Pioneer Mentality

Given the number of people who’ve greeted me lately with “So, how’s THE BOOK GOING?” I’m guessing that you all might be interested in how THE BOOK is GOING. The answer is: Really well, thanks for asking. I’m hoping to wrap up the Coney Island chapter in the next few weeks, and am making good progress on research for later chapters as well. In fact, you can see the initial results of some of that research today at the City Limits site Brooklyn Bureau, in my lengthy report on rezoning plans for Bushwick and East New York that Mayor Bill de Blasio swears will be different from all other rezonings, and how residents are starting to freak out a bit about a flood of hipsters at their doorstep regardless.

Speaking of Bushwick, I’ve been meaning to find a good time to mention the building there that has been honest-to-god named “Colony 1209.” And which promises amenities like indoor bocce courts and Donkey Kong to “settlers” of “Brooklyn’s new frontier,” employing a sledgehammer to drive home the metaphor with the promise: “We already surveyed the territory for you.” As Gothamist observed, “Considering Bushwick sidewalks have been stamped with ‘GENTRIFICATION IS THE NEW COLONIALISM’ neighborhood-wide, the phrasing straddles the line between tone-deaf and offensive.”

This is all pretty jaw-dropping, in its apparently un-self-conscious painting of one neighborhood of New York City as virgin territory to be conquered by the most forward-thinking of the city’s upscale population. Especially since Bushwick has long since been effectively colonized: While there are still plenty of the Puerto Rican and Mexican residents who resided in the area before it was (ahem) “discovered” a few years back, they’re increasingly outnumbered, on certain blocks at least, by young (mostly) white professionals and creative types seeking an affordable alternative to their old homelands, and who in turn are pushing out the indigenous inhabitants to … whatever the Brooklyn version is of Oklahoma, I guess.

It would be jaw-dropping, that is, if we hadn’t seen it all before. It was exactly five years ago that 358 Grove Street, central Bushwick’s first condo tower, opened, complete with its incredible YouTube video painting the neighborhood as the place for young blonde people to go for their rebound relationship after they’ve broken up with Manhattan. And we’ve seen similar things happening all over the rest of Brooklyn, and the rest of the city, with realtors designating new frontiers as “the next neighborhood” (as one current subway ad attempts to redefine Elmhurst, Queens) in a never-ending cycle of conquest, displacement, and reconquest.

The thing is, though, that colonizers hate being thought of as colonizers, so you end up with people like realtor David Maundrell III saying of his marketing of Colony 1209 to prospective tenants: “I have to be authentic with this. They don’t like corporate. You can’t fool around.” Or an Urban Land Institute panel suggesting that the best way to draw new residents to University Heights in the west Bronx would be to rebrand the Harlem River as “the People’s River.”

None of which is to demonize the people scarfing up all these apartments, most of whom are no doubt seeking cheaper digs because they themselves have been priced out of spendier neighborhoods by billionaires from China and New Jersey. But it doesn’t reduce the impact that their presence has on previous residents, either. Gentrification is a word, and a process, that’s tightly packed with a lot of conflicting impulses, and with changes that ultimately sow the seeds of their own destruction — and understanding those is key to understanding what’s going on in Brooklyn.

And with that, I think it’s time to go do some work on Chapter 3….