Flipping the Script: A few thoughts on an Urban Utopia

A few weeks ago I was walking in Williamsburg, Brooklyn when I passed a store whose sole purpose is to sell Pork Pie Hats. After Googling what the hell on earth a Pork Pie Hat was, my mind wandered back to a recent article by New York Times film writer A.O. Scott, where he declared: “The new Brooklyn is easily mocked — and almost as easily embraced — as a utopia of beards, tattoos, fixed-gear bikes and do-it-yourself commerce. Everyone is busy knitting, raising chickens, distilling whiskey, making art and displaying the fruits of this activity in pop-up galleries and boutiques, farm-to-table kitchens and temples of mixology.”

Fast forward a few weeks and the more recent transplants among Williamsburg’s North Brooklyn neighbors in Crown Heights are declaring themselves distraught over plans for the neighborhood’s first Starbucks. Not to mention all of the recent wailing about chain stores and restaurants moving into Williamsburg, muscling out the overly-adorable stores and restaurants that had mistakenly assumed they were the very heart and soul of the neighborhood. Without even a single thought about the people that they themselves displaced in gentrifying North Brooklyn, this tiresome, ironic lamentation plays itself out in the New York City press and on social media every single day.

Again, I return to Scott’s article to help describe this phenomenon: “[Brooklyn’s] ethic is both countercultural and entrepreneurial, offering an aesthetic of radicalism without the difficult commitment of radical politics. The tension built into the “Brooklyn” brand is that it’s both a local, artisanal, communal protest against the homogenizing forces of corporate culture and a new way of being bourgeois, and as such participating in the destruction of non-middle-class social space. Its rebellious energies are focused largely on restaurants, retail and real estate.”

Within the new bourgeois Brooklyn, the ultimate rise of the chain store – which in the minds of the borough’s gentrifying ranks seems akin to the rise of the machines in Terminator 2 – is more self-fulfilling than anything else. To those who think quirky hat stores, mayonnaise shops, and artisan this n’ that stores don’t pave the golden path for Starbucks and Pinkberry, I say please remove your head from the clouds.

Brooklyn is an easy target for this type of criticism, but it is happening in every borough and, to some extent or another, in almost every neighborhood of New York City. Here in my beloved Astoria a slew of independently owned “Third Wave” coffee shops opening this year have collided head on with the announcement of yet another Starbucks and two Cafe Bene stores, an epic international coffee chain, moving into the neighborhood.

Here, the wave of gentrification that brings with it massive chain stores and soaring residential towers like the Astoria Cove development has made a swift arrival. And it is threatening to all but sweep away affordability for low and middle income residents.

Just this week, however, Astoria’s Community Board 1 voted against the current incarnation of the Astoria Cove mega development project, largely on the grounds of the dearth of affordable housing. Perhaps this is a sign that our residents are willing to stand up for one another and work towards a more egalitarian neighborhood, one where apartments are affordable and long-time establishments don’t have to shutter in the face of rising rents. Or perhaps it means no such thing. But some nights I like to think the fate of the city is ours to make.

****
“Who’s Brooklyn is it, Anyway?” By A.O. Scott: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/movies/tracing-urban-change-in-brooklyn-from-kotter-to-girls.html?referrer=&_r=0

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One thought on “Flipping the Script: A few thoughts on an Urban Utopia

  1. Pingback: Some Thoughts on the Changing City | tastoriaqueens

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