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What the Signs Say : Language, Gentrification, and Place-Making in Brooklyn
What the Signs Say : Language, Gentrification, and Place-Making in Brooklyn
Click to enlarge
Author(s): Trinch, Shonna
ISBN No.: 9780826522771
Pages: 314
Year: 202006
Format: Trade Cloth (Hard Cover)
Price: £61.21
Dispatch delay: Dispatched between 7 to 15 days
Status: Available From Our Suppliers (Active record)

Introduction Discovering a Field Site Have you ever noticed which of the street signs, over the shop doors, are the most attractive of attention? . the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street, escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious. Edgar Allen Poe, "The Purloined Letter," 1845 In the spring of 2007, a Brooklyn bagel-maker put up a sign for his new store on 5th Avenue near St. Marks Avenue in Park Slope. It read ARENA in five large capital letters, above the words BAGELS & BIALYS. The owner said he hoped to link his new shop to the coming sports arena, what would become the Barclays Center, the centerpiece of Atlantic Yards, New York City's largest urban redevelopment project in the past fifty years. The multibillion-dollar plan included the basketball arena and sixteen high-rise office and residential towers in the middle of Brooklyn. The bagel seller soon learned that local residents planned to protest his store's name.


They read the name ARENA as an open endorsement of Atlantic Yards, which they were publicly and legally contesting. Local residents disagreed with the plan's scale, and they felt that the developer and the state's partnership was a misuse of public money and an abuse of government power for private profit (Lavine and Oder 2010; Snajdr and Trinch 2018a). Although the shop owner at first told a reporter he was going to ignore the neighbors' threat (Kuntzman 2007), within a month, he relented, and a new, nearly identical, but ultimately very different sign went up: A.R.E.A. BAGELS & BIALYS We heard about the wrangle over ARENA/A.R.


E.A. Bagels from various informants when conducting our ethnographic study about neighborhood "say" in the Atlantic Yards controversy. For example, we heard about it from Patti Hagan, a Prospect Heights resident and community activist who first sounded the alarm about the plan. Daniel Goldstein, whose property was seized by the state to build the arena and who became the spokesman for Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), a grassroots group opposing the plan, also told us about the shop sign incident. But Goldstein explained that DDDB had no position on the bagel shop's name and had never encouraged a boycott of the business. On DDDB's website, a May 18, 2007, post entitled "We're Focused on the Big Picture, Not the Bagel Hole" stated that "We believe that the use of eminent domain for [Atlantic Yards] violates the US Constitution and we have organized and continue to raise funds for a lawsuit alleging just that in federal court" (DDDB 2007). But in fact the discourse of both DDDB and the local press trivialized local residents' concerns about the language of the bagel shop's sign, arguing that there were more important things to fight over than a shop owner's storefront.


The Brooklyn Paper concluded that the opponents of Atlantic Yards are so frustrated by Bruce Ratner and his high-priced pals that they're taking out their aggression on a lowly bagel store owner. So there it is, folks: An immigrant from Punjab--a guy who worked himself up from a dishwasher to a manager to, finally, the owner of bagel stores in Queens, Long Island and Brooklyn -- is gunned down in the war over Atlantic Yards. (Kuntzman 2007) Though we also understand the difference between a small business entrepreneur and a billion-dollar developer, the case of ARENA Bagels shows that the meaning of language in public space, even on the seemingly smallish scale of a storefront sign, can actually play a significant role in the contemporary contest over urban space. Clearly, some neighborhood residents felt they had the right to say something about the bagel-seller's shop sign. And as it turned out, the shop owner, stating that he wanted to fit in with the neighborhood, decided to heed their concerns.


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