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BrooklynBornThis blog started in my head when I listened in the 90's to friends who feared Brooklyn and newcomers who blogged about BK as if it barely existed before they arrived. Brooklyn as Tabula Rasa. My blog satisfies my need to hear and air feelings of B'klyn from the people whose life experience was born here. Also I hope to provide balance to some of the revisionist historical musings I've seen how Brooklyn and her residents used to be, we're still here. If we can all live as best possible while appreciating the past and neighbors we've inherited that would be great too.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

"When Gentrification Attacks...(tough questions)!"

This Sunday's New York has a piece about Bedford-Stuyvesant and gentrification.


"It's sad that money can change a neighborhood" says Roy Vanasco, owner of All Appliance Refrigerator on Myrtle Av where developers have sought to buy him out. (source/credit: Ruby Washington NY Times)

I followed the Times article to the blog of one of the people profiled, the aptly named new Brooklynite and subsequent gentrifyer, Dakota Blair creator of the blog Antbed.com.

The reading inspired me to create another edition of the feature I started a few weeks back "When Gentrification Attacks" about my desire to discuss "what privileges does money as opposed to history, afford individuals."

My intention was to talk about what I see as a debate over who matters more new-comers with money, or the people who've weathered the neighborhood storms and in some cause maintained enough of the neighborhood to allow there to be something worth gentrifying in the first place.

But the Times article and especially a question raised by Blair on his blog led me to another part of the gentrification discussion: How willing are people to acknowledge the influence their presence has on longstanding communities? And does that acknowledgment affect how we live together?

Yes there are positive and negative aspects to gentrification. But I think it's hard for people to associate themselves with the negative aspects of it. Which I think affects what (if anything) we decide to do adjust those negative aspects of gentrification.

Blair writes on his blog:

"Concerning crime rates, apparently the police presence around this area was increased significantly once we moved in. Where was that heat coming from? Why would the police suddenly decide this block was worth policing? It’s a question which might have answers that many would like to ignore. Heck, I’d like to ignore it because it’s quite uncomfortable to think that I am being given special treatment just because I’m new. But I will not. I cannot. Now that I’ve worded the question, I need to find its answer, or at least acknowledge it. I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe they were already going to do it. Maybe it was, as someone else told me, all for the Jews."

From the antbed.com blog 7/22/08

Dakota I give you credit for asking the question despite the fact that toward the end you try backing out of the spotlight you're casting. But that's the tough part, right? It's gotta be hard flashing the light in your own eyes. Most of us want a better more equal world but it gets all complicated when we're in the middle of it.

Which is one of the reasons things don't get better or get better at a glacial pace. Because it's hard for us to look at a problem that we might be complicit in.

It seems to me that people don't want to see the reality; that anyone who can gentrify can create negative consequences for long-term less influential residents. I can think of two general reasons for this:

1) Nobody wants to be perceived as part of an unsavory situation, especially if all you're looking to do is get a break on rent or mortgage, and kick back with a nice Shiraz, not trample on a community.

2) I've heard some on blogs and in public express the philosophy, "everyone who wants to earn, can earn. So if I get better treatment it's not given to me, it's earned, I earned it." So for people who think that way, giving credence to the idea that there are inequities in how gentrification plays out, undercuts that argument and ends the discussion.

As a result we get half-hearted questions like Dakota's above. I don't pretend to know what Mr. Blair thinks his influence in Bedford-Stuyvesant is, but I wrote my two cents (posted below) on his blog which was basically to say,"yes! anyone who moves into a low-income area and can afford to pay for a condo or NYC market rents and above is a game changer for that area."

If you're part of the gentrification of an area (in this case northern Bedford-Stuyvesant) on the upside you may attract dynamic new businesses that will grow the area and on the downside, in addition to raising prices faster than the incomes of long-term residents it also means the city will promptly direct services to you that are not directed at or worse may be diverted from long-time lower-income residents.

I recall about two years ago one of the new downtown Brooklyn condos was advertising on the subway. The ads boasted great views, gym facilities, yadda yadda, starting at just $250,000. Yah. On the subway car, in Brooklyn where the median income is $32,135. So if you're a commuter who makes 32k a year and can barely afford to make ends meet, how does that make you feel to look at that ad?

Does it make you think you are at the bottom of the heap? Does it make you think there is a reality occurring right next to you that you'll never be part of? These questions and others can really demoralize a person, whether you are the one struggling with finances or you're the one coming to terms with being able to do what other hard working people can't. But that's the reality isn't it?

Rather than being embarrassed by the financial realities, that having more money in a capitalist society makes you preferred, I think we should try to find a way to interact with our new and old communities in ways that might lead to more equity between new and old over time.

What do you think?

-ubb

*Brooklyn median income source wikipedia (2000 census)
-- (below is my response to Mr Blair posting on his Antbed.com blog) --

You seem to be looking for opinions so I'll offer mine.

I'll assume based on the way you formed your question that you are the kind of person who doesn't want to perceived as receiving "special attention" but the reality is you do.

Anyone who matches the template that can probably be drawn from you:

that of a financially able person whose youth could translate into a long-term residence, with a desire to invest in new developments, and yes, a person who is "white" (which is as much of a code for upward progress in many minds as low-income is a code for downward progress in many minds)

Anyone who fits that outline, as you seem to, is going to get more police protection.

You probably realize that, and it may make you uncomfortable to do so, but simply this is all more about wealth and lack there of than anything else. Unfortunately we make snap judgments about those qualities, who has and who doesn't based on what people look like and what they can seemingly afford.

The reason Bedford-Stuyvesant and neighborhoods like it are moving the way they are, having zoning laws relaxed to allow outscaled developments for example, is also due to another financial realty, one the city has a larger stake in.

People who can afford at market and above market rates grow the tax-base. Which of course benefits the city and it ultimately has the potential to directly benefit local government more than people who for the moment need assistance.

Residents like yourself grow the population in areas that have room to grow which can affect representation, and residents like yourself are more likely to increase the valuation of the neighborhood, as measured in financial terms.

Cops lets face it protect the city structure and finance as much, if not more the citizenry.

You may friend and anyone like you, are considered a resource for these reasons and as such you are afforded more protection. As well as better services, which may be less than what you are accustomed to (depending of course on your experience) but are probably better levels of service than they had been before you got there.

This is where my disappointment with the state of redevelopment in areas like Bedford-Stuyvesant comes in. Because in my opinion, based of over 30 years in Brooklyn, there are and were people in these neighborhoods already, homeowners and financially able renters, who could have redeveloped the neighborhood as it is happening now. But their numbers have plummeted in the last two decades because in my view those people were not viewed with a favorable superficial lens. The black and latino residents of the past who could built a new upwardly mobile community were left without the policing you receive without asking for it. The loan allowances that allowed so many to come into Bedford-Stuyvestant and Harlem in the last eight years wasn't as readily available to the previous generation of renters, owners and potential buyers. Yes there were drugs and crime devastating these neighborhoods in the 1980s, however it takes a complicit governance to let things go to the level they did.

So to summarize, a person who is new relatively young, able to afford at or above market prices, and who has the superficial look of financial solvency is going to be treated better, and will receive benefits in neighborhoods even while the longtime locals with lesser finances go without.

-umbrooklynborn