Locals Argue, Is Brooklyn Too Gentrified, Or Not Gentrified Enough?

Not enough.

  • Not enough.

Brooklyn may have been re-branded from “the Rodney Dangerfield of boroughs” into an “internationally recognized icon of cool,” but the borough is large and not everyone has been invited to the party. Supposedly, some people don’t even want to be! The Times talked to locals from as-yet-ungentrified neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay, Brownsville, Marine Park, and East New York, and their feelings on the matter are decidedly mixed.

“I’m glad Brooklyn is making a name for itself and it’s coming up, but if it’s coming up, it should be spread out,” said Joycelyn Maynard, a Brownsville librarian. “Even in certain parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant you find a cafe table to sit out in the sun. Here, how can you have a cafe where people eat in the sun if they’re concerned about gangs shooting each other?” A valid point if ever there was one.

Meanwhile, others are staunchly against the rise of said outdoor cafes. “Here, everything remains the same,” said the chairwoman of Community Board 15, which encompasses neighborhoods including Homecrest, Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, and Gerritsen Beach. “They don’t want Trader Joe’s. They don’t want sidewalks crowded with cafes. They want a residential, suburban lifestyle. We’re not looking for innovative ways to do things. I have a hard time setting up a DVR […] When people hear about the new Brooklyn, they say let them have it.”

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is the lopsided amount of civic attention given to the schmancier, more politically powerful neighborhoods. “We should continue to promote Brooklyn as a trendy destination but cannot forget the bread-and-butter economic issues that many distressed Brooklynites continue to deal with each day,” said local assemblyman Hakeem S. Jeffries.

If anything, maybe this will serve as a rallying cry to up-and-coming gentrifiers that there’s still much work to be done here! Think of it as a lower key version of Manifest Destiny for this crowded, expensive city. Or, you know, a nice opportunity for civic engagement and community building. Either-or!


  1. Joe Berger is the Times reporter who does the best job covering NYC’s neighborhoods; read his wonderful study of immigrant neighborhoods, “The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of the New New York.” But this article really conflates two very different kinds of neighborhoods, as The L Magazine correctly points out. I was born at Beth El Hospital (now Brookdale) on the border of Brownsville, East Flatbush and Canarsie, and my family has long links to Brownsville, which was the heart of Brooklyn’s Jewish community (see Irving Howe’s “World of Our Fathers,” Alfred Kazin’s “A Walker in the City,” Henry Roth’s Joycean novel “Call It Sleep,” Irving Shulman’s sensational gang novel “The Amboy Dukes,” Gerald Green’s nostalgic novel “To Brooklyn With Love,” Norman Podhoretz’s self-serving memoir “Making It”); my great-great-grandparents had a candy store on Stone Avenue a century or so ago.

    Brownsville even then had an African-American community, and Brownsville of course is the home of many famous African-Americans and it produced a whole strain of brilliant rappers back in the day, as well as nurturing (if that’s the word), even in its economic decline, people like Nelson George (read his “City Kid”), Mike Tyson and other athletes,and some less well-known people who are doing good work. As the Times article pointed out, even in this depressed neighborhood, 9% of the households have incomes over $100,000. Betsy Head Park (more of a playground, which is what we called it) where I’ve seen some SummerStage shows in recent years, is not as well-tended as it should be, and Brownsville has a lack of green space.

    But the neighborhood has some strategic advantages for people with imagination. It’s far from Manhattan, but not all that far, and it’s got several train lines going through it. (If you’ve got an unlimited MetroCard, you can make a transfer from the L to the East Side IRT (3/4) lines. It’s got empty spaces. And it’s pretty cheap there. Of course the crime rate makes it less attractive, although the cops seem mostly to stop young men of color just going about their business. In a few block radius, the number of stop-and-frisks is astronomically high — most of the stops apparently not helping fight crime much.

    So, yes, Brownsville — and East New York, and East Flatbush, to which my family moved in the 40s and 50s, are urban neighborhoods similar to Bed-Stuy or Bushwick in a lot of ways. The houses my great-grandparents owned from the 1930s to the 1960s are still quite nice. But I have to tell you, my students who come from these neighborhoods — the ones in my creative writing or literature classes in community colleges — mostly want to get out and they do report they’ve been the victims of crimes and violence, the kind of stuff that was endemic to Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, Bushwick (and how!), Clinton Hill, etc. when I was a teenager and young adult in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

    But I grew up near Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach, the neighborhoods untouched by gentrification that don’t want to be gentrified, and they’re very different. I suspect at least some people in these neighborhoods would be happy to have Trader Joe’s there, because Trader Joe’s is basically suburban and cheap, but not the “cool” (Tao Lin taught me to use quotation marks) places we have in Williamsburg and similar neighborhoods. (If you talk to those of us at the bingo games at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center in Williamsburg, you’ll find a lot of people not crazy about them, either.)

    But Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park (and Sheepshead Bay and Flatlands and Mill Basin and similar southeastern Brooklyn neighborhoods) — at least major parts of them are basically suburban, especially for those of us, who like me, grew up living where the nearest subway was a 20-minute bus ride away and the boys of my generation in our neighborhood wanted to get a car ASAP. We called Manhattan “the city” and most people wanted to get away from it, at least after working hours into a kind of semi-suburbia. It was and still is in a lot of ways an ideal compromise. As a kid, I could go near my house to vacant fields and see rabbits and frogs and I could go fishing, but I could also get to Broadway matinees and the streets of Brooklyn Heights (Montague Street was the “cool” neighborhood when I was 18 in 1969, my hangout, where I met kids whose parents were artists and writers). These neighborhoods are insular, especially Gerritsen Beach, a gorgeous place and an environmentally important place (the salt marshes, etc.) and want to be left alone — although most are surprisingly diverse these days. (The block I lived on from 1958 to 1979 is almost entirely made up of homeowners of Caribbean and African descent, including recent arrivals from places like Nigeria — yet despite the change in ethnic makeup from the Italian/Jewish/Irish families of my youth, it still FEELS the same. And the people are happy with what they have, because, really, these neighborhoods are — unlike the Brownsvilles — economically vibrant and often more affluent than the gentrified areas.

    This is a very longwinded attempt to answer your question from someone who has lived in and known both these kinds of neighborhoods untouched by gentrification. Like everything, it’s complicated, and I’m sure other people have different takes on this.

  2. This write-up of the NYT article was going decently until the last paragraph. Really? Out of that discussion amongst locals in ungentrified areas, you got “gentrifiers, unite and conquer!”? With that mentality, how could anyone wonder why gentrifiers get a bad rap amongst those who aren’t interested in taking over and changing the culture, neighborhoods and homes of other people?
    Also, how can a publication even claim to be about and by Brooklyn with writers who write things like that?


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