HBO documentary reveals two very different sides of New York neighbourhood

Posted on October 31st, 2016 by Laura Byrne Paquet in Culture

Flickr/Creative Commons photo by David Berkowitz.

Flickr/Creative Commons photo of the High Line elevated park by David Berkowitz.

On the weekend, I finally got the chance to watch a documentary I’d put on the PVR a few weeks ago—and I’m glad I did. “Class Divide” is an excellent one-hour doc examining the Manhattan neighbourhood of Chelsea, which has been gentrifying at a dizzying pace since the opening of the High Line elevated park (the first renovated section of the park opened in 2009 and the park was completed in 2014).

The film focuses strongly on a particular intersection. On one side of the street sits Avenues: The World School, a private institution for kids from kindergarten to Grade 12, where the annual tuition is close to US$50,000 a year. On the other side sits the Chelsea-Elliot Houses, a public housing development. And overlooking the Chelsea-Elliot playground is a townhouse recently listed at over US$10 million.

Filmmaker Marc Levin gleaned remarkable interviews from a wide range of residents, particularly children from both Chelsea-Elliot and Avenues. The gap between kids whose classmates have private jets and those whose parents have to worry about the electricity being cut off is…well, “glaring” is too weak a word. I dare you not to root for Rosa, an incredibly articulate eight-year-old from Chelsea-Elliot who dreams of being a doctor, or for Yasemin Smallens, a 16-year-old student at Avenues who tries to build bridges between the two communities. (She’s developed a website called 115 Steps, whose title comes from the number of steps between her school and the housing project.)

If you’d like a glimpse into the inner workings of New York City that is much more intense than you would normally get as a tourist, I can’t recommend this documentary highly enough.

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