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“Emergent City” Doc About Residents’ Fight for Sunset Park Will Broadcast on PBS

The documentary "Emergent City" follows the community leaders who stopped the rezoning of Sunset Park

Fisayo Okare

Jun 27, 2024

Brooklyn, New York, USA - February 19, 2024: View of the Industry City mixed use development in Sunset Park. Photo: Shutterstock

What happens when Sunset Park’s working class immigrant residents join forces with community leaders to oppose five multibillion dollar corporations? 

A new documentary, “Emergent City,” which premiered at The Tribeca Festival this month, captures the events surrounding the transformation of Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and a failed attempt by its developers to obtain a special permit to allow for hotel construction and rezoning the land for expanded retail along the Brooklyn waterfront. 

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The documentary itself is set between 2017 and 2021, but the action begins by establishing the history of Industry City with 1931 archival footage, showing how ships carried Brooklyn made products worldwide, and moves to 1969 when Industry City ceased to be a manufacturing hub. At its peak, over half of the olives consumed in the U.S. were shipped from Brooklyn’s industrial district. By 2012, Industry City had only 66% occupancy rate, with its tenants employing 2,500 workers.

Fast forward to 2013, multibillion dollar companies including Belvedere Capital Real Estate Partners, Jamestown Properties, and Angelo, Gordon & Co. purchased Industry City. Of the corporations, Jamestown owns 50%. By 2017, Andrew Kimball, who was then the CEO of Industry City and is now President and CEO of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, said in the documentary that Industry City had succeeded in reducing vacancy in the 30-acre swath by 5%, and was having meetings with the city to create a zoning text amendment to establish a Sunset Park innovation district, rezone a portion of the area for retail and other uses, and acquire a special permit for hotel use. 

Residents of Sunset Park would not have it.

UPROSE’s Genea Foster breaking down Land Use. Photo credit: Jay Arthur Sterrenberg

Directed by Sunset Park residents Kelly Anderson and Jay Arthur Sterrenberg, and produced by Anderson and Brenda Avila-Hanna, the film chronicles how the fight against these corporations unfolded in a primarily Latino and Chinese immigrant neighborhood. 

“It was really important that the film shows that this kind of situation really causes a lot of tension in communities,” Avila-Hanna told Documented in an interview. “There isn’t us versus them. But it’s really how can we just work together and look past our differences in a way that takes people into account in a neighborhood? We don’t have to see eye to eye on everything. But we can all agree that we live here, and we should have a say in what happens, more than money, more than capital, and the environment has to play a role in it.”

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The movie sheds light on power and process and gives viewers rare access into the public and private spaces where New York City is shaped. 

Key characters in the film include Andrew Kimball, who from 2013 to 2023 was the CEO of Industry City; Carlos Menchaca, the first Mexican American elected official in New York City and Brooklyn’s first openly gay legislator, who, at the time the documentary was produced, was the NYC Council member representing Sunset Park, Brooklyn; Marcela Mitaynes, then a community board member in Sunset Park who nowrepresents New York’s District 51 in the State Assembly where she is a leader on equitable housing policy and issues affecting undocumented workers; Elizabeth Yeampierre, a renowned environmental justice leader and the executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization; among others. 

Highlighting each participant’s different level of power and stake in the transformation of Industry City, “Emergent City” shows the ideologies and strategies that guided their fight, culminating in Industry City’s decision to withdraw its application to rezone the land along the Brooklyn waterfront during the pandemic in 2021.

“It’s tricky and it’s nuanced and that is democracy, in a way it’s messy. Not everyone’s gonna be happy, but everyone has to have a seat at the table. And so, we try to bring as many people as we can into the story,” Avila-Hanna said.

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Following its premiere at the The Tribeca Festival, “Emergent City” was acquired by POV — television’s longest-running showcase for independent nonfiction films — to broadcast nationally on PBS in 2025. 

The film’s producers will be partnering with POV to also have some screening guides and educational materials developed. “We definitely want to do screenings in different communities and languages to make sure that film is accessible to different people in Sunset Park, because it’s home to so many languages. We’re also trying to partner up with universities or anybody who might be interested in screening the film,” Avila-Hanna told Documented.

Fisayo Okare

Fisayo writes Documented’s "Early Arrival" newsletter and "Our City" column. She is an MSc. graduate of Columbia Journalism School, New York, and earned her BSc. degree in Mass Comm. from Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos.

@fisvyo

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