Thursday, October 28, 2010

"go gentrify the dark side, baby"

It's one of the sad ironies of the real post-college world that if you are young and progressive, chances are you're working/interning for more or less no $$, and chances are that your only (urban) living options (short of mom and dad) involve moving in to lower-income minority neighborhoods. Thus some of the people most likely to be aware of (and troubled by) gentrification tend to be the ones who get it started, paving the way for the young professionals, who make things comfortable for the couples who treat their dogs like children, who provide business for the "dachshund spas and PBR-swilling butchers" (thanks to a particularly clever craigslist post for that one). By the time you see a white baby in a stroller, it's all over.

With all this in mind, I set out to find a more long-term living situation about a month ago. My office sits on the border between Bedford-Stuyvesant (historically African-American) and Bushwick (predominately Puerto Rican and Dominican), and my budget pretty much limited me to those two neighborhoods anyway. (You can rent a 2-bedroom apartment in some major cities for what it costs to rent a room in a shared loft in NYC. One candidate for governor is running under the umbrella of The Rent is Too Damn High Party. While his candidacy is not particularly serious, his issue and his facial hair certainly are.)

As I considered my options, I asked for input from a couple of my co-workers (both African-American and long-time area residents). My final decision came down to a place in BedStuy (where I was told that proximity to the precinct did not necessarily equal safety) and one in "the dark side" of Bushwick (so named because it is primarily residential/industrial, and not particularly well lit at night). I chose Bushwick, so, in the words of one of my advisors, I'm off to "gentrify the dark side, baby".

How do I feel about that?

Not as bad as I expected, for a couple of reasons. First, neighborhoods are always in flux. Bushwick traces it's written history back to a deal between Dutch settlers and the Lenape Native Americans, and has undergone English, German, and Italian incarnations, to name a few. A healthy response to gentrification is not trying to keep neighborhoods ethnically homogeneous, but ensuring that working-class neighborhoods remain affordable for those who grew up there. I'm proud to say that my organization was originally founded for this purpose and continues to work to ensure that low-income folks can live and work in North Brooklyn. Secondly, I'm living in one of the communities that a lot of my clients come from. I still disagree with the folks who are taking advantage of cheap rent in ethnic neighborhoods in Brooklyn only to sleep there while working, shopping, and basically living in Manhattan. But my situation is different. Since I started working I've walked through BedStuy to work most mornings, and will try to continue to walk from my new place in Bushwick (although anyone who's seen me outdoors in below 50 degrees is rightfully skeptical). I'm interested in being here. And finally - I'm living in a former yarn factory converted to loft apartments, so I'm not technically displacing anyone, except perhaps the previous, most likely hipster, residents.

A note on the building (as it is the likely source of future blog inspiration). It is. Incredibly. Hipster. Asymmetrical haircuts, cheap cigarettes, and big, unnecessary glasses everywhere (except my apartment, as far as I can tell). Apparently some of the residents actually tried to secede from Brooklyn (their complaint: the destructive economic forces of development) but failed to do so because they couldn't find a wealthy donor to buy the building and turn it over to the residents.

Yes, you read that right.

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