I expected to write my final entry in The Changing City about 5Pointz. After all, that’s what started my one-year project to try to reconcile the inevitability of change, a love of the novel and new, and a deep, honest reservoir of nostalgia for the city we are losing or have already lost.
I had hoped I’d learn something about myself along the way, but I didn’t expect to be sharing that I’ve been a short-sighted, closed minded ass about gentrification in New York City. Perhaps you already knew this about me. If not, bear with me, and I will explain.
Every story needs a foil, and as a Queens writer, mine was Brooklyn. Writ large and monolithic, Brooklyn was a cautionary tale for my borough and a complete lost cause, devoured by greedy developers, rising rents, oblivious artisnal mayo sampling transplant hipsters and cloying cute shops and restaurants. Whole Brooklyn neighborhoods had their identities stripped and histories erased in my mind, having gone from a beautiful, complex, diverse universe to a dull, silly nothing in under a decade.
So what changed my mind? It was a mix of things, really. The first, my job. I’ve stood safely on the sidelines and watched 4 brutal incidents of anti-LGBTQ bias in Bushwick and Crown Heights since August that have been fueled in part by unchecked gentrification in those neighborhoods.
The second thing, I’ve started listening to people instead of talking. The stories of generations of people losing their neighborhoods and homes to ever rising rents and rampant development. The stories about the pain and humiliation of losing a place you love and call home, wherever that my be.
The last and hardest thing was Astoria. A neighborhood I have loved, and still love, but a place that is no longer in flux as it was when I fell in love with it, but rather tipped top heavy toward homogeneity, rising rents, displacement of long-time residents, large real estate developments, chain stores, and the like.
So what of my brothers and sisters in Brooklyn? So what of their struggles? Today I must face the fact that if their neighborhoods are lost, my neighborhood is lost too. Because the thing is, all our fates are inextricably bound up, and I must believe that no place is truly lost if people still care.
The city is changing yes, but it is still the people, and how we support and listen and love and empathize and fight for one another that matters.