I done wrote an article about gentrification porn over at The Weeklings. Check it out.
Or read it here:
GENTRIFICATION PORN: NORTH BROOKLYN GROUND ZERO
SOME PEOPLE are into serial killers. Normal, harmless people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. You probably know at least one. That nerdy dude from the design department who obsesses about just what pushed Dahmer over the line from sick-but-harmless fantasy world to full-on heads in the freezer, that girl you went out with Freshman year whose Manson Family book collection went way beyond just Helter Skelter and would refer to obscure Fam members by their first names. People are obsessed by sick things sometimes. You probably know someone who reads up on the Holocaust so much that this formerly “special section on the shelf” has taken over the entire bookcase, someone who will sometimes casually quote Göring at dinner parties.
Yes, oftentimes non-dangerous people are interested in evil. For me, serial killers are far too loner science nerd to be fascinating and the Nazis were a bunch of dicks. But one truly evil aspect of mankind has always held a special place in my heart: Gentrification. And when I say “gentrification” I mean hardcore, drive out the poor people with guns drawn, cash grab every square inch of bombed-out ghetto and build an overpriced coffee shop on the bloodstained concrete gentrification. I even wrote a novel about it. Fortunately, I happen to live right at ground zero for urban “nickname Flushing Head ‘FluHo’ and the condos shall rise” gentrification of the most ruthless and cunning variety: North Brooklyn. Unlike what most people think, a good gentrification move doesn’t just involve putting in a juicery outside a project highrise and hoping for a “Juicery spotted in hot new hood” headline on Curbed NY. A proper gentrification move takes a certain cold-hearted precision and tone-deaf ambition, a blatant Viking invader mentality that elevates properly executed gentrification strategies to the level of an art form.
Fortunately, I don’t have to walk more than two blocks past my front door on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to point out some really good examples of classic, evil-genius gentrification maneuvers. When I first moved onto this block ten years ago it was a desolate stretch of urban blight, the kind of place where if you saw another person walking on the street then this was a problem. Because nobody had any reason to be walking on this street. With Williamsburg now officially more expensive to live in than most of Manhattan, the street is now lined with so many juiceries, $200 jeans clothing boutiques, and specialty desert shops that they almost seem to cancel each other out. Which is, of course, perfect for a gentrification porn addict such as myself.
Williamsburg is just the same age-old NYC progression, only this time it’s right up in my face, just another couple of blocks on an increasingly bloody trail. Mobbed-up Hell’s Kitchen begat Clinton. The tent cities of the Lower East Side begat the East Village. And now bombed-out Billyburg, Brooklyn becomes a place for tourist groups and hip hotels, even though once war-torn Bushwick just two L Train stops past mine is now so utterly hip that certain areas of Williamsburg are calling themselves “Bushwick”. It’s a truly dizzying scenario, and it makes one wonder if currently war-torn Brownsville, Brooklyn, pretty much the last remaining ghetto in NYC proper, will soon be renamed BroVille for real estate purposes.
Of course, this is absolute paradise for a gentrification pornographer. There isn’t enough room in this piece to cover even a small portion of the truly cunning and cynical gentrification highlights this neighborhood has to offer, so see below for five really great gentrification chess moves I came across on just one ten-minute stroll through “East Williamsburg” (i.e. Bushwick, but now referred to as “West Bushwick”).
This is prime gentrification right here. Complete and utter genius. This used to be a quirky little neighborhood oddity, the kind of store that makes for a great talking point and gives any locale that WTF factor that really gives you a warm feeling when you walk past it. It was a store that sold a combination of tombstones and bread. Great-smelling homemade bread. You could pop in and order a headstone for granny and grab a loaf to have with your pasta that night while you were at it. It was run by two Italian dudes with matching poodles, with ads for their self-published memoirs likeSon Of A Don and I Did My Time in the windows. Every day at five they would come out on the sidewalk to peddle what was left of that days bread batch. “Two Dollar Loaves!” could be heard ringing up and down Graham Avenue. Followed by the yelps of the poodles.
Obviously, this down-home nonsense had to go. And why waste such valuable real estate on anything less than a high end tattoo shop? This is an incredibly well executed gentrification move since it isn’t obvious. It isn’t as if they threw the bread and poodles and tombstones out into the street and put in an Apple store or something. A good gentrification move must be subtle. A perfect one will even appeal to the old heads in the neighborhood, a Trojan horse deception smiling upon them with one face while driving up rents and calling in real estate developers with the other. Like this tattoo shop, for example. The old heads in the hood don’t realize that tatz are cool now. That they’re incredibly expensive. That these tattoo artists are probably branded celebrities with their own reality shows in the works. In their day, the only people who had tattoos were hoods or navy men. This seems, to them, like an underdog establishment run by bearded shabby dudes who couldn’t get an office job due to their neck ink. It stings far less to replace their beloved bread and tombstone store with this than it would another juicery. Yet it secretly hurts them far worse than a high end cupcake shop. Far, far worse. Because what is a better talking point when walking out of your 900K one bedroom than stating, “Yea, I’m getting inked up there next week. Grant got me on the short waiting list.”
Grabbing cash and adding to the gentrification of a neighborhood without having to endure all those annoying hall type meetings and flyer protests. Props to this tat shop for doing gentrification right. Keep up the good work, dudes.
Unlike the first example which is a cunning little gentrification chess move, this one takes the exact opposite strategy: The full-tilt, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners gentrification blitzkrieg!
“Oh so you were once this kooky little dinner with cheap and delicious heart attack shakes and a clientele of retired mafia members chatting about the dog races and old prison tales? A neighborhood institution that adds a lot of flavor and heart to the block? Well fuck you and all your haggard waitresses who call everyone “hon”. We’ll just buy the building and raise the rent and your colorful little world will be tossed to the ether where it belongs. And we WILL put in an expensive juicery with drink names like “Turnt Up” and “Wellness Now”. And there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that you or anybody else can ever do to stop our steamroller of PROGRESS.”
Development companies as modern day Norse Vikings? Not too far off, really. And this move right here is admirable in its take-no-prisoners, rip the lungs from the chest cavity and post them high to warn the other inhabitants of this coastline that THAY ARE NEXT technique. Respect.
This one is just so simple. Somewhere, the gentrification Gods are rubbing their hands together and having a good laugh at this scenario. Oftentimes, simplicity is key when it comes to proper gentrification, and this is as simple as small number, no-calculator-needed addition. Let’s take a look.
What did this used to be?
Oh, just a well-regarded, affordable neighborhood dentist with a way cool/semi-creepy tooth logo in the window. Dude was probably there for decades, or at least the decade I spent living right across the street giggling at the tooth logo late on certain “relaxed” nights. This was the type of neighborhood dentist who would take in tooth-aching stragglers off the street and charge only what they could pay. He was rumored to be generous with the laughing gas as well. In short, this was a legendary neighborhood tooth man with a long list of old school local customers and the type of eccentric, kind charm one just doesn’t get from a dentist’s office with a shiny glass exterior and flatscreens advertising teeth whitening surgery in the waiting room.
So what does Gentrification have to say about all this?
“Um, why don’t we put in a totally hip, Instagram-ready, organic butcher shop instead?”
And I really can’t thank Gentrification enough for ticking all the needed boxes on this one. Tatted-up butchers with urban-amish beards? Check. Customers with smartphones in hand ready to snapchat the meats? Check. The People of New York for sale in stacks by the registers? Check.
The real Italian butcher shop across the street contemplating various firebombing strategies?
I’ll leave that box open for them.
Just like the Germans learned to do, proper gentrification involves recognizing and outing imposters to the Cause. This right here is a terrific example of flushing out non-comrades. This used to be a thrift store, which sounds like the type of establishment that should be left to flourish in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood full of the types of individuals who thirst for $200 vintage Poison tees and musty lumberjack attire. But the vibe of this establishment leaned too dangerously close to “real-deal second-hand clothing store” to truly fit into a proper gentrification scenario. This was not the type of place with “fashion” on its mind and waify part-time models working the registers. The store seemed to cater a little too close to…gulp…actual poor people who, like, couldn’t afford new clothes. So while allowed to exist in the early stages of the neighborhood’s gentrification, not immediately crushed in the name of progress, it was eventually outed as an imposter and immediately demolished to make way for something that is truly needed: luxury condominiums.
We won’t be needing your musty old poor people hand-me-downs anymore, thank you very much. Nice work, gentrification Gestapo. And long may you reign.
Hi, we’re a quirky warehouse space selling cool stuff. We are sorry your favorite record store had to move out of here to Greenpoint, but hey, we’re not the enemy. Just another local biz trying to make good. Oh, we look like an Urban Outfitters, you say? Nope. Not an Urban Outfitters. We’re local and quirky! Oh, so you’re wondering why we sell all the same stuff as Urban outfitters? That must just be a coincidence. Because we’re definitely a warehouse collective selling nothing but great clothes and turntables and books and records and all the things that will let your inner-hipness really shine on out. Great! So you’d like to purchase that “mock vintage” Echo & The Bunnymen tee? Let me just ring you up. Sure glad we’re not Urban outfitters, amiright? Have a nice…um, ok, so you’re wondering why your receipt says Urban Outfitters. Well, ahem, sorry no refunds. Next in line? Sir, ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to move it along. Do we need to call…ok, we do…security we have a situation on the ground floor…
These five fine examples of expertly executed gentrification were spotted just steps from my front door, and I didn’t even get as far as the true Ground Zero of heartless urban progress: The Vice Magazine-ravaged Williamsburg waterfront. Here is to hoping that our fearless and cunning leader, Progress itself, continues to drive out this type of homey, neighborhood nonsense and line the entire world with vegan coffee shops, Urban Outfitters, and juicery after juicery after juicery.
For only then will we truly be safe.