Sidewalk Debates: Gentrification In Bushwick
I discovered an intriguing message outside my front door this morning. I recognize sidewalk stencils are rarely intended as a two-way dialogue, but I’ll reply anyway: you are not going to make me feel bad that I live in Bushwick.
Let’s clear a few things up:
Castlebraid, where I live, displaced precisely zero people. Although it is the former site of a historic factory, in the past two decades it was a vacant lot – like much of the neighborhood. I wonder who purports to speak for these residents displaced from our former empty pit. Spelling error aside, I imagine I’d share some of our stencil artist’s concerns… but clearly there is some anger here that’s been misplaced.
Many newcomers to my block are transient, with little respect for their sublet neighborhood. The transient people don’t stay, however, and there are plenty of recent residents that DO contribute to Bushwick. In the five years I’ve lived on Troutman, I’ve pulled trash bags out of tree branches, swept up broken glass, called the city to remove abandoned cars and replace stolen street signs. When a new restaurant opens, I drop in for a meal, and when someone has a great idea for an under-utilized space, I do my best to support their efforts. Every day I walk down my block, I notice the physical impact I’ve had.
The most exciting aspect of New York has always been transformations that happen along the margins. The density and diversity of the city supports a unique culture of makers and creatives. They’re the people behind niche restaurants, shops and art that would wither without an audience anywhere else. No neighborhood is an island exempt from this force, certainly not within the boroughs.
(Plenty of natives have embraced the change too – cashing in their lots and pulling up stakes for Queens, New Jersey and Nassau.)
The opposite of growth is death. Bushwick has experienced this before, too. The Brooklyn Visual Heritage Society has an impressive collection of photos from the blackout of 1977, with charming titles like “Destroyed building next to Ruth & Sam Book Shop” and “Building facade with top floor destroyed.” There’s no doubt certain avaricious slumlords have attempted to force longtime residents out of newly in-demand units. It’s also true that an influx of new residents has led many long-abandoned properties to be finally put to work. There are plenty of rotting buildings and lots left to reclaim, and the city should aggressively pursue deadbeat property holders that refuse to maintain parcels along public streets.
I’ll admit I’m a gentrifier, but I’m also aware that provides no immunity to the forces of real estate. Someday I hope to buy a home, and ironically, the odds are I’ll be priced out of Bushwick. It’s a disappointing, but eternal truth of NYC: no one is guaranteed accommodation, and the only promise is change.