Living in Brooklyn just about guarantees that you’ll experience gentrification in some form. Be it a celebrity rant, the arrival of expensive, ultra-modern condos, or just having people yell at you for “not belonging,” you’re going to be faced with it. Obviously this is a touchy topic, but there’s an important aspect of gentrification that seems to be missed.
I live in the neighborhood of Crown Heights. Crown Heights started out high-class, being coined the “Bedroom for Manhattan’s growing bourgeois class.” Now mind you, this is in the early 1900’s, but this place was legit. All the fancy brownstones you can still see along Eastern Parkway were erected during that time, and per Wikipedia, it held baller status ‘til World War II.
Then during the 40’s and 50’s, It was mostly Jewish middle class mixed with Island people (Jamaica, West Indies) and Southern black people. The neighborhood started to decline throughout the 60s. There were some tenuous times in the 90s, culminating with the race riots of ‘91, but have since mostly mellowed out. Now the neighborhood is what I would consider a good mix of Afro-Caribbean, Jewish, and boring white people like myself.
I haven’t been in this hood long, but I already see it changing. Construction sites abound, and walking around you’ll hit a random block where there’s this super-modern condo building that sticks out like a sore thumb. There are spots that are opening with Manhattan-level rents and Starbucks, the chain I’d say is most associated with gentrification, is setting up shop.
Now, I’m not generally outspoken about gentrification. I realize I’m in a weird position to talk about it, because in some ways I’m the onset of it. Just by being white and moving into a neighborhood, one could argue that I’m forwarding the march of gentrification. And people like to argue that point. Vocally. On the street. So far not to me personally, but friends of mine have literally been verbally accosted for moving into someone else’s neighborhood. Which brings me to the point that is so often missed, and which gave me the incentive to write this article.
What’s missed when the topic of gentrification comes up is that it’s a class struggle, and one that affects all. There used to be kind of a buffer, where middle-class folks would sprinkle into a low-class neighborhood, and there was more of a gradual evolution. But now that the middle class is essentially gone, the progression is working-class people moving into other working-class neighborhoods, then being displaced by rich dicks who want to live in ultra-modern condos and don’t give a s**t about the neighborhood around them.
See, at the end of the day, my friends and I are just (mostly) working-class people like the locals that have lived in the neighborhood for the past 40+ years. We’re just trying to make our rent and get by like the rest of ‘em. I have no intent to come into a neighborhood and change it. Hell, I want it to stay the same. Not only because it’s affordable, but I love the culture. Roti and curry is my jam. Jerk chicken is the shizz. While my introversion prevents me from partaking in it, I dig the vibrant and lively culture. I respect the cultural identity.
In fact, gentrification affects me too. In some ways it sucks even more for me. And yes, I realize that I have no right to say such things cause I’m just a privileged white dude, but stay with me on this. You see, I’ve been displaced from neighborhoods I’ve loved because of gentrification. I haven’t been able to spend more than a couple of years in a neighborhood, because the rents end up skyrocketing at some point and I have to leave.
Gentrification has turned me into a nomad. I don’t even get the enjoyment of being able to put some roots down and become a part of the community before I have to move on. And the worst part about it is that if I open my mouth (or write these words), there are people that will go up in arms and chastise me for making these statements. I’m not saying I’ve lived a life as hard as some of the folks that came up in my neighborhood, but I’m still affected by the changes that are happening in this city and its boroughs (albeit in a slightly different way).
Do I hate the progress that gentrification brings? The increased municipal attention (trash pickups, stupid street cleanings that make no difference, etc.) and decreased crime? Of course not. I guess what I’m saying is that there should be some middle ground, where a neighborhood gets some much-needed revitalization without its character being completely erased. And at the very least, let’s all focus our anger on the rich dicks that deserve it.
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