I’ve found myself thinking, talking, and writing a whole lot about gentrification lately. It’s something I’ve thought a great deal about for a long time, but ever since I wrote that letter to Time Out NY, it’s been coming up more than usual. There’s a lot of good conversation going on in the comments of the thread where I originally posted that letter. I encourage folks to check out the discussion.
Yesterday my girlfriend gave me a heads up about an awful post on the Brooklyn USA Livejournal community, which seems chock full of people who are blissfully ignorant of or indifferent to gentrification. This post was entitled “The Gentrification of Pimptropolis,” and was an invitation to what the poster claimed would be the “banginest” party ever to be held in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The poster also declared that, since moving into Bed-Stuy, he was on a mission to gentrify it, and to have “bangin” parties while doing it.
Of course, my head nearly exploded when I read this. So me and a bunch of my friends decided that we’d all post comments to the effect of “gentrification is not a joke. And you suck.” A little comment war ensued, with plenty of people telling us to “take a chill pill” because it was “just a joke” and we shouldn’t be getting all political about it, and that gentrification was actually a good thing because it “renews and rebuilds” neighborhoods. Yeah. Uh huh.
I’d link to the whole mess, but as of this morning, the original poster had deleted the post. He’d never actually responded to any of the comments, so I have no idea what he thought of what all of us were saying. Hopefully it made him rethink making a big, fucked-up joke about something as serious and harfmul as gentrification? One can hope.
In the issue of Time Out that came out after the one in which my letter was printed, there was another letter responding similarly to the Apartments 2006 coverage. The letter was written by Cynthia Kern, a real-estate broker who I know vaguely from some theater stuff that I did a couple of years back. She made many good points that were interesting to hear coming from her, since real-estate agents are often quite complicit with and invested in gentrification. From her letter:
In the inset about Sunset Park, [the author of the article] says that folks should check out the neighborhood because “the real-estate maxim of ‘follow the gay people’ applies dramatically to the evolving Sunset Park.” Follow the gay people? You mean, follow the white lesbians, who make less money on average than straight white folks and gay white men, and who will often move to poorer neighborhoods because that’s where we can afford to live. Many real-estate brokers then use the existence of white faces on a block to indicate that the neighborhood is “safe” and has “changed.” And the historical and cultural integrity of that neighborhood is eventually destroyed as those who’ve lived there for years can’t afford the rents or mortgages anymore because the area has become a “hot deal.”
The next week’s issue featured the first letter written as a rebuttal to mine and Kern’s. Now, I personally have a hard time letting other people have the last word, but since I’m certainly not going to write another letter to TONY, I’ll just respond here.
Paul Brady from Manhattan writes:
I moved to east Harlem a year ago to improve my Spanish, eat some of the city’s most authentic Mexican food and, yes, to find an apartment that I could afford on my modest salary. Does that make me some sort of postmodern hipster colonist?
Yes, Paul Brady, it does. You are, I’m assuming, a white man who has moved into a Latino neighborhood to enjoy their culture, learn their language, and eat their food. You feel entitled to do so, regardless of however your presence might negatively impact the very people whose culture you’re so enjoying. You take what you want from your neighbors and, most likely, give nothing back, at least nothing good. I think that fits the bill of the “postmodern hipster colonist,” as you so aptly put it.
Perhaps folks who bemoan an influx of new residents – during a time when the city is experiencing the worst “white flight” in its history – should spend less time reading Heart of Darkness and more time enjoying the multicultural vibrancy of Manhattan.
I just love when people pull “facts” out of their ass. New York City is not actually experiencing very much “white flight;” in fact, the upsurge in gentrification has a lot to do with white people coming back to NYC in large numbers. And Manhattan actually experienced far less “white flight” than the outer boroughs, which really counters whatever claim Brady’s trying to make. Are we supposed to be happy that white folks are moving into our neighborhoods? No, Paul Brady, you and yours are not doing anyone a favor – well, not anyone poor or not white, that is.
I’ve never actually read Heart of Darkness, but Wikipedia tells me that it includes much commentary on the evils of colonialism, though critics including Chinua Achebe have criticized the racism prevelant in the novella despite that anti-colonialist viewpoint. But anyhow, it seems like Paul Brady is equally indifferent to the ills of colonialism as he is to the ills of gentrification, and thinks that the rest of us should try to be as indifferent as he is. No thanks, Paul Brady.
As for “enjoying the multicultural vibrancy of Manhattan” – Paul Brady, are you blind? Don’t you realize that the kind of gentrification that you seem to think is no big deal is slowly squeezing the “multicultural vibrancy” that you so celebrate out of NYC? I can see this city becoming more and more monocultural, thanks to people with attitudes like yours. But I guess that doesn’t really matter for you, since that multiculturalism is just a source of spice and entertainment for you and not a real and necessary part of your own life and culture like it is for the Latinos you’re supplanting. Where will you go for your ethnic kicks when you can’t get it in el Barrio any more? Whose neighborhood will you invade next?