2017-02-01 / Front Page

Justice For All Hears Voice In Opposition To BQX

By Thomas Cogan
        In January, the Justice for All Coalition (J4A) traveled to the Jacob A. Riis Community Center in Queensbridge, where, it was announced, it has a meeting site for the foreseeable future.  It is one of J4A’s aims to discuss the matter of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), the light rail system projected to run between Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens, and come to a decision for or against it after proponents and opponents have presented themselves at a meeting.  The January speaker, Elizabeth Yeampierre, announced herself as a fervent opponent of it all.  She characterizes the BQX as an ornament that diverts attention from a massive plan to develop the Brooklyn shoreline with luxury residential towers, while displacing many current residents and retaining others as second-class servants to the incoming elitists.  She ran into disagreement from a few at the meeting, especially those viewing the BQX from the Queens end.

            Yeampierre is an attorney—“a civil rights lawyer by training,” she said—and a member of Uprose Brooklyn, a 15-year-old community group.  She said she has spent years blocking power plants and planting trees in Sunset Park in an effort to ameliorate the asthma that she says afflicts many local residents.  She said that she and the residents she rallied managed to effect environmental improvements, only to encounter an undesired, if not unintentional consequence:  the neighborhood was now attractive to developers.  Jamestown, the Durst Organization, Two Trees, Tillman Speyer and others now saw a neighborhood ready for waterfront high rises.  Also, away from the waterfront there were functioning small businesses that either could be incorporated into developers’ plans or simply replaced by high-end businesses such as restaurants and clothing and furniture stores.  Yeampierre said Sunset Park is seen as the next Williamsburg or Chelsea—the Next Big Thing, in other words, if these developers do not have resistance put in their way.  

            City Hall is no source of hope to her.   She said that Mayor Bill De Blasio is allied with developers, but she is hopeful that Uprose’s recent protests in Sunset Park have made him and other politicians pull back to examine their relationship to the BQX.  In a written denunciation of the streetcar project as a part of what she sees as the larger development campaign, Yeampierre specifies how it is designed to affect not only Sunset Park but all of the communities along the two-borough train route.  The group called Friends of the BQX has been conducting informational campaigns in Brooklyn and Queens for the past few months.  Calling it a “real estate front group,” Yeampierre says in her statement, handed out at the meeting, that its purpose has been “to give cover to the very real displacement threats for communities along the project corridor.”  She says that developers and the public relations personnel they have hired come into communities as agents of concern and friendship, though actually they are there to get residents’ cooperation with and enthusiasm for the part of the plan that entices them without revealing the developers’ overall determination to build vast new housing intended only for customers who can afford these high-priced dwellings. 

            In the end, the new housing will go up and the old residents will be displaced—or if not, then subjugated, as she says residents in Manhattan’s Chelsea were.  Chelsea, located west of Eighth Avenue and to either side of 23rd Street, has public housing, which Sunset Park does not have, but Yeampierre says in her statement that all neighborhoods touched by the BQX will experience a similar fate as “the interests of privilege pit vulnerable communities against one another.”  In the end, she says, “networks are shredded, affordable businesses vanish, policing is increased and . . . residents are reduced to feared second-class citizens on their own streets.”

            In reply, April Simpson, of the Queensbridge Houses Chamber of Commerce, said she has been aided and informed by the Friends of the BQX.  Yeampierre, saying she respectfully disagreed, repeated her characterization of Friends as a complete developers’ front group.  In a later moment, Simpson said she remained trustful of Friends, and other local residents said that the light rail line the group extols would provide access between parts of Queens and Brooklyn that at present is virtually non-existent.  And rather than protest, some J4A transit strategists had anticipatory demands for an anticipated BQX, which Kimberly Hutchinson read from an available handout.  “Proposed streetcar” one demand says, “must be accessible to community residents and must accept MTA cards.”  Another says the BQX must “Connect residents to other subway/bus lines as free transfers.” 

The BQX is not an MTA project, and why and how the MTA would be cooperative regarding use of its card and free subway/bus transfers needs explanation.  The Friends of the BQX might provide it when, as expected, it and J4A soon have an open meeting with each other.           




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