The New York City that is presented to us on television and cinema is sugarcoated with glitz and allure. It’s often the hipster bylanes of Greenwich Village or the vertical charms of Manhattan that grab our attention most often. But there are other parts of the Big Apple that reveal its apathetic and racially divided side. A prime example are the Louis Pink Houses in Brooklyn, often described as the most dangerous housing developments in the city. Giving life to the Pink Houses is the documentary YouTube series Project Heat.Project Heat is well-timed to complement the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. The series looks at the deleterious living conditions at the Pink Houses. The housing colonies, also called the projects, were initiated by the New York City Housing Authority for low income residents of the city, and can be found in several locations such as Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan. The projects have been controversial for several reasons, including the deep-seated neglect by local development committees. The locality is also a backdrop to high levels of crime, often between rival gang members or residents and the police department.
The preliminary episode of Project Heat is based on the 2014 murder of Akai Gurley by a New York Police Department officer in the Pink Houses. Hurley was on his way to a basketball match with his girlfriend when he was shot in the chest on the staircase of his building by Peter Liang, a patrolling officer. Liang was later sentenced to five years of probation and 800 hours of community service. The incident of police brutality received widespread coverage.
The creator of the series, Tiffon “Pop” Dunn, moved to the Pink Houses as a child. His depictions of the neighbourhood bring a unique insider’s perspective to the series. “My vision with the show was very clear – I want the show to reach the world so everybody can see what goes on in NYC’s housing projects,” Dunn told Scroll.in.
While Dunn’s empathy rests squarely with the residents, he also attempts to show both sides of every incident. He sheds light on the ghettoised black community living in the projects. Dunn often tells the stories of real-life incidents he has known, heard or witnessed, where people have been murdered over unpaid debts, domestic violence or rival gang wars. The series also picks up more complex troubles faced by the housing projects, such as the threat of gentrification.
The response of local groups, who are grateful for a local view of their stories, has been encouraging, Dunn said. “The support from the people, the community has been huge,” he said. “Those who watch the show are its biggest fans and supporters. Those who’ve never lived in the projects are so amazed by what goes in there. With Project Heat, I’m giving them visuals to stories they need to know.”
Project Heat is now in its second season, and it continues to tell stories that need to be told. While its production levels are anything but admirable, and the storytelling often gets overly dramatic and clichéd, the incidents portrayed in the series deserve a watch. Project Heat carries a sense of hope despite its grim subject matter. “With Project Heat, I want change to come within the community,” Dunn said. “I want the law enforcers to notice the reality and change it. I want kids from the new generation to look at it, take notes and dream big instead of taking to the streets.”