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Islanders in Brooklyn: On the evolving history, identity they're stepping into

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The good news: At long last, the New York Islanders have found a new home. The uncomfortable part: It used to be someone else's.

Strollers, check. Taxi, check. Urban pro, check.
Strollers, check. Taxi, check. Urban pro, check.
Bruce Bennett

Conversationally, this might open up a can of worms, as it tempts the sports site "third rail" of politics and development. But it's good to share a little background, especially for our readers from afar:

The New York Islanders' new 2015 home in Brooklyn has some controversial roots.

Since the Islanders are late tenants to the party, having selected the Barclays Center only after spending most of its development looking for preferred alternatives in Nassau, this might not be on the radar for a portion of the fanbase. But the story of the Barclays Center is founded on conflict over local identity, urban development and of course the villainous eminent domain.

The Barclays Center is, as a last resort, a salvation for the Islanders. It's quite something else for residents who used to call the site home or now must call the arena their neighbor.

"People move to these neighborhoods because they have character," she said. "They're quiet, they're old, they're beautiful. When you've got 20,000 people coming out here three times a week, that's going to change a place. And none of us know exactly how it's going to change it. So we're grateful for the business, but what happens now?"

--"Branding Brooklyn"

If you're unfamiliar with the controversy that goes back nearly a decade, check out the text and links in this Hockey in Society piece about Bruce Ratner, who's responsible for moving the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn as part of his Brooklyn development dream.

I followed the story myself not as an Islanders fan -- back then, I'd never dreamed of the Isles moving to Brooklyn and never imagined Nassau would fumble its franchise away. I followed it as a curious bystander whose stepfather still waxes nostalgic over his old brownstone in Brooklyn, while griping about that timeless old man's concern: bah, gentrification.

Anyway, you've no doubt picked up on the "hipster" motif that fans (mostly) jokingly bring to discussions of the move to Brooklyn. There's always some truth behind stereotypes like that.

Beyond that gif-friendly meme though, the Islanders will be inserting themselves into an interesting community-meets-brand concept developing with the Nets moving to Brooklyn and giving the borough a sports team to call its own.

"No," she said, "we don't have any really strong feelings about the Nets yet. They were mediocre in New Jersey, right? Even people in New Jersey didn't like them. But this isn't about the Nets. This is about Brooklyn, having something of our own."

It's not just hipsters sucking microbrew foam through thick beards, and it's not just the dispossessed, and its not just young professionals in fun homes a nice distance from Manhattan, and it's not just older residents preserving brownstones and fuming about the encroachment of youth or developers or eminent domain. It's a living, breathing -- and quite interesting -- collection of neighborhoods whose identity will be unavoidably changed by the unstoppable force that dropped an arena, an urban development, and a sports team right in the middle.

The New York Times architectural review captures this: It simultaneously raves about the arena as a structure but wonders aloud how it fits in the context of Brooklyn. This is the context the Isles will be stepping into.

For a fun and possibly controversial deep look into Brooklyn A.B.C. (After Barlcays Center), check out this SB Nation long form piece, "Branding Brooklyn" (the same piece I've block quoted above), on the sights and sounds upon the arena's arrival. One more excerpt:

Those who protest the existence of the Barclays Center and the attendant development of Atlantic Avenue do so on three grounds: That the state displaced hundreds of residents via the use of eminent domain to secure Ratner's rights to the property; that the hoped-for affordable housing on Atlantic has yet to, and may never, materialize; and that the development of Atlantic will lead to runaway gentrification.

The first complaint is plainly valid—eminent domain is brutal—and the second may become so, depending on what happens with those holes in the ground at the edge of Prospect Heights. The third complaint is crazy. This corner of Brooklyn gentrified a long time ago, which is why the most constant complaints about the arrival of the Barclays Center come not from long-time residents who fear rising rents, but from those residents whose arrival has caused rents to rise.

I'm curious what our readers think -- and if you care about this aspect, whether you're a fan that will see the team move 10 minutes away, a fan who feels the team is fleeing its home, or a fan from far away who's just learning a little about what this move means.

It's going to be an adventure. The Islanders will step into this evolving ... identity story, I suppose you'd call it, three years on. The Nets will be established at that point. The Isles might even (better be!) a playoff team by that point. The Isles almost certainly won't rebrand as intensely BROOKLYN! as the Nets did, so it will make for a curious addition.

It will create 40 more dates of traffic, with all the good and bad that entails. Maybe it won't be a big deal anymore (outside of for Isles fans). Or maybe the Isles get flak for any additional ills brought by their arrival.

But don't blame them. They're just renting here.