On August 25, the MTV Video Music Awards and its red carpet landed with a wallop in the neighborhood around Barclays Center. The video to the right shows some of the volume and scale of the red carpet event, which was staged next to homes at the Dean Street and 6th Avenue intersection. At the end of the video, Miley Cyrus steps from her limo, giving a preview of her later performance on stage. The crowds lining the street are comprised largely of young people brought in by MTV, not residents from the block.
While other events have spilled out of the arena onto public sidewalks and streets, the VMAs were the first to receive permission from the City to close streets and sidewalks in the neighborhoods nearby. The entire setting - from its crowds to the facades of the townhouses nearby - were carefully stage-managed for the camera and attending media. The experience for local residents went far beyond the red carpet walk seen on t.v. It included: five consecutive nights of after hours outdoors construction work, filming footage prior to the event, live performances with amplified sound, a projection screen with lights, six back-up generators, and a shipped-in cast apparently numbering between one and two thousand people.
In 2009, the VMAs took place at Radio City Music Hall, which is in a commercial district. In contrast, an override of NYC zoning regulations allowed Barclays Center to be located next to a residential district. The apex of the event with the amplified sound and live concert was centered at Dean Street and 6th Avenue. The scale and impact of the red carpet event gave residents only a few choices: leave the area or watch the event from their windows, sidewalks and stoops. There was no opportunity to ignore it inside or outside their homes.
Fifteen interviews with local residents living inside the restricted zone recorded immediately after the event can be found here. The most bitter complaints about the event were constraints to movement, with some residents saying they felt like prisoners in their homes. The constraints were due both to the security plan and the significant volume of people let into the restricted area.
Information was hard to come by in advance of the event itself. Key components of the production like live performances, restricted access to homes, amplified sound, and the location of celebrities were tentatively, inconsistently and even misleadingly detailed to the community, meaning for residents, (including those with special considerations like the elderly and families with kids), it was difficult to lay plans. NYC's Code of Conduct for outdoor film staging (called "Keys to the City") requires producers to notify neighbors how, when and for what duration they will be impacted. However, MTV did not adopt many of the protections for residents in the Keys to the City, like those related to noise, lights and trash.
When pressed by a reporter for CBS Radio about the lack of notice for a "concert," an unnamed source associated with a city agency overseeing the event stated, “There will be a DJ playing music during the red carpet and a singer briefly performing. . . To call it a concert would be inaccurate, and it is the policy of our office that these types of events are not pre-announced to prevent crowds from forming. It is the best interest of public safety that this so-called concert is not publicized as it would be imprudent for crowds to gather for a non-existent concert.” In the end the efforts to minimize crowds on the part of city officials were not effective. Crowds of girls collected outside the perimeter of the event, and may in some cases have infiltrated inside, trying to catch a glimpse of celebrities like Austin Mahone, one of several performers they had heard were performing on the red carpet.
In order to create a controlled environment for the MTV red carpet, NYPD closed streets and sidewalks starting Friday at noon. The area, bounded by Bergen Street on the south, Atlantic Avenue on the north, Flatbush Avenue on the west and Carlton Avenue on the east was then turned into a frozen zone Sunday. In addition, Pacific Street between 4th Avenue and Flatbush was closed on the day of the red carpet to serve as an area to pen fans.
The red carpet was located on 6th Avenue from Pacific Street to mid-block between Dean and Bergen Streets, and on Dean Street from arena entrance extending east past the intersection of 6th Avenue. The frozen area hosted a large set. Buildings along the red carpet were used as a Brooklyn-themed backdrop for the celebrities. Dean Playground was closed on the day of the event, although a basketball tournament was allowed to proceed through the course of the day on the Bergen Street side.
The photo above shows a quiet view of the red carpet area from Atlantic Avenue looking south up 6th Avenue on the night before the event, Saturday August 24th.
In total, 6th Avenue from Bergen Street to Atlantic Avenue was closed for four days. Dean Street between Flatbush and Carlton and Pacific Street between 6th Avenue and Carlton were closed for two days. Pacific Street between Flatbush and 4th Avenue, while largely unused, was closed for one day as was the southern sidewalk of Atlantic Avenue from 6th Avenue to Carlton Avenue. The 6th Avenue closure was more than 12 hours longer than announced. The Atlantic Avenue sidewalk closure was not announced.
A frozen zone makes it hard to access streets, stores and even some roofs
An outdoor red carpet in New York necessitates significant security so that crowds the celebrities draw can be controlled. The VMAs security plan had to address the ticketed audience, a huge cast, unticketed curiosity seekers, residents and their guests with legitimate access, as well as security threats such as occurred at the Boston Marathon. As a result, access for residents to and from their own homes proved to be one of the most contentious issues of the production.
In the video below a resident argues with a private security guard for access across the street.
Although it was never announced by MTV or the City, on Sunday the length of Dean Street between 6th Avenue and Carlton was bounded by barricades on both curbs and additionally blocked in multiple locations on the south side. In order to get to a store or reach the subway residents were asked to walk several blocks out of their way instead of to the store they could see across the street. These restrictions were in place most of the day of the event, even when there was no activity on the street itself. In the circumstance above, the private security guard is courteous. Some residents reported less nice behavior on the part of security and many reported deep frustration with the number of times they had to show their ID.
In order to gain access to their homes residents needed to show identification and pick up their guests at checkpoints. Additionally, on Sunday residents were stopped for identification or asked to move away from trailers housing Ariana Grande, Austin Mahone and others on the north side of Dean Street near Carlton Avenue even though those trailers were parked in front of their homes. While residents were kept from the celebrities, the celebrities did occasionally show themselves to the fans collected on Carlton Avenue.
Security and access for each block inside the restricted area was treated differently, creating different experiences for residents. The 6th Avenue block where the 78th Precinct is located appeared to have the greatest level of security; a resident host had to argue for a minute or more to get this writer through the checkpoint at Bergen Street. Dean Street between Flatbush and 6th Avenue was also highly regulated, with at least one area only accessible to residents, their guests and NYPD families.
Although residents were promised escorts for guests at each checkpoint, none appeared, and as a result guests had to be picked up at checkpoints by residents. Parents reported having to pick up their teenagers at the checkpoints because their school IDs do not have their home address on them. Nannies had difficulty gaining access. It was difficult or impossible for delivery persons to reach their customers.
During the event, NYPD was stationed on some roofs and on those roofs access by residents was not allowed. It is unclear if NYPD received permission from property owners to enter buildings, be on roofs, or restrict access to roofs.
Information about access was inconsistent and hard to come by
According to the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment's Code of Conduct the responsibility for providing information about events falls to the production, in this case MTV. The Code of Conduct states, "When filming in a residential neighborhood or business district, proper notification is to be provided to each merchant or neighbor who is directly affected by the company... The filming notice should include... type of activity and duration."
However, information about the locations of checkpoints and the form of identification to get access into the restricted area were inconsistent and hard to come by. On the Monday before the event MTV released its final letter to residents, which did not detail how to access homes at all and stated small restricted zones would be located on 6th Avenue between Atlantic and Dean, and Dean Street between Flatbush and 6th Avenue. On the same day, Barclays Center Community Liaison Terence Kelly attended a Dean Street Block Association meeting with over 35 residents from each of the blocks in the anticipated restricted area and provided information consistent with MTV's, additionally adding credentials provided by the 78th Precinct would be necessary in the restricted area. At exactly the same time Kelly was speaking on Dean Street, the 78th Precinct Community Council sent an email describing a larger restricted area and stating that residents throughout the restricted area would need identification to enter. Neither source detailed information about access that applied to residents on 6th Avenue where the Precinct House is located.
In the end the 78th Precinct's information was far more useful overall to residents, but it was only distributed by email. James Vogel from State Senator Velmanette Montgomery's office personally went out and posted some print-outs of the information on lightposts inside the restricted area.
1000 to 2000 cast audience members are brought into restricted area by MTV
Neither MTV nor the Mayor's Office told the production's neighbors to anticipate the one to two thousand young people who appeared inside the restricted zone on the day of the red carpet. At the time of this writing it is not clear if all the young people inside the event were let in as appears likely, or evaded security, but they all appeared to fit the demographic sought in a casting call by MTV prior to the production.
When asked by this writer, several young people standing on a stoop prior to the event on Dean Street stated they were from Queens and New Jersey and that they were "waitlisted" by MTV. The number of visitors inside the restricted zone appeared to be the number required to line the red carpet with cheering crowds. The cameras filming the red carpet for MTV photographed crowds in each of the areas the crowds were situated.
The largest number of cast members were located on bleachers on 6th Avenue between Pacific and Dean Streets. Shortly before the event MTV and the Mayor's Office privately told community leaders in a 20 minute meeting under the arena occulus that 550 paid cast would be placed in the bleachers which are located on property controlled by FCRC adjacent to the arena. The red carpet ran down the western 6th Avenue sidewalk. An additional unknown number of people lined the east side of the red carpet, and yet more (out of the frame of the above photograph) were located near a stage set up on the east sidewalk of 6th Avenue.
700 Pacific Street residents report fans attempted to reach the red carpet on Dean Street through the Pacific Street entrance of their building, which itself is located on a street that had restricted access. Whether by plan or because of a security breach, on Dean Street between 6th and Carlton Avenues young people mixed with residents along the north and south sidewalks along the red carpet. They lined the sidewalk and in some cases sat on stoops. On this block one resident reported being threatened when she asked people she did not know to leave her stoop.
The photo above shows what appears to be cast members standing on a Dean Street stoop east of 6th Avenue. They were lit from the side and photographed with the camera. In answers to written questions submitted by community members to MTV, the Mayor's Office and city agencies when it became clear no public meetings would be held on the event, the Mayor's Office stated clearly that, "The production will not impact any private stoops or fenced in areas." Stoops are private property and the primary egress for buildings. The MTV cast did not have the approval of the property owner and were trespassing on this stoop.
At the request of the property owner this writer contacted the VMA hotline (an answering machine) during the event and asked for the stoop to be cleared. There was no response. The person identified as the primary responder to calls on the hotline was clearly visible assisting the production on the red carpet at the time.
This photograph shows crowds at the Dean Street and Sixth Avenue intersection. The view is looking southwest. The crowd lining the red carpet extending up Sixth Avenue is primarily MTV cast with some residents mixed in since the higher level of security made it difficult to enter otherwise. The smaller crowd on the south sidewalk of Dean Street from Flatbush to 6th Avenue appeared to be primarily a mix of residents, their guests and NYPD related guests/families.
Most of the cast was channeled through the Dean Street and Carlton Avenue intersection, although one resident reports a large group being let through on Bergen Street at 6th Avenue as well. Note much of the crowd shown here is standing in Carlton Avenue itself, which was not closed. MTV was provided a parking lot on Dean Street normally used by HPD to screen the cast and train them how to behave in front of the camera.
This parking lot was the sole location of portable toilets inside the restricted area. Once the cast was fed into their locations, it was nearly impossible to return to the parking lot due to barricades inside the frozen area. As a result residents on their stoops were asked by cast members to make their bathrooms accessible and the Dubai Mini-Mart received numerous bathroom requests.
The photo above taken at 8 AM on the day of the red carpet shows the HPD parking lot turned into a kind of training school. Residents report the cast was taught how to cheer, and that they were screened for logos on their clothing.
Production lights and noise
Although trucks began loading the show into the arena on August 6th, the first real impacts from the production were generators brought in to supplement and back up the arena's power. Five generators arrived on the evening of August 14th via the LIRR rail yard, which required the use of flood lights that have been the source of community complaints since the time of arena construction. The five generators were placed in the footprint of Building 4 on the arena block and eventually were joined by two more on August 20th. The decibel level of the generators was reported to be 89 - 91 decibels as measured from 6th Avenue by a community resident. The noise was discernable half a block away. The generators also exhaust.
The event itself had amplified sound, which was not announced until the week of the performance. Although the Keys to the City stipulates that productions must inform each neighbor of impacts, their time and their duration, information releasted to the public by MTV did not describe the time and duration of the amplified sound in any way. AYW published hours for amplified sound on the Friday before the event that were provided informally by the production on Thursday. Music was first played over the sound system on Friday afternoon, which also had not been announced by MTV in advance.
One spin-off event by the Versailles clothing store on Flatbush Avenue also used outdoor amplified sound, likely without a permit. A description of the party and a photo of an outdoor fashion show by the retailer can be found here.
One resident with a decibel meter tweeted a decibel reading of 87 at 5:19 PM on Sunday from the red carpet's amplified sound.
A DJ started playing in the afternoon on Sunday in order to keep the crowd's spirits up, and during the red carpet show two singers, some dancers and BMX performers also used amplification. Below, Ariana Grande takes the stage on the red carpet. The noise level of the crowd screaming sometimes eclipses the amplified sound. Austin Mahone's performance was similar in this respect. The video was captured on a roof using a cell phone with limited audio capabilities.
The Code of Conduct states, "Do not park generator trucks or campers with running generators in front of residential buildings if possible." On the day before the red carpet a production trailer with a generator was set up directly outside 523 Dean Street, a residential building, and a stayed there until 11 PM even though a resident from the building complained and asked for it to be removed. On the night of the event five production trailers with running generators were placed in a line on the north side of Dean Street near Carlton Avenue, a number of them directly beneath residential buildings. The video below (shot with an iPhone and limited recording capabilities) shows the production trailer with generator running beneath 523 Dean Street.
Lights from the production were bright and pointed directly at homes because a key part of the production was showing the "Brooklyn" context. Prompted by a Forest City Ratner executive, MTV provided a black out cloth to a resident with a young child living in a building illuminated by the production on 6th Avenue. The child has a street facing bedroom. The resident reports the cloth proved too small and too coarsely woven to cover the window properly. The view below shows the lights illuminating the 6th Avenue facades.
The Keys to the City requires productions to provide blackout material to residents' windows for night exterior shots before the shoot.
Construction extends longer than anticipated
Five days of after hours construction work outdoors was required to build the red carpet set which included a version of a Brooklyn Bridge tower. The most disruptive night of work was Sunday following the event itself, when work took place all night on 6th Avenue, Pacific Street and Dean Street. A Dean Street resident complains in the video below about the noise from the breakdown.
MTV did warn residents about the days and duration of the event. However the construction work hours appear to have been underestimated. MTV warned residents to anticipate construction until 9:00 PM on Saturday night. AYW's webcam shows lights going down on the construction site in phases between 2:00 AM and 2:30 AM Sunday morning. On Friday night construction was anticipated to extend until midnight, but the construction lights extended until between 1:00 and 1:10 AM.
The photo below from an AYW webcam shows the dismantling of the set underway Monday morning August 26th at 4:20 AM. The Brooklyn Bridge tower is visible in the right center of the photo. 6th Avenue was anticipated to be open at this time in the notices provided the community.
Gridlock and idling from black cars
Black cars parking and idling at fire hydrants and in no standing zones occurs during nearly every Barclays Center event. For the VMAs, the area normally assigned (but rarely used) by TLC vehicles on Atlantic Avenue between 6th and Carlton was retasked for emergency vehicles and NYPD parking.
In a written answer to a question from community members, Barclays Center Community Liaison Terence Kelly stated, "The red carpet program outside is highly-controlled, with all vehicles mustering in an off-site parking area, entering the restricted zone for drop-off, returning to the off-site parking area, and coordinating with MTV on pick-up times. A rush of guests to their vehicles would not be a good look from a production and quality control standpoint. In all we can anticipate approximately 120 vehicles."
During the VMAs, residents reported numerous instances of illegal parking from limos. One resident reported 16 illegally parked limos found in a 20 minute walk in the North Slope around 8:45 PM, and additional problems at 11 PM. The resident posted twelve 311 complaints documented with photos on this website associated with the 8:45 walk. The resident also reports that no TEAs were seen "the entire evening and that there were none assigned to patrol, according to FCR." The filer does state two officers responded positively when asked to address a specific problem.
The red carpet program apparently was not as well coordinated or highly controlled after the event as was anticipated. The plan was apparently for the red carpet celebrities' limos to come down Carlton Avenue and enter Dean Street to reach the arena westbound (against the normal direction of traffic on Dean). A rush to the arena is apparently what happened. In an incident report titled "Illegally Parked Limo Gridlock", a Prospect Heights resident states that Carlton Avenue was so blocked with vehicles that only the bike lane was open. The resident took the time to copy 56 license plates numbers, many of them issued by TLC, of the illegally parked cars.
On Dean Street both sides were lined with idling limos between Carlton and 6th Avenues. The photo above shows the view of Dean Street looking east toward the arena. All the limos were parked and idling, many of them next to residences. The street was closed.
The limos exiting Dean Street at Flatbush were met with a crowd of fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the celebrities they believed to be inside.
MTV leaves trash, debris and damaged trees behind
The Code of Conduct is clear on the subject of trash. It states productions must: "Clean up after your shoot. Make a clean sweep of the area to ensure that nothing is left behind, including equipment, garbage, all resident letters, NO PARKING signs, VTU signs (and tape) that your production posted." The Code also states that productions "cannot use Dept. of Sanitation trash cans or leave bags curbside with residential or business trash."
Some children from Dean Street, (styled the "Dean St. Kidz"), wrote signs across several blocks on the sidewalk welcoming the VMAs and asking those attending to "Please keep it neat!"
In flyers released by MTV, it acknowledged responsibility to clean "the streets closed for event activity." However, the area outside the perimeter, much of it full of crowds of fans, was not cleaned by MTV, so responsibility was shifted to the property owners and businesses nearby. The photo below shows garbage left on Carlton Avenue south of the Dean Street intersection the day following the event, outside the restricted area but near where crowds had gathered.
The night of the event, the streets and sidewalks closed for the event were full of trash and debris from the crowds. The photo below was taken following the event, but before the production cleaned up during the night.
The following photo shows a residential building's garbage can filled with trash from the VMA crowd immediately following the event.
While a cleanup inside the restricted area took place, there was plenty of room for improvement. The tree beds along Dean Playground were not cleaned, and a blackout cloth that ran the full length of Dean Playground along Dean Street was not removed until Thursday. The photo below was taken around noon on the day following the event on Dean Street next to the playground after the production had left the area.
The areas that appeared least cleaned by the production after the event were the stoops and private front gardens of residences. Those cleaning up may have been prohibited from entering private property to clean the trash caused by the production.
In a thoughtful incident report on this website, a resident from Carlton Avenue with a garden that was crushed on the day of the event writes of her garden, "There was a gaggle of fans at the intersection of Dean and Carlton last night, August 25, 2013, hoping for a glimpse of this or that celebrity exiting from the make-up trucks during the MTV Video Awards at the Barclay Center. At that same intersection there is a small garden, separated from the sidewalk by a low concrete curb. The crowd felt no compunction about throwing garbage into that garden, stepping over the curb and standing in it, breaking and trampling plants, many of which were completely destroyed."
She continues, "the MTV Awards was not a festival that understood itself to be taking place in the context of a neighborhood. It was thus mounted at the expense of fragile interstitial areas, such as this garden, that help to sustain this particular neighborhood. This can happen with minor consequences a couple of times but before long such an attitude will render the area surrounding the Barclay Center a barren, subservient landscape. - "
The photo below shows garbage and pieces of red carpet caught under the fence delineating the 6th Avenue sidewalk from the private front garden on the Monday following the event.
Along Pacific Street and 6th Avenue a surprising amount of garbage and debris was left behind. In these locations, including directly across from the arena, the debris and garbage was not cleared until days following the event. One resident reports seeing DSNY workers picking up garbage left curbside on Pacific Street Thursday. The photo below shows Pacific Street east of 6th Avenue Tuesday at 8:30, two days following the event, and long after the production had left the neighborhood.
Some minor street tree damage also occurred during the event and the evidence was left behind on the street. The photo below shows a damaged tree on Dean Street following the event.
Perimeter crowds raise safety concerns and block some sidewalks
While city agencies overseeing the VMAs apparently sought to discourage crowds from forming near the red carpet, celebrity seekers collected at all the locations where a glimpse of a celebrity may have been possible. When fans (mostly girls) chased Justin Bieber's bus down Dean Street in 2012, a camera person who would not identify himself and could have been associated with Justin Bieber was there to capture it. The crowds on Carlton Avenue were aware Austin Mahone was in a production trailer located just west of the Dean and Carlton intersection and calls for Austin to leave his trailer were audible on Dean Street and Carlton Avenue throughout the day.
NYPD anticipated many fans and set up pens on Pacific Street at Flatbush Avenue, Flatbush Avenue between 5th Avenue and Dean Street and the plaza in front of Target. Overall, the capacity of the pens was more than enough to absorb the number of fans who turned up, but the fans didn't always go where they were expected or told.
In the video below which shows cast members being fed into the HPD parking lot on Dean Street from Carlton Avenue, chants of "Austin come back!" can be heard from Carlton Avenue. Austin Mahone, like at least one other celebrity entering through Carlton Avenue, had been seen near the intersection earlier in the day. At the end of the video, a security guard asks the videographer to move away from the production trailers. The person taking the video lives immediately adjacent to where he is shooting the video.
On Flatbush Avenue crowds developed on the southeast side of the intersection because the sidewalks surrounding the arena were closed. A crowd also developed here after the event in the hope that they could catch views of celebrities leaving the arena.
Pedestrians trying to pass the crowds blocking the sidewalk spilled out into the travel lane along Flatbush Avenue.
On the north side of Atlantic Avenue from Fort Greene Place to South Portland the largest crowd gathered. The video below shows crowds on the north side of Atlantic in front of Atlantic Center around 6:00 PM. The sidewalk is difficult to pass. Near the end of the video the crowds begin to shout because a truck is blocking the view to the arena.
The photo below shows the same area later in the early evening from a distance. The crowd has spread in front of Atlantic Terrace. In the foreground the area normally tasked as the TLC parking area for limos during Barclays Center events has been turned into NYPD parking for emergency vehicles and official cars. The south sidewalk of Atlantic Avenue between 6th Avenue and Carlton Avenue was closed to pedestrians.
Several injuries occur on Dean Street over two days
The change of a residential block with a playground into a set for a television production is radical and requires adjustment both for residents as well as cast and crew because it is both less controlled and less hospitable. A normal set has bathrooms and water fountains, but no residents walking through and stepping over equipment.
On the day before the event a local resident tripped on covered cables and cut her face on Dean Street in front of the fire station.
On the day of the event a young girl collapsed across the street from the first accident, apparently from dehydration. She was treated by ambulance and the production distributed a bag of water to the cast and residents standing in the area she collapsed.
Follow up questions remain about FDNY emergency response times
The FDNY 105 Ladder Company was located immediately adjacent to the red carpet. In a written answer to a question from community members asking if FDNY's emergency response times would be affecdted by the event, the Mayor's Office and MTV answered, "We are working with the FDNY to insure they will not be affected in any way due to the MTV set up. They will have full access to all surrounding streets for ingress & egress throughout the live Red Carpet."
This answer proved true in a literal sense. Although the fire trucks would have had to disrupt the red carpet -- in fact drive over the red carpet -- to respond to an emergency call, emergency lanes were maintained on 6th Avenue and on Dean Street. However, the fire station itself appeared to be absorbed into the on-camera production and the firemen brought their friends and families to the event. The video below shows a point in the middle of the red carpet production when the cameras film a presentation in front of the fire station with the red lights of the fire trucks flashing.