Sunday, March 03, 2013

Regarding This "Brooklyn" Everyone Keeps Talking About: an essay and elegy by a Dean Street resident

The "Brooklyn" one knows, misses, derides, and dreams about depends of course on when you came (or left), and Esquire's longtime drinks writer,  David Wondrich, who lives on Dean Street between Third and Fourth Avenues,l wonders about the changes from gritty to glitzy.

Regarding This "Brooklyn" Everyone Keeps Talking About, published in the March 2013 issue, begins:
Sitting at the bar on a weekday afternoon at Hank's, drinking with the live-alone old men, the idled workers, the folks who just can't keep it together without one in the afternoon, you could be anywhere in the Rust Belt. Scranton. Toledo. Gary. There's a jukebox and a pool table and a Big Buck Hunter, cheap beer on tap, cheap whiskey behind the bar, and a bartender who reserves her judgment. If you step outside and make a left, though, within a block and a half you'll find yourself on a strip of Top Chef restaurants, design firms, and sparsely stocked boutiques. The same distance to your right will find you standing in front of the brand-new Barclays Center, an eighteen-thousand-seat arena that looks like a giant rust-colored Kangol cap with a shotgun hole in the brim. Welcome to my neighborhood.
Brooklyn has become as much an adjective as it is a place, shorthand for a streetscape abundant in tastefully restored storefronts full of straight-razor barbers, bottlers of unusual pickles, and the like; for a style of urban living that avoids outward swank or gloss — one that's low-rise, low-key, and aggressively local...
I can't help but be amused by Brooklyn's cachet. Sure, there's a perpetual argument these days in the New York media about whether Brooklyn is worthy of that cachet, with Manhattanites waging a tenacious last-ditch defense of their traditional right to dictate the culture of New York City. But the fact that such a dispute even exists is a tribute to how Brooklyn has changed.
He remembers nearby hookers, crack, SROs, and absence of amenities--but good transportation and cheap real estate. By the 90s, for Wondrich, things began to change (actually, they changed much earlier in other brownstone neighborhoods), as Brooklyn became safer, the bars got better, and the restaurants came.

The changes

And then it changed even more, as the low-cost amenities like a "an old Puerto Rican jewelry store" and a "shabby (but pork-friendly) Chinese takeout joint" morphed into more expensive places.

Then then came the "Young Urban Tradesmen" and the "faux-ethnic restaurants and the retro cocktail bars... full of pretty much the same (skinny, tattooed, meat-obsessed) people."

Wondrich concludes that it's annoying, though better than simply paving everything over with high-rises and chain stores as in Manhattan. Though he's melancholy:
I miss the old Brooklyn, the one nobody was paying any attention to. I miss it the most when I stare down Atlantic Avenue at the Barclays Center, whose construction used eminent domain to wipe out several blocks' worth of pleasant row houses, old industrial buildings full of artists and YUTs, and Freddy's, a former cop bar turned Bohemian that we named one of Esquire's Best Bars in America in 2006. I hear now that a Shake Shack is coming to the neighborhood, and maybe a Dave & Buster's, a T.G.I. Friday's, and a Panera. Even, they say, a Hooters. Once you've got all those people coming, you've got to keep 'em happy. O'Connor's, the dim, cozy, decrepit old bar around the corner I spent many a happy afternoon in, has closed down so they can add an extra floor and turn it into a sports bar for the arena crowd.
What's left

Wondrich concludes that there are still fascinating non-gentrified parts of Brooklyn that keep the city from being a "theme park or a plastic desert." All true, but we still should wonder: should Brooklyn not have changed, in the face of increasing demand for density and development? Could and should it have changed differently?

And the generational aspect of this piece sent me back to a 10/22/12 post by Gib Veconi on Prospect Heights Patch, The Metamorphosis of Brownstone Brooklyn:
There are also other signs of support for the changes taking place here. Last month, I read a blog extolling the virtues of Barclays Center, whose writer moved to Boerum Hill two years ago. Among the benefits she cites are an increase in the number of restaurants; more taxis; and an easier time convincing Manhattan friends to travel to Brooklyn. We may or may not appreciate the writer’s point of view, but we can safely assume she is no romantic urbanist.

It’s likely, however, that her perspective is projectable to others who will move in to Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Park Slope, Prospect Heights and their environs over the next decade. Instead of being drawn to recreate on a brownstone palimpsest a reimagined urban life of the 19th century, we can expect new residents increasingly to be attracted by a vision put forth by large private developers of an aspirational urban environment very much of the 21st century. This vision emphasizes residential density, night life and national retailers in a way that would be recognizable to residents of SoHo, Chelsea or the Upper West Side. It preferences consumption over preservation. Its prophecy becomes self-fulfilling as new arrivals create the market for the luxury housing, goods and services to fill properties cleared by developers following rezonings (Downtown Brooklyn Plan, Fourth Avenue) and takings (Atlantic Yards).

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