Have Hipsters and Gentrification Ruined Brooklyn?

Sweet, sweet Williamsburg

  • Sweet, sweet Williamsburg

Hipsters. Gentrification. Brooklyn. It is really, really hard to escape these three words lately. One day, Williamsburg is being lauded as one of the hippest neighborhoods in the country by noted hipster aficionado news outlet Forbes, and the next, Brooklyn is being disparaged by THE VERY SAME outlet for being a hollow shell of itself.

MAKE UP YOUR MIND, FORBES. How are all of us who live in Brooklyn supposed to know if we’re living in hipster paradise or if we’re actually living in gentrified hell? Forbes, please be the guiding light in the darkness of my Brooklyn life in the way that I’ve always hoped you would.

In an article titled “The Hollow Boom of Brooklyn: Behind Veneer of Gentrification, Life Gets Worse for Many,” Forbes contributor Joel Kotkin, explores the “two Brooklyns” angle that has become increasingly popular as more and more media attention focuses on this borough of ours. But Kotkin doesn’t exactly tread new ground with this piece. To sum up: Even though the media keeps talking about hipsters and artisanal mayonnaise, poor people continue to live in Brooklyn. To which I can only reply: No shit, Joel Kotkin. No shit.

Kotkin discovered the apparently surprising-to-him fact that parts of Brooklyn are still mired in poverty when he was on his way to Ditmas Park, “one of the finest exemplars of urban renaissance in the country,” with his wife and his daughter. He describes how they “encountered a huge traffic jam on the Belt Parkway, so [they] exited on Linden Boulevard. For the next half hour [they] drove through an expanse of poverty, public housing and general destitution that hardly jibes with the ‘hip, cool’ image Brooklyn now projects around the world.” So, basically, poverty and wealth exist side by side in America? Is this surprising to anyone?


  1. Well, there are neighborhoods that are very troubled and poor, where violent crime, gangs, unemployment, and many other inner-city ills make the quality of life miserable, but their problems have nothing to do with gentrification. Go to East Flatbush, where I lived in the 1950s, or nearby Brownsville, or East New York, or eastern Bed-Stuy or large parts of Coney Island and Flatbush and Borough Park and other neighborhoods in the southern, non-brownstone part of the borough. I teach many Brooklyn community college students and four-year college students who commute from these neighborhoods, and their neighborhood stories are no different than those from large parts of the Bronx, where gentrification is unknown. Yes, poverty does exist side by side with gentrification in some neighborhoods like Bushwick and Williamsburg and Red Hook (my students’ Red Hook stories are very different from any view of Red Hook you’re likely to get in The L Magazine or Brooklyn Magazine), but these seem like two separate phenomena that the writer of the article may have conflated. I come from this “real” Brooklyn, and no, it’s not really any more genuine than the Brooklyn of your readership — but it’s probably the reality for the majority of people who live in the borough., at least if you join them to the kind of neighborhoods I mostly grew up in, like Mill Basin/Flatlands/Marine Park/Canarsie. Take the 3 or 4 train to Utica Avenue and behind. Take the 2 or 5 train to the Junction/Brooklyn College terminus. Get off the Q or B train at Church Avenue or Newkirk Avenue. Get off the A or C train between Utica Avenue and Grant Avenue. I could go on, but very few of your readers will do this. (What reason do they have?) My Brooklyn-based community college students are very surprised or skeptical or disbelieving when I tell them that Brooklyn is a mecca for writers. That’s not their Brooklyn, and most don’t know more about your Brooklyn than you do about theirs. Just acknowledge that both Brooklyns exist, and you cover and represent only one of them.

  2. oh please Kirstin. WhAt the hell has the hipster set contributed to neighborhoods? Wine bars and popcorn pong? Cultural centers for macaroni art and guitar string class?

    The problem isn’t really the hispters. It’s your attitudes when you move into “blighted” neighborhoods. People do get mad because your white privledge allows you to get things upgraded or addressed when you move in. Forget that people have been fighting for improvements to these hoods you occupy for years. You don’t see that.

    A single mother with children is a lot different from jeremey and his art school degree, paid on his dads dime. A single mom can’t run to mommy and daddy back home and ask for more money for your little Brooklyn staycation.

  3. Joel Kotkin has made a whole career out of hating cities, defending sprawl, and an overall right wing agenda. He’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder, and he twists every reality to fit his basic biases. This is clear in the incoherence of his article – he blames the fact that 25% of Brooklyn is on food stamps to “high taxes and regulation.” As if we can just lower taxes, have no more money for food stamps, and somehow everything would be better – Brooklyn could somehow magically transform itself into one of the sprawling exurb cities that he is so enarmored with.

  4. The writer of this article is HIGHLY irritating. When she finally gets around to making her point, it’s surprisingly valid. Hipsters aren’t (fully) to blame; however, I wouldn’t group them in as indirect victims of rich, gentrified Brooklyn. She talks about the older existing poorer population in this “you snooze, you loose” kinda way, which might be true when discussing capitalistic endeavors. But aren’t those the very same people who are responsible for the life and soul of the place?
    Kirstin… consider another occupation or start writing more objectively.

  5. I didn’t realize hipster was one color? I see hipsters come in all sizes and colors. Hipster is a way of life, a style, an attitude. To lump them all “trust-fund” is too easy, and simply not true. While hipsters do not have such burdens as caring for babies at 17 years old, they are typically more on the carefree, creative and selfish side of life: thinking about themselves. Not necessarily a bad thing. Why bring more children, willingly into your world who you can simply not afford? Speaking of selfish…

  6. Yes! Hipsters have and continue to ruin Brooklyn. People can’t afford the rents in my neighborhood because of the influx of hipsters and the whole tone and feel of my neighborhood is going, going…..

  7. I’d like to see Brooklyn Magazine evolve beyond the fashion forward, hipster-leaning publication it is now, and maybe aim to be a little bit like the old New York magazine, with articles on issues that effect more than just the Williamsburg/Park Slope/Cobble Hill, etc. crowd. More social justice, less social scene. I mean, good lord, this is the borough of Walt Whitman, Pete Hamill, Shirley Chisholm, etc, plus all sorts of artists who influence millions. Sure, the artisian movement is important, but let’s get to hear more about those inner city garden projects, community impowerment issues, infrastructure ideas, the urban space and how it’s changing, etc. Some nods to the boroughs’ heritage would be nice, too.


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