The problem of “transplants” is a major gripe for Brooklyn natives, or anyone who thinks they’ve lived here long enough to earn the chance to sneer at the latest batch of college graduates who just hatched in Bushwick. New York is big, too-crowded and complicated, and we feel defensive about who has earned the right to criticize it, explain it to outsiders or rep some provenance of “Brooklyn-ness” when out in the world.
City Point is one of the most anticipated developments in recent history in Brooklyn, and it’s full of both transplants and locals. The 675,000 square foot, five-story complex right off the Dekalb Avenue stop is one of the things that’s turning that part of Downtown Brooklyn into a destination, not just a collection of office buildings and parking garages. Earlier this month, the Century 21 opened on the ground floor; last week, the long-awaited Alamo Drafthouse finally opened its dine-in theaters and bar upstairs. A Trader Joe’s, Target and a food hall are coming soon.
Scoping it out last week, we noticed the above sign with what City Point has adopted as its slogan: “You don’t have to be born in Brooklyn to be Brooklyn born.” This motto seems risky, poised to trigger that kind of anti-transplant attitude that mocked Budweiser’s ham-handed attempt at local authenticity earlier this year. What made City Point go with this message? I called up Paul Travis, managing partner of Washington Square Partners, which is developing the site, to find out.
“Brooklyn is not one of those places in America where people have lived there forever, where if you come back 100 years later it’s the same family,” he said. “Brooklyn is a county, or city, you can call it, of immigrants. The idea that you can identify as a Brooklyner even if you weren’t born there is very strong.”
The search for authenticity is very real in New York City. A developer in the Bronx last year went overboard in their efforts to be “authentic” by throwing a party full of bullet-hole-riddled cars. “Brooklyn-ness,” for better but often worse, has become a brand, and as that brand stretches farther its meaning can become as muddled with other terms “all-natural” or “artisanal.”
What does it mean to be “Brooklyn-born” exactly? For people, the answer is obvious; for a building full of different businesses, it’s a patchwork definition.
Travis said the developers didn’t want a cookie cutter look akin to a shopping center you might find in Wichita, Kansas. They wanted to embrace a “Brooklyn” feel for City Point, which meant eschewing normal mall design and going with some offbeat elements, like reclaimed wood in one of its passages, concrete floors and transparent elevator doors that let you peek into the elevator shaft. One outside wall contains a three-story mural constructed in a partnership between Bushwick-based artist the Ladd Brothers and local elementary school students.
“I have no interest honestly in making this feel it’s a Manhattan shopping center or urban center. That’s not been our goal,” he said. “I think we’ve constantly challenged ourselves to make sure this is not sure your normal everyday retail center you can find anywhere.”
Travis said developers hired 70 percent of its construction employees locally, and is prioritizing hiring locally for the rest of its employees for the stores as well.
“If you walk in the doors today, and you look at the employees at the building, they are very clearly local employees,” Travis said. “If this project were to succeed, it had to be part of the neighborhood it was in and represent the broad diversity of Brooklyn.”
Of course, hiring locally isn’t that hard — it’s not like people are dying to commute from Pennsylvania to work in Downtown Brooklyn.
Branding firm Pentagram came up with the slogan; the firm has also worked on branding for Verizon, MasterCard, the Queens Museum and DC Entertainment. Update 4:30pm: It should be noted that some of the signs on City Point also call Downtown Brooklyn “DoBro:
Alamo Drafthouse is an Austin export that hired a local chef to craft its menu; Trader Joe’s was born in California and Target started in Minnesota, while Century 21 is a Bay Ridge native. Brooklyn gets its best representation in Dekalb Market Hall, the massive food court whose opening has been pushed back to early 2017. It will feature beloved local vendors such as Ample Hills, Fletcher’s BBQ, Hard Times Sundaes, Forcella and more. City Point brought in Brooklyn native and Foragers Market founder Anna Castellan to curate the hall.
The Ladd Brothers’ mural on the outside of the building, called Fabulous Phil, is a collaboration between the Bushwick artists and 1,200 kids from 16 Brooklyn schools. Travis recommends going by at night to see it. Here’s a video on the making of the project:
Hot take here but there is nothing wrong with being a “transplant” at its core, because everyone is a transplant somewhere in their lives at some point, unless you actually never moved out of your parents’ house and the concept of exploring any other city in this great, weird country of ours is somehow not of interest to you.
But we expect our transplants to Brooklyn to have a little bit of humbleness and humility when arriving, so as to earn the label of “Brooklynite.” Transplants are expected to keep their heads down and learn the lay of the land, not to show up and start bitching about bodega cats, or writing thinkpieces of “20 places to find the real Brooklyn.”
Washington Square Partners has local roots, though they’re based in Manhattan. Time will tell whether die-hard Brooklynites will accept the idea that “you don’t have to be born in Brooklyn to be Brooklyn born,” or whether the allure of Trader Joe’s dried mango and a Target slightly less chaotic than the one down the street at Atlantic Center will be enough to win crowds over.
As for Travis. He’s got a ways to go himself: he was born in the Bronx.
Follow Tim, who is definitely Brokelyn-born: @timdonnelly.