple of possibilities for the future of Atlantic Yards had been offered. I suspect that the empty blanks won’t last long. (Anyone know who put them up? I think it’s a clever concept.)

The New York State Court of Appeals should soon announce their ruling in Goldstein v. ESDC, the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case. They could announce their ruling as soon as tomorrow, November 24, and certainly by mid December.

Although widely believed that the court would rule against the plaintiffs (Goldstein), there is more than an outside chance (however unlikely) that the judges would rule against the ESDC and developer Forest City Ratner (FCR). New York is currently one of only 7 states that have not amended their eminent domain law following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Kelo v. City of New London ruling in 2005.

If the court rules against the developer,  Atlantic Yards would be dead.  FCR has never detailed a Plan B.


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