Here Come the Hipsters, Again
May 6th, 2018
In my last article on this topic, I outlined what gentrification is according to the official definitions, known examples, and from personal experience of living in a neighborhood that is going through the process. I spoke about the effects of the process, in New York and in the world. But as a white male and someone who moved in during the changes of Williamsburg that were taking place, I can’t speak about how everyone thinks of the hipster-ization of the city. Additionally, I only really feel the changes of the place I love. Plenty of friends might have a different experience, and thus different outlook on what is occurring throughout their neighborhood. So, in order to bring more sides of the story of gentrification, I researched organizations that are concerned with this process, and I have spoken with many a friend and classmate about their opinions as well.
To start with a discussion of the opinions I have gathered, I am going to actually follow through with the title. In Brooklyn, there is a group of people who are very resistant to the negative effects of gentrification. They have the audacity to think that maybe it’s better for the place they call home to be affordable for them, and affordable for those in need to enjoy whatever benefits they have in their neighborhoods. This group is called the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BANGentrification), and while their acronym might not be very strong, their message is. They want to preserve the New York they live in, and are firm especially on preservation of affordability so that lower-class and middle-class families will be able to benefit as well. This position on gentrification certainly blankets the whole issue and process with an anti-mentality, which means they are active against those who they accuse of being perpetrators of unaffordability and what they call “urban colonization.” However, this opinion can be easily criticised as naive, because as I have discussed before (in the previous article), resisting gentrification also can mean the loss of the positive effects. This includes development of housing and retail, but also a repopulation which drives down crime and allows for the neighborhood to grow back. BANGetrification takes action against mainly the developers of a new building which they deem an example of gentrification creeping into the neighborhood. BANGentrification does not clarify whether or not they are wholeheartedly against all effects, but what is certain is that people are listening, as a project to build a tower in Crown Heights was postponed due to their actions in late 2016.
Though BANGentrification, in all of its bad acronymic glory, might have an easier, clear-cut position you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about, it is also important to examine the opinions of others throughout the city and our school. Although I didn’t lead any class-discussions or Kumbaya-type spiritual conversations about gentrification with other students, I did have a major conversation in my history class about race. If you read my previous article, you would know that there is a racial aspect to the conversation. While discussing the all-encompassing topic of race in history class, we not only discovered the prevalence of racism within numerous aspects of our lives but we specifically found the city around us to be changing along racial lines. We realized that the neighborhoods where certain students of color in our class came from had to deal with rising rents, unaffordability, and the general transformation of the area they lived in. It revealed a different side of the story, and made those that had the privilege of stable rents rethink the changes they simply observed, but didn’t experience. I can count myself as one of those who rethought my simple observation of a redevelopment of a neighborhood.
In addition to a class conversation, I have had casual conversations with my friends about this topic that have further revolutionized my outlook. For example, on the morning of writing the draft of this article, I had one of these revelatory conversations with my friend on our daily walk to the train. She told me that as a resident of Williamsburg, she feels like she doesn’t belong here anymore. Despite living in a building her family owns, she felt like she was being priced out by the retail in the neighbor, and ultimately, it seemed like there was nowhere else she could move to in NYC in order to escape the high prices of food and living in this city. Another conversation I had was one of a more ranting tone, in which my friend was complaining about the incredibly high prices that his family’s friends had to contend with, and also about the disdain for the culture of the hipster (white) cafes and bars in his neighborhood.
These types of friendly debates are much more engaging in terms of insight, as you trust the person who is recounting their experience of living in an increasingly expensive neighborhood. It is imperative to have more of these discussions, as they are important to really understanding this issue. And they not only help you understand the effects on the mass of people, and the statistics about changing neighborhoods, but also the personal stories. These discussions are impactful in that a personal sense of empathy comes across. Understanding gentrification by using this method is not the only one, however, it is the most helpful in gaining better comprehension of the issue. So I say, to all students of Bard Queens, go out into the world, and have a discussion with your friends. Depending on which position you take, contact the groups and being involved in either fighting gentrification, or expanding the positives of gentrification. Be passionate about whatever you take a part of that relates to the changes, because those changes are taking place here, in NYC, in your city.