My bride and I abandoned our children for the weekend to attend a wedding in downtown Brooklyn. It was a beautiful affair. The ceremony was at St. Agnes, a church built in 1904 in the Boerum Hill section, just two blocks from where I lived when I first set foot in New York. The reception was in the neighborhood down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, affectionately referred to by real estate agents and trust fund kids as DUMBO. Seriously. I hadn’t been there in about 15 years and was genuinely aghast at what I saw. Gentrification is the oldest story in the oldest city, but when you see its results before your very eyes, it has the power to shock. The last time I walked those streets, it was all artist studios with great light and dirty windows and abandoned warehouses. The neighborhood didn’t have a cute name. Now it’s residential with a Chase Manhattan Bank branch. It blew my mind.
We stayed in a fancy, new, boutique hotel that didn’t have heat because of a steam pipe explosion. They gave us a space heater instead. We didn’t mind. We’re not babies. On Sunday morning, I walked up Smith Street to buy The New York Times. When I lived there, Smith Street wasn’t so nice but now it’s become a destination. We had a scrumptious lunch at a Portuguese restaurant the day before. En route to get the paper, I saw no fewer than four strollers. Those expensive Quinny models. It would seem that even at that young age, there’s a strict hipster dress code that must be adhered to. I wonder what happened to all the Latinos who lived there?
I saw Zadie Smith read a couple of months ago and she was discussing the gentrification of Holborn, her old neighborhood in London, as it relates to a plot device in her new book NW. She had this to say, and I quote:
(Gentrification) is a global experience. People get priced out of their own neighborhoods. The thing I find funny is that there are all different waves of immigration but there’s only one community who moves into an area and feels they’re a great boon and that’s middle class white people. They always think that everybody should be so happy that they’ve arrived in droves with their cupcakes and all the rest of it. And that interested me, that state of mind that imagines that when you arrive en masse that you’re only bringing good. That you’re a benefit to an area. That was always quite funny to me.
She’s right, you know. Sorry, cupcake-bearing middle class white people.