Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, New York

Save This Town by Blue Foundation

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Even in the afternoon
You can go there fishing for the moon
And the fairy lights
Glow like fireflies
A neighborhood in Prospect Heights
(thanks, Michael Dougherty)
From Wagner's gross nationalistic support of Anti-Semitism to Hendrix becoming an icon for the '60s counterculture movement, the political power of a catchy tune cannot be denied. It seems, however, that the financial bottom line of our time has little to fear from the revolutionary power of a song and even less from the masses it sought to incite. In the end, money trumps music, as reflected in the sad story of Prospect Heights and a musical plea that went as thoroughly ignored as the popular consent it tried to fight for.

Blue Foundation's song "Save This Town" was released in 2004 on the album Fear of Days (Virgin). The band consists mainly of founder, vocalist, and producer Tobias Wilner, and multi-instrumentalist Bo Rande, though they boast an extensive list of past and temporary members. Difficult to file away neatly into a single genre, Blue Foundation's sound has been described as a fusion of Shoegaze, Dream Pop and Electronic. Probably their most famous song is "Eyes on Fire," used in the soundtrack to the popular Twilight movies. Wilner seems to have a penchant for soundtracks, and "Save This Town" was featured on the popular show "The O.C." Perhaps this, in combination with its feel-good rhythm, obscured the gravity of its intentions.

The song was released about a year after the announcement of the controversial Atlantic Yards project in 2003, which would have a momentous impact on the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights in NYC where the band is based. The project, proposed by developer Bruce Ratner, involved the construction of the Barclays Centre to house the New York Nets basketball team as well as a cluster of high-rise housing projects. From its first murmurings in 2000, the proposal met great resistance from the locals.

Prospect Heights has a relatively small population when compared to its surrounding neighborhoods, but is famous for its ethnic and cultural diversity. From the 1910s through to the 1950s, it was home to many Italian, Greek, and Yankee residents. Back then, despite the wars, even German and Jew lived side by side. Today its cultural plurality consists mainly of a blend between Black and White. The neighborhood can be characterised as a fledgling social experiment in diversity, sustainability, progressive attitudes, and the benefit of striking a balance between fostering individuality and respect for others. It sports several co-op projects working toward a sustainable power grid supplemented by solar panels, and an interesting array of alternative commercial ventures, such as NYC's first Steampunk restaurant, bar and boutique wine shop. The humanist attitude of the beautifully cosmopolitan microcosm that is Prospect Heights finds expression in these lyrics from the song, as does the threat posed by the Atlantic Yards project:
Brooklyn Museum First Saturday Party
(thanks, Eric)
Come around to this fine town
Where freedom makes the world go round
And where dreams are found
And carried out
Growing from diversity
Out of true originality
It's the place to be
And that's why
I fear the need to standardise
And I fear the guys with normal eyes
It's a precious child
Come on give it a try

And they did try. Several Prospect Heights community groups attempted to oppose the project and achieved some small success. Due to the historical value of the area's densely packed Neo-Grec and Italianate row houses, much of the neighborhood was designated as a NYC Historic District. The district has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983, and through the efforts of the community it fell under the protection of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2009. But despite the ongoing effort of groups such as "Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn" and the success of the Oscar short-listed film Battle for Brooklyn which chronicles the controversy, Ratner got his way in the end.

The Barclay Centre was opened on 28 September 2012. In the face of all the public protest, online news site The Independent tells that "Ratner was given 22 acres of prime Brooklyn real estate, hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, eminent domain and a zoning override without the vote of a single elected official..." and that "Atlantic Yards will go down in history as a gross government giveaway that abused democratic practices in order to enrich a private developer at public expense."

It would be easy to dismiss this story merely as further evidence to the prevalent attitude that individual or collective resistance to Big Money is a pointless and impossible waste of time. We would do better, perhaps, to learn a deeper lesson from Prospect Heights and face up to our own democratic responsibility by remembering the words of Khalil Gibran:

"Government is an agreement between you and myself. You and myself are often wrong."

~ Stefan Smit


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