I write this fully aware of the flak I’m going to get. But here it goes.
I read an article in Brooklyn Magazine the other day discussing whether hipsters and gentrification are ruining Brooklyn. I stand on both sides of the argument here. I’m not labeling myself a hipster. There’s more than enough evidence in my life to suggest that I certainly am not, but I do nevertheless fall under that umbrella of intellectual and creatively minded young people who enjoy a good artisinal roast every once in a while. And I’m definitely one of those more liberal arts types saddled with an enormous student debt sticker on my forehead.
Thus I moved to Brooklyn to cut my losses the best I could. But I moved to North Williamsburg, so I’m not exactly sure what good that did in the end. And having recently been the unsuspecting target of a hatefully anti-hipster website (over some pictures I took of a glow-in-the-dark kickball game…like really? Get over it.), I naturally began feeling pretty guilty whenever I walked down my street or whenever I worked my beat because of course I look nothing like the original culture of the neighborhood.
But now I wonder: Why am I guilty? I pay my rent. I take out my trash. I’m respectful to my neighbors and to members of my community. I have a great relationship with my landlords, who are among the first generations of Italian immigrants in Williamsburg. Why should I feel poorly for how I dress and for the things I like? Why is that at all marginalizing?
But I digress. As a reporter, I cover Greenpoint on a daily basis. For the most part, I’ve grown to understand gentrification and how it looms over this old Polish neighborhood like a toxic plume. I see everyday what the potential and foreseeable future of waterfront condos, grass-fed beef and DIY spaces will do to destroy the integrity of it ever being deemed “Little Poland.” I’ve talked to residents, both old and new, about skyrocketing property prices and how the growing presence of startups and trendy haunts beckon a different subcultural and (in some cases) socioeconomic demographic and thus threaten to thrust the original bunch out.
It’s a sad truth. Gentrification moves rapidly, with the charging momentum of a freight train and with little regard for anything or anybody caught on the tracks. When we first met, Jen Galatioto told me in reply to my many reportorial questions about the future of Greenpoint “that’s progress. Deal with it.” She doesn’t mean to be unforgiving. I know this because she doesn’t exactly support the sort of macro-corporatized luxury developments either. But she certainly doesn’t take it lightly when pockets of Brooklyn want to blame “her kind” for it.
Who’s really to blame? Who is “her kind?” I challenge any one of you to sum it up in 10 words or less. There is no one-size-fits-all descriptor for the recent migrants to North Brooklyn. Sure you’ve got the Caucasian bearded, dark-rimmed spectacled types with their bikes and moleskins, but then you’ve got young, aspiring Asian writers from the South like me who caught wind of the creative energy in this neck of the woods and felt compelled to share in it. Then you’ve got some of my friends who live in Greenpoint, who come from all walks of life, and who hold very steady jobs, for which they work incredibly hard. Is it fair to slap an all-encompassing and derogatory label on a new generation that’s simply wanting to settle new roots in a new place?
On that note, is it really such a bad thing? Is it not a compliment at all? That a small and unassuming nabe of previous decades could become a blossoming hub for later ones? After all, what is a city without progress? And I’m not discounting the value of heritage. I’ve fought relentlessly in the past to stall the types of advancement that would do more harm than good. Maybe for some, the hip eateries and bookshops and the influx of (gasp) foreigners will do more harm than good. But I’ve spoken to many Greenpoint veterans who grew up on the same street and even on the same stoop who will tell you that the neighborhood has changed, but they welcome it.
Ideally, New York is the type of city that’s accommodating to all cultures and all subcultures, right? It’s the diversity that makes it as vibrant as it is. Jen also told me that she loved Greenpoint and she moved here precisely because she thought it was the type of place where the old and the new could cohabit and live peacefully and build and learn off of one another. It was the medley of different faces that made the neighborhood even richer than it was before. And as a message to those who carry with them such insufferable anti-hipster sentiments: who made you king of the castle? This isn’t a turf war, so stop making it one. These so-called “hipsters” you campaign so adamantly against are just looking for a place to start a life, and yes, they have inevitably brought with them their lifestyles and their idiosyncrasies. But at one point in the history of New York, didn’t all immigrants do the same?