Tour of towers: Walking tours highlight gentrification of Downtown and Gowanus - Brooklyn Paper

Tour of towers: Walking tours highlight gentrification of Downtown and Gowanus

He walks the lien: Mike Higgins points out the former location of cheap apartments and a clothing store, soon to be a park and luxury high-rise, on his Gentrification of Downtown Brooklyn Tour.
Photo by Julianne McShane

Call him a social justice walker.

A native Brooklynite has created a pair of walking tours that spotlight the history and impact of gentrification in the Gowanus and Downtown neighborhoods. The twice-monthly, $10 tours highlight the changing borough and make sure that those crushed under the wheels of development are not forgotten, said the man behind the tours.

“I think a lot of people get the idea that Brooklyn is thriving — but parts of Brooklyn are thriving and parts of Brooklyn are between a rock and a hard place,” said Mike Higgins, who hails from Fort Greene. “The people who have had to undergo the disinvestment are not necessarily thriving.”

The Social Justice Tours organization features several walks in Manhattan, including a gay history tour and a walk focused on Trump-related sites, but Higgins created his two Brooklyn-focused tours earlier this year.

The mile-long, 90-minute “Environmental Justice in Gowanus” focuses on the notoriously fetid waterway’s transformation from dumping ground to Superfund site to hipster hot spot and home for possible future luxury condos.

The two-hour “Gentrification in Downtown Brooklyn” stroll begins near MetroTech Center — the area’s first harbinger of the development that began in the 1980s, Higgens said. The tour then loops through Downtown, stopping at a former abolitionist house and Underground Railroad stop on Duffield Street that the city has promised to preserve. Other stops include City Point — the site of the former small business-focused Albee Square Mall — and Barclays Center, where Higgins discusses the eminent domain seizures that made it possible.

Tour participants so far have been a mix of native Brooklynites and first-time visitors, and Higgins tailors his tour to account for his listerners’ background with the borough.

“On the one hand I want to talk to native New Yorkers who live here, who are experiencing the consequences of unaccountable development, but I also want to talk to tourists about the ways in which Brooklyn has been sold around the world as a brand,” he said.

Higgins also wants to prompt tour-goers to consider their own role in gentrification and displacement — and how they can fight back against those forces.

“It’s everyday people that have contributed, and a lot of city government stepping in to decide who gets to live there and who gets to benefit from that new investment coming in,” he said.

“Environmental Justice in Gowanus” tour (Union Street and Fourth Avenue in Gowanus, www.socialjusticetours.com). Nov. 4 and 11 at noon. $10.

“Gentrification in Downtown Brooklyn” tour (Jay Street and Myrtle Avenue Downtown, www.socialjusticetours.com). Nov. 10 and 17 at noon. $10.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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