Hipsters Have Not Destroyed Brooklyn


So, a long, personal think piece about Brooklyn in a national media outlet isn’t necessarily news at this point. There are a sort of a lot of those going around. As the genre goes, though, author and mixologist Dave Wondrich’s essay for this month’s Esquire, “Regarding this ‘Brooklyn’ Everyone Keeps Talking About” is a nice example, mostly full of legitimately interesting reminisces about the changes he’s seen since moving to Park Slope with his wife in 1986, when “Brooklyn was pretty much at its cultural nadir.”

Sure, interesting enough on its own merit, if you’re into that kind of thing. What’s really notable, though, is Wondrich’s unusually reasonable treatment of hipster transplants (or, per his terminology, “Young Urban Tradesmen”). It is actually… pretty measured, maybe even downright generous:

“Sure, it’s annoying, like any me-too movement is. But at least the YUTs are neat and constructive, things the punks and the hippies and the beatniks before them were most assuredly not. And while ‘hipster’ urbanism might be artificial and even silly, there’s another way of dealing with shabby old neighborhoods that happen to be sitting on prime real estate that’s a hell of a lot worse. You can see it in Manhattan, where over the past twenty years bricks and brownstone have given way to high-rise apartment towers marching cheek-to-cheek up the Bowery (where some of the brick buildings torn down were almost two hundred years old) and Sixth Avenue, and big-box chain stores have replaced a great number of the quirky businesses that made Manhattan such an interesting place to be.

[…] Hipsters might be parasites, but at least they leave the host alive, if only to feed off it. Given a choice between a neutron bomb and a hydrogen bomb, I guess I’ll take the neutrons. At least they leave an illusion of life.”

In other words, a person who could be using his platform for a useless “I was here before it was cool, get off my lawn,” manifesto is instead pointing out a fact that would be obvious, if it were more widely acknowledged: hipsters, however you define them and however determined and numerous they are, don’t really have any concrete power to gut a neighborhood and remake it in their own, incredibly expensive image.

Specifically, they’re not the ones raising rents and razing historic buildings. Moneyed landlords and developers are. The earnest, self-serious dude who moved onto your block to start a condiment business may be, well, too earnest and self-serious (maybe even a privileged shithead!), but he’s spending time making something that is not inherently destructive or awful, and most likely isn’t lobbying for condo development. It’s a complicated issue, to be sure, but one that’s not always addressed as such. Wondrich’s essay isn’t a full, unequivocal endorsement of the almost unfathomable amount of change that’s sprung up around him since moving to Park Slope — very far from it — but is a sane look at a phenomenon that people tend to be pretty insane about. Just in case you need an update today on “things that are not terrible.”

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

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  1. FYI…Big box stores on sixth ave replaced empty broken strip with no mom and pop stores I worked on 19th st @ l’acajou (mom&pop restaurant) from ’85 til 2005… In ’85 5th and 6th from 14th to 23rd were complete dead zones.

  2. Here is nonsense: the idea that “hipsters” are a benign even passive form of transience in gentrification because, purportedly, they pose no “violence” or “physical aggression.” That is because the violence and physical aggression they do INDEED pose, at the risk of being called ‘insane’ because one isn’t built for kissing rings, is displaced onto the police. You think the gentrification wasn’t possible if not for the very real if ostensibly legitimized violence and aggression of the New York Police Department attendant to, patrolling and guarding hamster migrations? Ask anyone on Graham Avenue right now, for example, about police presence ten years ago and police presence now, for who it is meant to benefit and who it ignores even demonizes, if the exponential increase in police presence attendant to gentrification is not meant to terrify, and if the hamster migration is indeed as benign and oversimplified as you write. And we’re not even really getting into your oversimplification of “hipster,” or the escapism, chronic since the beginning of gentrification thirty years ago–that “hipsters,” being WHITE, MIDDLE TO UPPER MIDDLE CLASS AND COLLEGE GRADUATES, somehow lack agency.

  3. Or the fact, conveniently ignored, that so many of them in fact qualify for distinction under your other obfuscation: being landlords, real estate agents and conscientious parties to real estate mechanics/conversions/zone changes, etc. themselves. Like your publisher sitting on the board of the Open Space Alliance–as if facts such as that, along with others that are conveniently ignored in your oversimplification about “what a hipster is” have not had some import in the L Magazine’s growing desperation to portray the agents of gentrification as in fact not being agents in gentrification at all.

  4. I’m sorry dennissinned, but you lose any argument and authority by calling it “hamster migration”. If it was only it was as simple as in your head as an “us who were here first and real” and “them who are rich white hamsters”. Thing is yes there is more police presence, and yes some of it is corrupt and those situations always will stand out over the thousands of other situations where police do benefit us all, but hipsters want a safer community and are willing to work to make that happen. Ask those same people you quote from ten years ago on Graham Ave how many of them tried to make their community a better place? How many of them when they had the opportunity to get rid of someone hurting the community by telling the cops something that went down illegal and didn’t because they hated the idea of the police more then the idea of someone who is actually hurting their community? Ask those people how many of them actually put trash in a bin that is two feet away instead of throwing their McDonald’s bag on the ground within eye sight of a bin? How many of them found even an hour a month to do something with a community out-reach program or form community groups based around common ideology? Yeah….that is the difference you’re seeing now with the latest group of people you so easily call “hamsters” moving into the area where all walks of life are accepted and that is something you will never understand.

  5. @Whatever I live in the heart of Williamsburg and I see trashed dropped on the ground with a bin nearby multiple times on a daily basis. It’s disgusting. And what group of people are making my neighborhood a trash heap? The friends of the hipsters who are visiting from Manhattan for the “Brooklyn experience” and in the midst of the good times and partying even the hipsters whom themselves live here. Dennissinned is right; they have no agency and thus destruction they cause is somehow seen as the cost of making the neighborhoods safer.

  6. If only “hipsters” received Irony as they project It. “Whatever,” you have reason to be pained by the identification “hamster,” but they aren’t in your response. However, I’m not just responding to you. “Hipster” confers superiority in what it most conceals: being white, middle to upper middle class, recent college graduate. This doesn’t impute any of those individual categories as “bad” or “evil” or anything of the sort but observes and represents the peculiarity of their combination in North Brooklyn. “Hipster” is misanthropic. It begs question against recent reports, by “hipsters” themselves, wondering aloud “if hipsters deserve some humanity.” Of course “hipsters” deserve humanity, precisely because they deny it—the pain of recent revelations concerning gentrification and “hipsters” is confused as “dehumanizing.” The appropriate term is “humanizing.”

    “Humans” homo superbia hold themselves apart from “humanity” homo sapience. Each man or woman perceives their uniqueness in some essential difference between their “self” and “all the Others” concealed from or beyond public disclosure. In this inner sense, it is true what Albert Goldson recently wrote in the WG News [but not for his reasons], “we’re all hipsters.” Its expression is corruptible even irrelevant yet nothing is more certain for each person. Beyond this “hip” is ham. That is, as “hipsters” themselves have told us since the Beats, “hip” mimes. What does It mime? Originally, [and the origination of] black culture. Not that a/each white person transforms into a black person [though these cases of self-perceiving are in fact well attested], but observing ‘black people’ alienated from ‘white people’ while ‘being white.’ Those original hipsters knew they were miming an/other. Present day “hipsters” are by and large unfettered by this duty and thus unfettered to this memory.

    What remains is vestigial: the miming of “player hate” so thorough and successful that “hipsters” are exoteric about being esoteric. It’s true, “hipsters” may in fact know first or better secret trends and desires, but what is more important for them than it should be for Others are public perceptions of their secrecy up to including their public declarations of secrets and their secrecy.

    “Hipsters” are hamsters, not in the symbol of the rodent, but in the sense that “hip” is HAM—mimesis. “Hipster” doubly-states “the Other” to ultimately ignore that Other returning to self-absorption. “Hipsters” overact: “ham.” “Hipster” has no other basis. It self-styles honorifics unsupported by achievement or production—because achievement and production in of themselves, by what “hipsters” themselves have told us over the years, cancels “hip.” No one can say, “I’m an urban tradesman” or some other such nonsense and simultaneously be a “hipster”–again, as “hipsters” themselves tell us. It’s not our creation or conception. It’s our translation. It’s not a slur imposed from without. It delineates the very “logic” [egad] that “hipsters” have spent the past ten years or so clogging new and old Brooklyn media.

    Crude: why is a “hipster” separated and elevated from humanity? When the dialogue embraces gentrification the reason is clear: there are no reasons and any attempt at reason is brushed aside. You get ‘word is bond,’ ‘crown,’ and nothing else—’place.’ When meaning and thought enter the dialogue, the root and cause of things make apparitions, ‘I’m, or better yet, I’ve become a cafe barista” or an ‘urban tradesmen,’ or a ‘vegetarian dildo ordinance.’ One doesn’t have to be a “hipster” to be any of these things, and indeed, every single one of these deeds, occupations and past-times ANTICIPATE “hipsters” as, again, “hipsters” were once fond but are now guarded of telling us—how else can one stereotype “hipsters” “player hate,” ranking elevating removing themselves above humanity? By how one “discovers” previous music, food, manufacture, fact of life? Most “hipsters” lack the cunning to sustain the ruse of an exoteric esotericism, but some have been quite successful, and these are hamsters.

    Whenever media [ha!], including and emphasizing the public and largely pseudonymous commentary, was sycophant, there lacked complaint against sensationalism, bombast, pretense or pedantry. Tally all the words written in critical examination and that of this ongoing sycophancy, and it won’t restraint complaint that one is “writing too much,” making too much ado, “obsessed,” “stating the obvious,” “insane” with “nothing better to do” who couldn’t possibly genuinely or successfully parcel some thought, search for meaning or increase intellect equitable to this sycophancy.

    One is an agent of gentrification once one calls him or herself a “hipster” but not all agents of gentrification are hipsters. Hipsters end and link “gentrification” as an abstract category parsed from North Brooklyn’s life and the reality of that life. They “present” and “prompt” gentrification, are its manifestation and representation. They are always its agents but that should not overestimate their significance or power—they are not always ‘principals,’ indeed, are manifested and manipulated by political entities, licensed and official real estate agencies, large and mid-scale condominium and/or luxury rental developers, and, most importantly, mass media, specifically new Brooklyn media. They are neither always in agreement nor particular about agreement but are always aware of the agreements behind gentrification.

  7. And if you need more evidence, L Magazine, just today in the NY Times:

    ‎”Brokers and developers say the cross-Brooklyn migration has picked up in recent years, as recent college graduates, artists and families, mostly white, seek new affordable neighborhoods. The median real estate price for Boerum Hill ($675,000), Carroll Gardens ($677,500) and Cobble Hill ($750,000), once viewed as out-of-the-way destinations for renters and homeowners unable to afford Manhattan, now rivals those in the northern reaches of the Upper East and West Sides and parts of Lower Manhattan, according to Streeteasy.com.”


    But I know, in a few weeks or so, you’ll write the exact opposite of what you’re writing now, and append that most cliched of hipster sayings, “We knew this all along.”

  8. Thank you dennissinned, I’d like to hear more from you. Soho, Dumbo, and Williamsburg, etc. are to what NYC was, what Levittown, Yonkers, and Hempstead, were to farm, pasture, and woodland in the 1950’s. It’s suburbanization into rather than out of.

  9. DavidG, I hope you have email notification. Otherwise, education for the L Magazine comes today from the Daily Beast:

    “Florida himself, in his role as an editor at The Atlantic, admitted last month what his critics, including myself, have said for a decade: that the benefits of appealing to the creative class accrue largely to its members—and do little to make anyone else any better off. The rewards of the “creative class” strategy, he notes, “flow disproportionately to more highly-skilled knowledge, professional and creative workers,” since the wage increases that blue-collar and lower-skilled workers see “disappear when their higher housing costs are taken into account.” His reasonable and fairly brave, if belated, takeaway: “On close inspection, talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits.””