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Gentrification fears loom in new anti-Brooklyn-Queens streetcar documentary

On the heels of the release of a documentary titled “Gentrification Express: Breaking Down the BQX,” the Village Voice poses this question: “Hey, what the hell happened to BQX, anyway?”

And indeed, it’s been a while since we’ve heard anything about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pie-in-the-sky proposal to bring a streetcar to the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. A long-promised feasibility study conducted by the city has yet to materialize, and in the spring, a leaked memo suggested that the project would not end up being financially sustainable. Though at the time, De Blasio seemed prepared to forge ahead regardless—“We believe this is a vision that can work and can work on time,” he said—the lack of news on the topic could suggest otherwise.

The Voice has a few theories about the delays: the powers that be are waiting for better funding, and/or waiting for this summer’s subway crisis to dissipate somewhat; they’re waiting until after the mayoral election in November; or “BQX is dead, but nobody wants to identify the body.”

But today, Mayor De Blasio refuted those claims on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show, noting that “it’s a plan that we said from the beginning, construction would start on it in 2019 or 2020. So, it’s just the normal course of things.” Still, the city doesn’t appear to be in any hurry; a spokesperson for the EDC told the Village Voice that there is no timetable for the release of the city’s studies into the economic viability of the BQX.

Meanwhile, Friends of the BQX—the nonprofit organization that’s the BQX’s main advocacy group—is still pushing hard for the project, with an active Twitter feed and advocates meeting with community stakeholders to shore up support.

But the short documentary we mentioned above looks at some of the anti-BQX activists (including Sunset Park’s UPROSE and Queens Is Not 4 Sale) and how they’re fighting against the streetcar. Those groups argue that the transit project is for the benefit of developers, rather than locals, and say it will end up displacing longtime residents as property values—and thus, rents—rise in those neighborhoods.

“You don’t need a streetcar to have a fast-moving mode of transportation along the same streets,” says Samuel Stein, a professor of Urban Studies at Hunter College (two Hunter students are the brains behind the short film). He, and other activists interviewed for the film, say that the city’s bus system should be improved instead, but “having a nice bus line will not increase property values nearly as much as a streetcar will.”

And, crucially, De Blasio doesn’t have any say over funding for better bus service—but he does over initiatives like the BQX, or the less controversial NYC Ferry.

You can watch the film below:

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