A Tale of Two Papers: How the New York Times Writes About Bed-Stuy and Gentrification

A Tale of Two Papers: How the New York Times Writes About Bed-Stuy and Gentrification

As surely as inconsistencies abound in life, they also exist in our giant media outlets. Take, for example, the New York Times; the paper of record manages to impress and edify, but also annoy and frustrate us on an almost daily basis. Has there ever been a larger internal disparity in one paper than the one that exists due to the Times publishing both its laughable Styles section and its usually excellent local coverage side by side? If there is, we can’t really think of one. 

Just this Monday, we wrote about the Times‘s most recent “discovery” of Crown Heights, and how the paper—particularly through its real estate coverage—perpetuates the myth of the up-and-coming neighborhood by claiming that long standing communities have been “transformed” rather than just gentrified. A commenter on that post pointed out that the Times is not a “monolith,” insinuating that not every article it runs needs to include every pertinent fact about the subject matter at hand. And while this is essentially true because if every article tried to internally reconcile all the disparate realities that exist in the world at large, then every article would be an unreadable, overly nuanced mess (and also probably leave readers to experience an overwhelming sense of weltschmerz each time they read the paper). And yet there also really isn’t any excuse (except for, you know, making more money from advertising realtors and development companies!) to ignore certain realities and perpetuate an idealized version of the current reality of certain Brooklyn areas like the Times did today with its head-shaking look at Bed-Stuy and its excellent coverage of the struggles tenants in central Brooklyn are facing from greedy landlords.

In a piece similar to the look at Crown Heights, the Times took a look at what it was like to live in Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood they describe as “diverse and changing.” Just like in Crown Heights, the Times is hesitant to talk about gentrification in conjunction with Bed-Stuy (the g-word is just such a downer) and instead points out “the vitality and tenaciousness of a community with deep cultural and historic roots in the area.” But the Times is also quick to point out that the neighborhood is transforming with the arrival of the “most unexpected, diverse people moving into the neighborhood now.” Unexpected and diverse? What could be wrong with that? Oh, by “unexpected” and “diverse” you mean “European, mostly German?” Gotcha.

In fact, this Times piece does address the dramatic population shift in the area in the last decade or so, noting:

From 2000 to 2010, the number of white residents grew from 2.4 percent to 15 percent, while the number of black residents shrank from 75 to 60 percent, according to census data. (The number of Hispanic residents also grew to become 20 percent of the population.) In the western half of the neighborhood, the changes have been even more dramatic, with white residents making up more than 25 percent of the population, and black residents 49 percent.

In addition to the demographics shift, real estate prices have risen accordingly, with brownstones having doubled or even tripled their value in the last few years. The article doesn’t much analyze the fact that the local schools are in poor shape or that there has been a sharp uptick in both burglaries and shootings recently, notably the recent murder of a young mother on Lefferts Place. But why would it? This article isn’t about what it’s like to live in Bed-Stuy if you’re poor or black or have been there for your whole life. This article is about what it’s like to move to Bed-Stuy if you’re wealthy, white, and, we guess, German.

What else this article doesn’t do is examine the recent phenomenon of residents in areas like Bed-Stuy, Flatbush, Crown Heights and others, who are being offered incredibly low buy-outs on their rent-stabilized apartments so that landlords can attract the kind of people who read articles like “Bed-Stuy: Diverse and Changing” and can afford to pay a lot more money in rent. But where can you go to read about the plights of those people? Oh, the New York Times? Interesting.

In an excellent article by Mireya Navarro, the darker side of “the ravenous housing market” is exposed, as Navarro writes about how “buyouts have become instruments of illegal harassment and a growing threat to the stock of affordable housing.” Basically, landlords are able to evict tenants who pay below market-rent if the landlords can prove that they can rent out the apartments for $2,500/month or more. And in today’s insane real estate market, pretty much any place that has a working toilet can go for that much. So landlords are evicting tenants and offering them as little as $4,000 to resettle elsewhere, effectively leaving these people homeless. So when you look at those numbers that say that the black population in Bed-Stuy has decreased by 25 percent? Think about how and why those people left the community that many of them had called home for their entire lives.

It might be unreasonable to expect the Times to acknowledge the harsh reality of what a “healthy” real estate market really means (especially in, well, the Real Estate section), but is it really so unreasonable to want the paper of record to cool it a little bit on its boosterism of gentrification? Or to at least acknowledge that what is going on is gentrification? Not just “transformation?” I don’t think so. I think we have every right to want transparency in what it is that we’re reading about when it effects the city we live in. Burying our collective head in the sand on this issue does nothing except hasten the transformation of this city into something unrecognizable from what it once was, from what it could still be if we protect and provide for the most vulnerable among us. This isn’t just about railing at the Times, this is about our responsibility as citizens of this city who don’t want “diversity” to mean Germans moving next door.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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