BEWARE the Gritty South!

My beard is more authentic. No, mine is!

 
Oh New York Times Style Section, how  you love to make generalizing statements about this mysterious land called Williamsburg, a mystical place where millennials and yuppies hold hands and dance on sparkling rainbows made of trust funds and artisanal cheese, where mustachio-d baristas mate with mixologists in industrial condos purchased with their parent’s pocket change.

First you dress up a reporter (a self-described “middle-aged avowed Manhattanite”)  in plaid and send him to purchase a $225 t-shirt and ride a fixed gear bicycle in search of the real Williamsburg experience (so real). Now you inform us that Grand Street is the Williamsburg equivalent of the Mason-Dixon line, cleaving the neighborhood into two: a sleek, moneyed “North Williamsburg” and a gritty, hyper-authentic “South Williamsburg.

Do you continue to publish these articles just to capitalize on the web traffic generated by people googling the word “Williamsburg”?

I have a little secret for you: it’s called gentrification. It’s been going on for a long time. Artists and young people find a neighborhood that they can afford. Word spreads. Record stores open. DIY concert venues find success. People with more money move in. Tourists arrive. And next thing you know, Whole Foods comes along to provide overpriced organic fruit and the artists, youngsters, and long-time inhabitants flee to greener pastures. This is not a new story. Especially in Williamsburg. You should know that, because you’re a newspaper and generally cover things like the news.

But wait, what’s that you say?  There is a dividing line? A wrong side of the tracks? A bad side of town? SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG, land of cool grit and grime, dwelling hole of people that aren’t as white and as the ultra white people of the golden North. The South ’tis like New York in the 80’s, a free-for all dumpster party where cowboys roam the sullied streets looking to turn a nickel into a dime.

Honest Abe– Hassidic Jew or Gen Y barista?

And where is the dividing line?  Ah yes, Grand St. Yes, everything South of Grand St is anti-chic, un-touched by frivolity.  You write that To [Northsiders], the south can feel, well, a little too real: a backwater of vinyl siding, dusty bodegas, Gen-Y drifters and unrenovated dumps unfit for civilized company.Well, except for the 2 hour wait for lightly-seared butterfish at Traif (South 4th St) or the $21 Caviar Oyster at Maison Premeire (Bedford and Grand)….or Spring Pea and Fontina Ravioli at Rye (South 1st St). Oh, and those little  $2 million dollar condos on Broadway are clearly being inhabited by struggling artists.

Would you consider putting the dividing line at Division Avenue, the actual street that marks the entry into the densely populated area of Hassidic Jews, where hip restaurants and hotels are replaced by Synagogues and Kosher markets? No, no that would be far too obvious.

You have one thing right–North Williamsburg has changed. Like all neighborhoods do, especially those that are quickly gentrifying. Yes, the Wythe Hotel is trendy and expensive. Yes, King and Grove has a salt-water pool (although it is not on the roof, as you say). Yes, the waterfront has been developed, and with the Brooklyn Flea, East River Ferry, new nightclubs, CVS, Duane Reade, and another glass tower going up, more people are moving in and bringing money with them.

But the line you speak of is much more blurry. Williamsburg is full of dichotomies. I myself live on the FAULT LINE itself. Yes, I live on Grand Street, on the wrong side of the BQE, above a country-western biker bar, down the street from a tiny Korean produce market, and across from a Salsa dancing studio and a Dominican night club. There’s a Nepalese nail place and an high end grilled cheese and whiskey bar within a block of one another. In 10 minutes I could be in walking through the courtyard of a housing project or lounging on the Wythe rooftop, sipping a $16 cocktail.

In this landscape, in 2013, I don’t know what “hyper-authentic” means. I don’t think you do either. Of course there are condos going up all over the neighborhood. There are massive condos in Greenpoint and Bushwick and in cities all across America. There’s one on Union Avenue that I have nicknamed the Death Star (it looks like this mock-up, but scarier). Are you suggesting that the empty lots before the condos are more “authentic”? Are the Hassidic school busses, filled with kids on their way to study Hebrew more “authentic”? Were the first post-collegiates who moved to lofts in Williamsburg to save rent money the most “authentic” of them all? If we wanted to really get to the “root” of the neighborhood, would we be talking about the Italian immigrants, the Latino population, the Dutch Settlers, the Native Americans? 

How is South Williamsburg any more “real” than the rest of it?

And then there’s this: No wonder southsiders like Heather Solish, a luxury-travel consultant, consider it a point of pride to drop into conversation that they live in South Williamsburg. “Sometimes, a week or two will go by and I don’t even go into the north side,” Ms. Solish said. “We think the north is a circus: ‘Oh, God, I went up there?’ It’s like another land almost.”

Williamsburg, for one, isn’t that big. Anyone who says that they don’t go to the Northside, or makes the distinction that they live in the Southside has probably sealed their windows with bubble wrap and ceased to leave their apartment. It’s not another land. It’s a place that’s 5 blocks away. And no one thinks you’re edgier if you live south of Grand.

The area around the Bedford L stop and the waterfront may be the epicenters of gentrification, but that seed has spread all over Williamsburg, merging with the rest of the neighborhood to create a complex, diverse landscape. Just like there are pockets of high-end restaurants south of Grand Street, there are also industrial zones North of it, lined with deteriorating factory buildings and stacks of wooden crates, like this tiny street, near North 3rd. Over-arching words like “hyper-authentic” and “real” cease to mean anything when we don’t know what they refer to anymore. We can continue to look back at the past and wish no twentysomethings ever discovered the area– we can wish that Williamsburg was still full of warehouses or that beards never became trendy. But what would the point be?

We should accept the neighborhood for the changes that have taken place and move forward, instead of making irrelevant, generalizing statements that only spread misperceptions and stereotypes about a place that is what it is.  I’m not ecstatic about the Death Star, but it’s there and so am I. And I don’t see a Civil War taking place any time soon (although I would like an excuse to wear a top hat).

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Tony L says:

    Great article, Gina. The New York Times has written so many cringe-worthy articles about Brooklyn neighborhoods that I truly wonder what their motives are other than to misinform or entertain Manhattan readers. Also, I’ve heard from residents of Berlin and Israel say similar things about how the NY Times wrote pieces that completely missed the point on a neighborhood or local scene.

    Reply
  2. Angela Nicole says:

    Seriously! What strikes me as “inauthentic williamsburg” is judging the current against a past that no longer exists and having a mindset that won’t accept blurred lines. I liked this article a lot. -Angela

    Reply

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