Somewhere in a subway accessible area of Brooklyn, on the fourth floor of a newly renovated brownstone are futons full of social media managers, coffee baristas, struggling actors and freelance journalists with a junior fridge full of left overs, beer, and molded cheese.
Only they are not all White. And they are not all fleeing from the guilty privileges of generational wealth…..
They, like their White counterparts are fleeing from the sky high prices of Manhattan (south of 110th Street) and the equally as taxing rent in DUMBO to the inner parts of Brooklyn that continue to offer CitiBike service, quaint coffee shops, and music fests. These gentrifiers in Fort Greene, Crown Heights, Bed Stuy, and Bushwick can be seen dashing to catch the A Express train in their trench coats and leather satchels with lattes in tow on any given Monday. In fact, I’ve seen more and more young, black, urban professionals sitting on stoops on Greene Avenue in the past year than I have White ones.
Everyday I see these Black gentrifiers breezing pass grandma on a Saturday with canvass totes full of farmer’s market fresh vegetables, pushing Bugaboo strollers down Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill, and fanning them selves after a long day outside of Restoration Plaza in Bed Stuy.
And I have to admit: I am a Black Gentrifier.
While I recognize this to be a gloating example of a First World problem, you have to understand how deeply conflicted I feel. On the one hand, my dream in life as a Midwestern was to move to New York City and work for the cause of my life. Check and check. On the other hand, I want some place affordable. What I found when I arrived though, was sky rocket rent costs, deeply segregated neighborhoods, poor performing district schools, and drawn out commute times. And while I continue to be enamored with this City, it was in Brooklyn where I found love. Though I always thought I would live in Harlem, when I went to Brooklyn, I was sold.
For a whole host of reasons that will likely be the cause of an entirely separate website, I settled on a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn. The proximity to Prospect Park, the great restaurants, the fully stocked grocery stores, the tree lined streets-I could go one. But the rent. The rent is the cause of a mild heart attack. Four windows and 900 square feet on the second story of a brownstone could set you back as much as $3,000 a month in some of these neighborhoods. And for the rent, that includes heat and mice. The further out you go (longer commute) traditionally the cheaper the rent.
I adore Brooklyn. I equally adore the diverse neighborhoods and the range of activities that peak my interest. It’s such a combination of old and new. That’s me, the gentrifier.
Then there are days when I feel catered to as a consumer that elicits an almost immediate guilt reaction from my peers and me.
Daily, I hear the vast amount of stories from life long Brooklynites. I hear them speaking about the spikes of violence in the ‘80s, or how the Connecticut Muffin on Bergen Street used to be a family owned insurance place, or all the urban legends of how Assemblyman So and So used to be the neighborhood corner boy. And they talk about how they purchased their five story brownstone for $40,000 decades ago.
Sometimes they’ll turn to me at bodegas and say, “Remember when that Starbucks used to be a ___________?” (insert anything wholesome and beloved)
I only know the Atlantic Avenue that has a Barclay’s on it. I don’t remember Fort Greene without Smoke Joint and Havana Outpost. I couldn’t fathom not knowing where to find coffee in Bed Stuy. And yet I know that the premium I am willing to pay for both the authenticity of Brooklyn and the changes it has made costs some older predominately minorities to be displaced.
And they disappear. That’s code for being bought out, being pushed out, and having their rents raised while their pensions dissipate. And here I come with my fancy degrees, idealistic views, bikes, tote bags and salary. And brown skin.
I’d love to think I’m just a new breed of brown residents coming in to further enhance the community. But the truth lies somewhere between being economically stabilizing and being community destructive.
And while I continue to save money to own a whole Brownstone in the heart of Bed Stuy, I hope I will be affiliated with civic responsibility, sustainability, and productivity.
That is until, in 30 years, the new idealists searching for affordability at the cost of my disenfranchisement push me out.