Tag Archives: gentrification

An Open Letter to a Developer

16 Oct

Dear Ryan Pedram,

Hi, my name is Rebekah and I live down the block from the luxury condominiums you are currently constructing. Let me tell you a little bit about myself and my street. I have lived on this block for over 10 years now. Even still, even with all these young kids from where ever they are coming from moving into Brooklyn in droves every month and saying they are “from” here, I don’t think I can actually call myself a New Yorker. It never feels as though I have been here quite long enough to call this city my own without feeling like an impostor. Even still, I love my block and it is more my home than probably anywhere else. Despite what people say about the anonymity and lack of community here in New York, I know my neighbors if not by name then certainly by face. I wave at them and chat with them when I go about my day and they notice when I leave on some adventure or other for an extended period of time; they notice when they haven’t seen me running in a while; they just notice. Well, those who are left do, anyway. See, my block has changed quite a bit in the past few years. It seems like every few months one of those familiar faces is forced to sell their property under the pressure of constantly rising property taxes and in response to the threats made by developers like you.

Now listen, I am not going to sit here and pretend like my arrival over 10 years ago wasn’t a canary in the mine shaft to some of the people who have lived here for decades, generations, even. When young, white kids start moving in, you know shit is about to change. I did my best to respect the place I was moving to, the neighborhood that existed before my arrival. I never once acted, like so many newcomers do, as though I “discovered” something. Talk about some language reminiscent of colonialism, ya know? I know now that my young, privileged face read as an upcoming rent hike to those that lived here then. Like the beginning of the end. Like gentrification (which it was). To those people, I apologize. Seriously. I know it doesn’t make it better but I am truly sorry. Even with what followed: all the new faces, the new bars, the coffee shops, the thrift stores, the bike shops, the bike shops, the bike shops — all the trappings of Hipster New York that have made Brooklyn a brand and paved the way for a Banana Republic to open on Fulton Mall (like, what?!) — this neighborhood has, in many ways, remained itself: low key and unassuming. A lot of the people on my block have managed to hold on.

But now the new New York that has been plaguing neighborhoods all over the city, but most notably Brooklyn, has arrived here. (Thank you for that, Bloomberg.) And you are responsible for the building currently going up on my block. This past spring and summer, men in suits descended on my street, trying to buy up whatever buildings and lots they could. A house that had gone down during Sandy, one which was never cleared away, suddenly looked like dollar signs. Buildings with residents — houses where people lived — were condemned by the city and those people forced out to look for new housing in a place where rent prices seem to climb by the second. Then those houses were leveled. And then silence. Until this past week.

This week has been horrible. I, like many people I know, live an off-schedule. I am a bartender and a writer. I keep odd hours and I work from the table in my (usually relatively quiet) kitchen. I understand that I cannot expect the world to kowtow to my abnormality. But the construction has made my home absolutely uninhabitable. Noise I can handle. I live in New York and share this space with millions of people and I understand what that entails. If I wanted pitch black nights with stars and crickets and to be awoken by birds in the morning, I would move to the country. But Mr. Pedram, everything is shaking. The work your contractors are doing up the block, which, by the way, they said they would be done with by 6pm on Tuesday when I first spoke with them (it is currently Friday at noon), is causing things to fall off my refrigerator, my coffee to dance across the table, my cats to cower, fur standing straight up, under the sofa for hours. When I called you on the phone just now you said that the Department of Buildings had been called to the site 2 dozen times and that this portion of the work would be completed in 45 minutes. As if the fact that you aren’t breaking any of their bullshit regulations should offer me some solace. I mean, I know this is crazy but how about you offer us some compensation? I am paying rent on a space I cannot be in. You stand to make millions and millions of dollars. Do the math.

I am not going to act as though my experience has been any different from, worse than even, the hundreds of thousands, hell, millions of New Yorkers who have watched as their neighborhoods become unrecognizable, as the homes they’ve rented for years become unaffordable, as the mom-and-pop shops they have frequented close and make way for banks and pharmacies, banks and pharmacies, more banks and more pharmacies. And I know, it is a lot worse for other people. My roommates and I are still able to afford our apartment, for now. And I am so incredibly thankful for that. But when those starry-eyed newcomers with their strollers hogging the sidewalks, their cars taking our parking spaces, their money closing our neighborhood businesses arrive, how long do the rest of us have? They will have “discovered” this neighborhood that existed for so long before them and before me and it will start to look like everywhere else.

I know that it is all money to you. But just for a second, can you acknowledge that people live here? More than that, even. Acknowledge that people have lives here. Lives that they have worked hard to establish. Lives that deserve better than apartments that shake because you need to make way for the new hip neighborhood. Because after you do that, after you throw up this shottily-constructed building that, if the other new construction in this neighborhood is any indication, will begin falling apart within 3 years, you will move onto the next thing, pockets lined with cash. And those of us who live here now, probably won’t be able to afford it anymore. And where do we go? Where do any of us go? Where do all of the people — in Crown Heights, Long Island City, Harlem, East New York, Astoria, Mott Haven — go? And how much longer can this really go on? How many more newcomers with money can there be?

I’m sure you don’t have the answers any more than I do. And I am not going to act as though this is something only affecting me and the neighborhood I live in. I know this has been going on for years, that I am lucky to have avoided it so long, that other people, specifically people of color, have it worse. I know that I am partially to blame. But fuck, man. My house is shaking and the only thing I have to look ahead to is an ugly new building going up on my block. Assuming I can still afford to live here.

So thank you for taking the time to answer my phone calls today, for speaking with the contractors about my complaints, and for saying that you “understand and feel for what I am going through.” Thank you, in short, for attempting to placate me. But just so you know, I think you, and all the people doing what you are doing in the name of personal enrichment, are assholes. I think you are all destroying this city. This city that gets slightly less awesome with every single personality-less building that clutters the skyline. And by the way, it has been more than 45 minutes and my house is still shaking.

Sincerely,

Rebekah

When Big Money Comes to Town

1 Apr

Just last night a bar on Atlantic Avenue that opened its doors 16 years ago announced it will be closing them at the end of this month.  I never worked there and, to be honest, I haven’t hung out there all that much in the last couple of years.  I always kind of thought it was one of those places I “lost in the divorce,” as they say.  Whoever “they” are.  I guess we all should have seen this coming when the Barney’s Coop opened up a few years ago.  Followed by a Sephora, a Lululemon, a Splendid, Gap and Banana Republic Outlets, talk of a J. Crew and who knows what else.  There isn’t so much room for character when big money and condos come to town.

It’s a weird coincidence because I was literally just thinking about this yesterday.  (My life, by the way, has involved a lot of coincidences recently.  Maybe I’ll tell you about them someday.)  So I have a few friends, two in particular, who oftentimes lament the loss of the old Brooklyn, the Brooklyn they grew up in.  One of them posts in this blog here which is really awesome and you should check it out.  No, seriously, check it out.  Anyway, I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, or New York City for that matter.  I grew up in the suburbs in New Jersey, a place that has a lot of trees and doesn’t really change all that much.  You don’t hear too much about people losing leases on storefronts.  Generally, stores close because whoever owned them either gets sick of doing it or gets old and dies.  Then the store closes and a nail salon goes in its place.  There are A LOT of nail salons in my hometown.  You also don’t have the same brand of blind development as in the city.  Here, luxury condo after luxury condo just sort of go up over night, oftentimes cheaply built, overpriced, and under filled.  Eventually people move into the doorman, gym included building.  Usually they are transplants from Manhattan, previously transplants from somewhere else, looking for something more affordable.  Their “more affordable” prices-out the people who had lived in the neighborhood previously, many of whom priced-out the people who grew up there.  In my hometown, a lot of people knock down houses to build bigger houses with more rooms than they can possibly use.  I really don’t understand the appeal of getting lost in your own home but that’s just me.  My mom calls them McMansions.  They are pretty much just the architectural version of a big dick contest.  I digress.

So I grew up close to New York City but not in it and even though I went to the city quite a number of times my memory of it is pretty limited.  Here is what I remember:

1.  Going to Take Your Daughter to Work Day with my Dad and spending most of my time at the Museum of TV and Radio watching old episodes of PeeWee’s Playhouse.
2.  My Dad’s one office that had those really cool pipes that ran throughout the floor so you could deliver messages to other people.  You would put the message in a little tube thing and then put it in the pipe and it would get sucked away and end up where it was supposed to go.  I loved those pipes.
3.  I’m pretty sure we went to the Thanksgiving Day Parade once?  Or did I make that up?
4.  That one time me and my friend Gina cut school and went into the city for the day.  We felt SO cool.
5.  My Uncle Mike works at The Met and I got to go see The Temple of Dendur when it was still closed to the public.

We never went to Brooklyn.  Honestly, I don’t think I even knew what Brooklyn was when I was a little kid except for as it was represented by Spot Collins in Newsies.  Spot Collins and the boys from Brooklyn really saved the day in Newsies so I always figured that where ever it was it was pretty damn hardcore.

Over the last almost 10 years that I have lived here, I have seen my neighborhood change quite significantly.  And that is nothing, I am sure, compared to the changes that came before.  I have wondered sometimes what it was like in the 1990s, before trendy bars and restaurants opened and before the hipster invasion of 2011.  I was wondering exactly that thing as I walked home from a hardware store across a busy avenue in the less developed, slightly rougher, area.  I walked past a scrap metal collection place and stopped at the light, right next to some guy who I guess had just disposed of his metal and was waiting for his buddy.  Then, this:

Guy: Damn, you lookin’ sexy mama.
Me:  (Eye roll, unimpressed head shake.)
Guy:  What?  Bad day?
Me: It was fine until you said that.
Guy: Well, how are you supposed to know if I don’t tell you?
Me: I already know.
Guy: How about I take you for a drink? Some coffee? There’s a bagel store over there.
He gestured at a storefront that has been having constant grand openings for the past 8 years at least.  I am 100% certain it is a front for something nefarious.  The light changed and I walked away.

So here’s the thing.  I never felt intimidated or scared talking to that guy.  A few years ago, I would have been petrified because it might not have been one guy, it might have been 3 and he might not have found me quite as amusing.  There certainly would have been less people walking around.  More than anything I was annoyed that this guy called me sexy while I was holding a bottle of Draino* to, once again, unclog the shower.  I mean, without the Draino I would have also felt annoyed but for some reason I felt like sharing that with you.  I just found it amusing because, like, I was hungover, I think I still had a little makeup on my eyes from the night before, my hair was filthy and I was carrying Draino and some drier sheets and yet still with this guy.  But the point of all of this.  The point is that this gentrification is a real mixed bag.  I miss the days when big chain stores didn’t come to Brooklyn, when everything was family-run, when spending money locally was really the only option rather than some trend that only wealthy people can afford.  I miss my neighborhood being less trendy.  I miss hearing more Spanish than English on the streets.  I miss having sunlight on my street, the sunlight that was blocked by the fucking ugly 13 story building they built on my corner.  What I don’t miss?  Walking home from the train alone at night.  My neighbor getting jumped on the front steps.  Another friend getting beaten up by a group of marauding women.  Feeling afraid.

Here’s the thing.  I know that when Big Money Brooklyn takes over my neighborhood I am not going to be pleased.  I know I will get priced-out.  And it will be one more step in the direction of making all of New York less affordable for the people who always lived here.  I feel like I can’t really be mad about being priced-out because I, unknowingly at 21, did it to others.  At this point I am aware of my own privilege and the impacts it has.  It will suck, though.  So I don’t know.  I mean, I’ll take the improved safety but I wish you would keep your condos, your Barney’s, your expensive cars, your $15 bottles of pickles.  My hometown, and towns like it, could use a little business diversity.

*I was feeling very guilty about this because my landlord, who I ADORE, told me not to use Draino because it messes up the pipes.  But every time he comes to unclog the drain he tells me to use a drain cover because I have so much hair.  But I do!  And it clogs anyway!