New York Valentine in June
I don’t know how well it can be read with my blurry photography, but the card inside says “I love you”.
I left it where it was and continued on my way. After all, it’s for all of us who truly belong here, not only me.
My neighborhood, and Brooklyn in general, has been the subject of a quite a bit of media as of late. Much of this is due to a Fordham study of the “most rapidly gentrifying zip codes in the United States”. Several of them are Brooklyn zip codes. A number of websites have picked up on the list, a few I regularly visit have linked to some form of it. There are also as many refutations of this lists fact-finding techniques (least of which is the notion that gentrification can solely be defined by white population in an area with no other economic factors, but more on that in a second.)
This is not going to be a refutation of gentrification’s existence. Not after our now-over-a-year-long health and mind destroying housing battle with the city and all that has come with it. I know my neighborhood, know which places are overpriced, snooty and privileged – and which places are not, which places are still comfortable, warm and inviting. This is a space where, at the moment, I know where the hipster hangouts are, and I also know where the local social clubs can be found as well. Perhaps even more to the point, beyond entertainment, are the day-to-day aspects of my neighborhood, the places Eric and I end up when we go about our daily business. The people who wave hello from the corner market, the hardware store, the vegetable stand, the laundromat. The people who answer my questions at the botanica without the caveats and new-age platitudes of other metaphysical shops. The girl who throws in an extra hot sauce pack when we pick up a pizza for dinner, who remembers that I like it though my husband doesn’t. The guys who fix up motorcycles and organize charity rides for cancer. The guy who sits basking in the sun outside the truck stop, who exchanges pleasantries about the weather and recipes. These are all locals, with family here, some of the older people have immigrated here decades ago, but they’ve made their lives here. But they-and we-are invisible in the myth developers like to spin about young hip Bushwick – or as they prefer to call it, “East Williamsburg” or “Morgantown”. (Where the fuck did they come up with that? Reminds me of that Mad Max movie where Tina Turner runs a post-apocalyptic society called “Bartertown” entirely on pigshit. Oh wait, pigshit– developers–never mind. Now it makes total sense.)
Recently, as regular blog readers know, we opened our space for Bushwick Open Studios, a yearly festival driven by the artists and studios themselves. The people who came through were of a variety of backgrounds and ages, some local, some came to Bushwick specifically for the weekend event. But when a local art blog put up images from the weekend, images that showed the crowds (as opposed to just the art, much of which I enjoyed), nearly every photo depicted crowds of nothing but white hipster types, all looking very young. Did people like this come out and come through our space? Absolutely. But they weren’t the only ones. Depictions of the neighborhood such as this feed into the realtor’s fairyland of “Morgantown”, or whatever stupidity they’re calling it now.
I should say that I generally enjoy Hyperallergic. Though the guy who says he wishes Sue Coe had no message to her work, or at least made a little more nicey-nice about it, was spit-on-the-monitor high—larious. Did I mention Coe has done a stunning cover for the forthcoming World War 3, which I have a piece in as well? There, I mentioned it.
But enough digressing, back to gentrification. While I may have done a bit of railing myself here at the “young white hipster” thing, it brings up another thing about the topic that troubles me. The common meme one hears about gentrification is “the white artists move to an ethnic neighborhood, then others follow.” Some filmmakers doing a documentary on Brooklyn gentrification has some interesting thoughts on this in this interview, as well as it’s more callous and dismissive cousin “Gentrification is inevitable.” (This is often leveled by people who have never had anything taken away by the process.):
HP: Many people respond to gentrification by saying, “Change happens.” Is gentrification, to a certain extent, unavoidable? A part of the way a city develops?
Allison Lirish Dean: When people say that gentrification is “inevitable,” it tells me that they’ve internalized rhetoric generated by people in power who want everyone else to think their agenda is the only option. It also tells me that they feel aware of a problem, but powerless to do anything about it. If you look at history, which “My Brooklyn” does, if you look at examples outside of the United States even, there are many different types of urban change that can be traced to different political structures, and different levels of community empowerment. So no, there is nothing inevitable about gentrification, or any other type of development. It’s a question of what we want and need, and how willing we are to stand up and fight for it. Sometimes it takes a long time to shift the way things get done, but as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
There are problems with the “first the artists move to the poor ethnic neighborhood” idea. First, obviously, is that it sets up “artists” as outsiders, who magically appear from other places, and the neighborhoods prior to this process as devoid of culture. This completely ignores that “poor ethnic communities” produce artists, musicians, and other creative people as well. It also ignores the fact that hacks and dillitanttes notwithstanding, many artists reside in poorer neighborhoods because many artists themselves are poor. America is not known for the tons of funding it puts into art and artists, ok? In fact, I’ve read it kind of lags in that respect. It also ignores the existence of poor or working class whites–some of whom may not even be artists!
Why, it almost seems like someone has a vested interest in vilifying artists in the minds of the average citizen. (even artists not local to a community will often work and interact within the community as it stands rather than blandify it.) And even nuttier, of pitting different factions of lower socioeconomic strata against each other! Who oh who does that benefit?
Eric and I have both been gentrified out of enough areas, and we’re sick of it. (No really, I’m really not right and not quite likely to get fixed, at least not to a socially appropriate standard.) 1% is not a large number, they can’t possibly need to have everything. If you keep running everyone who makes New York itself out, pretty soon you’re not gonna have New York. I’m not sure what you will have, but it will probably be boring as fuck to everyone except Bloomberg.