Here Come the Hipsters
March 21st, 2018
NEW YORK-- Living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn means my neighborhood will usually be the butt of numerous jokes about artisanal everything, gullible French tourists, and “those stupid hipsters, ‘am I right?’”
But how did we get here? How did Williamsburg become a byword for gentrification? And I mean, what the heck is gentrification? It’s not a problem faced only by North Brooklyn or New York. The processes associated with gentrification have affected countless cities in the US, Canada, and México. Cities in Europe and Australia are also contending with the effects of gentrification. Such an evidently global problem deserves a concise and comprehensible definition and explanation on the good, the bad, and the ugly (which includes the architecture) of gentrification.
To begin, the definition of gentrification from Merriam-Webster is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Though this definition is not applicable to every situation to do with the replacement of a neighborhood’s identity, it is quite good at summarizing exactly what might occur.
To take apart the positives and negatives of gentrification and formulate a more detailed definition, you have to observe different aspects of a neighborhood’s redevelopment, usually classified to be retail, housing, and other resources/assets of an area such as transit, parks, libraries, schools, and public authorities.
When it comes to retail, the process of gentrification usually acts as a force for some interim benefit for older businesses (business increases as population does); then one that evicts them, replacing them with either an empty storefront (unoccupied because rent was too high for any business), a franchise, or a more expensive, pretentious establishment juice-press or cafe (these are the subject to most parodying). This erasing of old businesses ranges from delis/bodegas/corner stores that can’t afford skyrocketing rent due to gentrification, to ancient landmarks to the neighborhood like the Lenox Lounge in Harlem.
Regarding housing, the situation is just as bleak. Often, the process of gentrification will enter a neighborhood’s housing market through higher rents and construction of condominiums. For gentrifying neighborhoods, the frequently cited reason behind the high prices is the unbelievable demand for housing and deficient supply of housing, or because there is a type of gold rush introduced by developers and landlords to get the highest amount of money possible. This development is not the only cause for displacement of residents, yet it is usually the most affecting, the displacement of residents being unfortunately the most common in tighter-knit, well established areas.
For the other resources, the effects of gentrification can be either limited or widespread. For transit, the number of people riding trains going through the gentrified areas increases as the overall population increases. For schools and libraries, richer newcomers with families likely enroll their kids in private schools but still raise the budget for the public schools (as property taxes usually fund schools), and richer families generally purchase their books. In addition, a lot of new residents are most likely single, unmarried millennials that don’t have to support anyone else; they can afford the Pressed Juicery’s $40 juice cleanse (that is not a joke). For the authorities, their job gets a lot easier, as gentrified neighborhoods usually become the safest neighborhoods in any given city.
In addition to the aforementioned sides of the story on the subject of gentrification, there exists a racial aspect in gentrification. If gentrification takes place in a Black or Hispanic-majority neighborhood, the replacement of original residents will usually be the removal of black and Hispanic families. This is not always the case, but it is one of the most devastating, as an entire neighborhood’s culture is erased.
Now, from what I’ve grossly simplified, you can assume that gentrification is not a force of good. It not only raises rents for those living in the gentrifying neighborhood, but also erases the pre-existing culture that had been formed in that area, and it also-- you get the point. But how does it affect us, the youth of this city? Well, despite what you might think of the state of your neighborhood currently, it has or will be gentrified. It’s inevitable. All neighborhoods in a city with this process of great change will feel the effects of such and, though it will not occur similarly in every neighborhood, it will happen.
One example of someone who has both experienced gentrification and helped to fuel it is yours truly. I have been visiting and partially living in NYC since I was 3 months old, but I only moved back when I was 7, in 2010. I had always visited and noticed changes to the cityscape. I’ve seen the metamorphosis of Williamsburg, and only recently realized its significance. After discovering what gentrification was, I’d probably never desire to help those perpetrate it. But I did; I was part of an arguably affluent family that was moving into what was once an affordable/minority neighborhood, and it makes me feel like a type of colonizer for doing so. I justify my family’s action by stating that we bought a house in Williamsburg because of the recession, and condo prices were very low, but it doesn’t suffice. I still feel a guilt for being one of those people who came to an “up-and-coming” area. I am gentrification. Though this statement has been parodied before, it is true. I came to this neighborhood long after the families that had been here before did, and I received my residence by paying a realty company.
This is only one experience of gentrification, in one area of our city. Other NYC high school students have likely different stories, with different dimensions of that story. Unfortunately, this conversation about the process neighborhoods in our city have gone through is not common among NYC students. However, I hope that you have become better informed about this topic. It is imperative that you know the positives and negatives of this incredibly overarching and determinant change.
Contribute your thoughts in the comments or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if we get enough insightful comments from you guys, we can reflect on your thoughts in a similar piece.