Have Hipsters and Gentrification Ruined Brooklyn?

Brooklyn, divided

  • Brooklyn, divided

Kotkin then shares some statistics that are, frankly, depressing and shocking to see all together. Things like the fact that 25% of Brooklyn residents are on food stamps. And the reality that “one in five residents [is] under the official poverty line, roughly 50 percent above the state average.” Also, “despite some job gains, the borough’s unemployment rate stood at 11 percent this summer, up from 9.7 percent a year ago and well above the national average.” Add these figures to the newly released information that Brooklyn is now the second most expensive place to live in America (behind Manhattan) and the picture that emerges is pretty grim.

The huge divide between the haves and the have-nots in Brooklyn is an issue that we’ve covered before, and it is undoubtedly an issue that we will cover again. However, this is an issue that is not specific to Brooklyn, or even New York. And it is certainly not an issue that should be discussed in terms of “hipster” culture, as if the people who are to blame for the stark income disparity in this country are the artistically minded young people who ride bikes and eat locally-sourced food. This diminishes the reality that faces many Brooklynites—hipsters included—who are struggling to get by in this city, a place that has become increasingly difficult to live in on salaries that would be liveable almost any other place in the country.

Kotkin references “the real Brooklyn” which he describes as being “non-white” and “surprisingly poor.” This has become a go-to criticism of the new influx of people into Brooklyn, that they are not “real” enough. But, real or not, they are here and many of these people have made actual and noteworthy investments in their neighborhoods. The real problem is the rampant development of neighborhoods without any consideration of the people who live there. This can be disastrous and has many troubling implications. These types of development are not usually carried out by anyone who would be recognized as a “hipster” though. Rather they are usually the product of corporate deals with city government and the churnings of money that goes way deeper than most “hipsters” pockets. And to pretend that all the people who make up the “new Brooklyn” are just part of the “hip…privileged and cool set” is ridiculous. While the problems of some “hipster” kid who works in a creative field making $26,000/year while carrying a $60,000 student loan debt are not the same as a single mother living in subsidized housing while working two jobs at minimum wage, they are still problems. There are lots of different ways that Brooklynites are struggling in this bad economy.

And the solution isn’t to deride the attention paid to “hipster” culture. This is a systemic problem in our city and our country. Kotkin notes that “New York’s wealthiest one percent earn a third of the entire city’s personal income.” How many of that 1% are riding their fixed gears around Greenpoint? Maybe instead of denigrating Brooklyn’s “hipster” demographic, after touting it just days before, Forbes could reference another one of its lists that gets a lot of page views: the list of America’s billionaires.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


  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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