It seems like almost every day, some place is called out as being the “new Brooklyn” or the “new Williamsburg.” It’s become such a well-worn trope that Free Williamsburg even had a brilliant post, “All Tomorrow’s Williamsburgs,” in which it aggregated the literally dozens of times that somewhere-that-is-not-a-part-of-Kings-County (or even, as was the case of one New York Observer story, is part of Brooklyn, i.e. “Williamsburg is the next Williamsburg,” so!) was called the next Brooklyn. The regularity with which this cliché is employed is as tiresome as the trope is demonstrably false. Just last week, here in Brooklyn magazine, Henry Stewart tackled the issue and made clear why Bay Ridge would not be the “next Williamsburg,” referencing the geographical factors at play (namely, Williamsburg’s proximity to Manhattan) and also the political ones (the dramatic rezoning of Williamsburg’s waterfront which has brought such architectural wonders as, well, the Edge).
And yet there still seems to be some sort of insistence on behalf of much of the media (and, lest we forget, realtors) to insist that we are always on the verge of having a “new Brooklyn.” Not only is this insulting to the intelligence of, oh, just about everybody seeing as how it is most often used as a cynical, rhetorical attention-getting device, but it’s also troubling that anyone would even buy into it at this point. The simple fact is that there can be no “new Brooklyn” because Brooklyn, like that other era-defining location you’ve probably heard of, wasn’t built in a day. The Brooklyn (or, I guess, “Brooklyn”) of today—you know, the one that gets written about in trend pieces and is internationally lauded as the epicenter of, um, cool—is the product of decades of economic development, rapacious real estate investors, geographical proximity to the biggest financial sector in the world, and, of course, the longtime residents who chose to make their lives here long before the borough became a brand.
In essence, the Brooklyn of today is both the sum of its many disparate parts (and, really, it doesn’t get much more disparate than the population of, say, Gerritsen Beach and that of Bushwick), but also so much more. There is little doubt that much of the gentrification of the last couple of decades is due in part to the sky-rocketing rent prices in Manhattan, but also the fact that there were long-established communities in Brooklyn with ample (enough) public transportation and other resources made it possible for the borough’s recent population boom. Add to that the dramatic rezoning of areas like the Williamsburg waterfront, Greenpoint, and DUMBO, (and, in Queens, Long Island City, which has also been touted as being a new and improved Williamsburg) and it’s easy to see that Brooklyn didn’t become what it is now simply because a few struggling artists moved in, or because it was “discovered” by the New York Times. Instead, there was a real and deliberate effort to economically transform this borough in a way that just hasn’t been done in most of the other places mentioned as Kings County usurpers. All of which is why the attempt to brand anywhere as the next “Brooklyn” is disingenuous at best, and facile at worst as it lacks any understanding of what Brooklyn’s seemingly sudden popularity really means.
Brooklyn has, it seems, become a synonym for a once-cheap and under-the-radar place, which is now the dream locale for a certain type of creatively minded young person. And so it makes sense (I guess) that every current place that is still-cheap and under-the-radar would like to lay claim to the title of being Brooklyn’s successor. But all that does is deny what it is that actually makes Brooklyn special—the diverse population, the existence of distinct neighborhoods, the well-established communities—and reduces it to the least important of its elements. There’s a reason why just plopping a condo or two in a neighborhood à la the Long Island City waterfront won’t transform an area into the new Williamsburg, and that’s because the best parts of Williamsburg and indeed of all Brooklyn are not the prefabricated buildings populated with NYU students. And anyone who thinks that Brooklyn can be recreated on the whim of a real estate developer doesn’t really know that much about why people choose to live here at all.
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