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I recently had a conversation with a real estate broker regarding Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was making a case for my thinking that the neighborhood was oversold. I referenced those awful-looking small homes with vinyl siding and aluminum awnings fetching a million dollars or more. He said that any analysis along those lines was irrelevant and that the people, the culture, and the retailers were there. Williamsburg had arrived.

I also recall years before, foolishly making an argument for the bohemian nature of the Village over that of Brooklyn to a Brooklyn resident. What was I thinking? There are vestiges of the bohemian past living among those who have been in the Village for decades, benefitting from rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments with dramatically under market rents. Small shops like Padma Tibetan Handicrafts still exist, but largely the neighborhood retail environment is dominated by large chains and cater to tourists or wealthy residents, not struggling artists.

With an average 2-bedroom apartment selling for $2 million and rentals virtually nonexistent, how much bohemia can one expect in Manhattan? And any artistic community that exists in New York City, is likely to be found in Brooklyn.

I have made a number of recent visits to Williamsburg. The neighborhood is shockingly developed and populated. The streets, restaurants and cafes are brimming with young people who appear quite confident that this is the place to be. In 1992, a New York Magazine cover proclaimed: The New Bohemia – Over the bridge to Williamsburg.

As far back as 2003, however, articles already surfaced that Williamsburg had topped out and had lost its cool. One long-time resident, Robert Lanham, the author of ”The Hipster Handbook,” called the neighborhood a “pseudo bohemia.” From the New York Times:

“Williamsburg is having an identity crisis,” Mr. Lanham said. ”It’s kind of absurd that these kids who went to fancy schools are dressing like they’re construction workers. The struggling artist is a myth. Williamsburg is a pseudo bohemia.”

With even the fringe Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Bushwick played out, where’s the hipster to go? In February of this year, the New York Times, in an article, Creating Hipsturbia, reports that real estate brokers speak of a mass exodus from Brooklyn to the suburbs of New York City along the Metro-North corridor of communities on the Hudson River – Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Tarrytown. I personally know of a number of city residents who have made the exodus.

Some brokers claim a reverse migration back to Manhattan, to areas like the East Village, where real estate is only marginally more than Williamsburg. Others contend that this is folklore created by the self-serving interests of Manhattan real estate brokers. I think regardless of whether we speak of the East Village, Williamsburg, or other NYC neighborhoods, real estate prices alone make it delusional to call anyplace in the five boroughs Bohemia

2 Responses to Bohemia

  1. Leslie Gold says:

    I think when we are younger it seems important to go where the action is. One also didn’t mind moving every few months.
    These days I find it’s always interesting, even fascinating, visiting these neighborhoods that have become the new hotbed of coolness. But, for me, it’s not necessary to move there.
    And now the very awful and undesirable Bowery has become a new area for upscale gentrification (http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/real-estate/bowery-cashes-article-1.1256198). What a joke after all the years this area was only for drunks and ‘bums.’ Well the cool folk may be flocking to several areas….but I dare them to move close to Grand Street between the Bowery and Chrystie where the stench of fish in the summer is enough to make one want to flee to the mountains!!

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