Last week we met an English lady who thought of Williamsburg as her “lover.” It was fun to watch her traipse along Bedford Avenue with a camera crew, because Brooklynites are provincial like that (we do care what you think of us). So, in what is not likely to become a recurring series, I present to you Part II of “What the English Think of Brooklyn”—this week, it’s a Guardian article introducing Williamsburg to, I don’t know, art therapists in Slough. But you know, sometimes it takes a completely outsider perspective to see what’s going on right in front of you…
Let’s begin with the headline: “Brooklyn’s Williamsburg becomes new front line of the gentrification battle.” My initial reaction to this was, “shaagh… try, like, ten years ago”—but, upon further reflection I had the very scary thought that maybe the real gentrification of Williamsburg is only just beginning. I was watching Hannah and Her Sisters over the weekend and the numerous shots of pre-mall Soho (c. 1986) were sort of hard to take: beautiful buildings, some of them run-down, some not, no boutiques, the odd local business… It’s a bittersweet portrait of an already gentrifying neighborhood on the cusp of a tsunami of non-stop gentrification that will, 25 years later, yield an unbearably awful outdoor fashion mall (with Fanelli’s the only good reason to ever set foot there). So maybe there is something to the Guardian story after all, and it’s focus on the now infamous Bedford Avenue Duane Reade
Gentrification is a necessarily sensitive subject for a lot of Brooklynites, and is rivaled only by “hipster” as a term readily applied to others but avoided for oneself. We (gentrifiers) like to think we’re sensitive to the concerns of whatever given community we colonize, even though we know our taste for fancy coffee and shiny things will drive up prices and rents throughout the neighborhood.
So a lot of people were amazed by the words of one Shari Lind, in the New York Times story on the Bedford Avenue Duane Reade:
‘Please, can you bring in Dunkin’ Donuts too. I also want a Bank of America. For some reason,’ she said of her neighbors, ‘they don’t want corporate stores. They don’t want convenience.’
Never before had we heard someone so unabashedly heedless, so unfiltered in her tasteless hunger for the convenience of a monoculture hitherto anathema in the neighborhood she should just moved to. Maybe she’s not alone in thinking these things, but most gentrifiers have the good sense to keep quiet (Gawker commenters even speculated that she was a fictional character, a foil concocted by the author of the article).
Now, Williamsburg is certainly no longer the “front line” of what we think of as “Brooklyn” gentrification (a gallery here, a coffee shop there)—but maybe it’s about to experience a full-blown Soho eruption. Sure, the economic collapse of the last few years has been a big pause button for condo development, but as the financial sector begins to turn itself around, we’re sure to see a thousand more Ms. Linds pushing their strollers along Bedford Avenue, dipping into Starbucks, pretending like it’s the Upper West Side.
So maybe the Guardian headline is more accurate than I first thought, and I’m the one who doesn’t really know what full-blown gentrification looks like. And maybe I’m about to find out.