Editors at Tin House, and husband and wife, Rob Spillman and Elissa Schappell are seasoned Brooklynites; plus, having lived in Park Slope for nearly 20 years, they’ve seen their fair share of transformations. We spoke with them about the changes they’ve seen in Brooklyn, and whether or not they’re worried about the borough’s cultural integrity.
“The problem isn’t so much that the neighborhoods are being gentrified it’s that the people who are moving in aren’t necessarily invested in maintaining the character of their neighborhood or preserving it’s soul. In order to keep a neighborhood alive you have to invest in it. […] These folks aren’t necessarily here because they want to live in Brooklyn, they are here because they can no longer afford Manhattan. There is a difference. Brooklyn is becoming a bedroom community for Manhattan. Just thinking about how Seventh Avenue has changed in the last sixteen years sends me into mourning. It’s pitiful. I haven’t an arm long enough for all the black arm band.
“Here is the secret though—lots of truly gifted, inspired, wonderful writers don’t live in Brooklyn. And they’re happy. Or they say they’re happy. And I know people believe that there’s something in the water here—and yes, per capita more writers live in Brooklyn than any other city in America—but the fact is, well, okay yes Brooklyn has been putting genius in the water for the last fifty years, and yeah you’d be crazy not to want to live here.”
And as for the future of Brooklyn? Elissa is most concerned about cultural preservation: “I worry about the Brooklyn accent. You don’t hear little kids speaking with thick Brooklyn accents and I think that’s a shame. I’d like to see that taught in all the schools. I’d hate to lose it.”
“I’ve been here since 86 and everybody was complaining about it then, but in the East Village. I was forced out of there in ‘96 and moved out here [to Park Slope]. It’s become insane [here]. Like all the characters just leeched out of it. From an indie literary point of view, it’s actually a great time to be here because we have very little overhead and you can be nimble and competitive with the corporate publishers who have giant overheads in Manhattan.”
“I’m worried about the cultural vibrancy of the city. If it’s prohibitively expensive for young, interesting artists to move here I wonder what that’s going to do to us. […] I’m particularly worried about who is telling stories. The city is becoming increasingly [populated by] the more privileged here and I’m worried about the homogeneity of class and race that I’m seeing.
“I think this city’s culture is dependent on its art […] it would be nice to see institutional support for emerging artists. One of my favorite places is Melbourne and there, they really support the arts. They have artist-dedicated buildings right downtown and they have subsidized studio space for artists so their downtown keeps its vibrancy.
“Maybe I’m in denial or delusional about the cultural importance of the city, but I think there’s such a long, deep history here and there’s still vibrancy here. A lot of the more exciting work I see is from cross-cultural pollination and a lot of the more interesting writing is coming from hyphenated cultures. I think Brooklyn does really well with that.
“Brooklyn is so huge that i think it’s just going to shift every year and there will be all these weird pressures and economic bubbles, like Park Slope is just ridiculous. And I have no idea who these people are that are buying those $4 million houses, but I think there’s going to be constant surprises. There’s always going to be a new Bushwick. The demand is there.”