There Goes The Neighborhood: Chat With Author Robert Anasi

You know the old expression - there goes the neighborhood. Nowadays in North Brooklyn, that sentiment is in the air when new high rise condominiums go up or when the hipsters move in. Robert Anasi’s latest book, The Last Bohemia: Scenes From The Life of Williamsburg, describes a time in our neighborhood’s recent past when North Brooklyn wasn’t a destination for artisanal restaurants and a good investment for foreign millionaires, but a long and sometimes scary ride on the L train to a place filled with drugs, prostitution, affordable housing and for Anasi, freedom: “a city you didn’t have to be rich to live in.”

Robert Anasi will be giving a reading at Word (126 Franklin St) tonight Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 7pm.

The Bedford Station was a bleak hole. The shit brown paint was cracking and peeling … Upstairs, Bedford Avenue wasn’t any better. At seven p.m. you felt the gloom and rightly so. Old New York hands donned the city armor. The street was quiet but not with the sprinkler hiss of summer lawns: no, Williamsburg was a ghost town. The other folks who got off the subway with you, most of them blue collar men, hurried down the street, slipped around corners, disappeared. If you were curious, though, if you couldn’t help it, you slowed down. You liked the jolt, the city edge; you wanted to see the ruins.

An important book for everyone living in North Brooklyn, old-timers and newcomers, when I first picked it up, it’s had a certain heft, not because it’s big, but because the changes Anasi tackles, especially for Greenpointers, are looming. We don’t want the Greenpoint waterfront to turn into Miami, Brooklyn, right? As the Williamsburg waterfront “went from being one of the most open places in Brooklyn to one of the most restrictive,” Anasi explains. But I hear many people say, “it’s inevitable” or “it’s happening,” or “it’s done.”

Underfoot, cobblestone, very different from the slick walkways on the Edge side of the plywood, Miami Beach to industrial ruin in a matter of inches.

And even though the waterfront Anasi fell in love with no longer exists, “as [he] remembers it, as [he] wants it to be,” after chatting with the author, I felt optimistic.

Maybe I’m just a delusional hipster, the problem, but I do believe we have more power than we think we do, a voice to communicate our vision of Greenpoint’s future, so we do not look back with the same sense of loss. Or we can just walk away, as many already have, because rents are too high and everything we loved about the neighborhood is gone. I don’t want to read this book about Greenpoint. Or am I reading it?

“All those kids on Wall Street, they should Occupy the Edge,” Anasi said when asked how he would have North Brooklyn now.

Anasi neighbors didn’t have a voice, the money or the political power to prevent the rampant overdevelopment of Williamsburg’s waterfront. He described Bloomberg’s New York as having two options, that of the poverty and crime ridden South Bronx or a “gated community” for millionaires. He asked why the development on the waterfront can’t be for low to middle income housing, instead? Like Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan. Instead when we walk down Kent Ave, we experience,  as Anasi writes, ”all the boredom of the suburbs without all the trees.”

Would he move back? “If you gave me a $500 per month apartment in the Edge.”

Let The Last Bohemia be an invaluable – eloquent at times, raw at other times – account of what was, with points of reference in our own backyard, the “Shit-Tits” (still there), Kokie’s (The Levy), Monster Island (moved to Bushwick), the giant oil spill (still there), Black Betty (The Commodore), and the McCarren Park Pool (still there). Let it also be a lesson in what doesn’t have to be.

Robert Anasi will be giving a reading at Word (126 Franklin St) tonight Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 7pm.

Grab a copy from WORD

About Jen G

After living in NYC my entire life, I found the strongest sense of community in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Running this blog is truly an honor and the best part is meeting its readers in real life. Everyday I am energized by smiles and inspiring conversations with fellow Greenpointers who tirelessly do and create incredible things that are good for our community and share the same love I have for life here. If you see me walking with my little dog "D" - please say hi!

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