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Brooklyn Is The World, Part 1

The Game is Afoot

There was a book that I once gifted to a Brooklynite – When Brooklyn Was the World 1920-1957, by Elliot Willensky. It was a patronizing token effort, because really, at the time, I disliked Brooklyn. To me, having moved to New York City from New England, Brooklyn was always the place where those who could not afford Manhattan lived. Or those too xenophobic or provincial to know better. Manhattan was the epicenter of the universe. How ignorant and foolish I was. Because now, it is known, throughout the world, that Brooklyn is the World. Again.

For most New Yorkers, chasing or avoiding the next new neighborhood is just reading material. The story is replayed constantly and is, frankly, rather depressing. Pioneers and artists discover new hoods, move there, others follow, developers move in, rents rise, the media reports it, retailers move in, the culture moves in, the hood is finished for all but the lucky and the wealthy. Newcomers stroll, shop, and eat in the trendiest of spots, and are befuddled as to why the hood was ever considered undesirable or dangerous.

In the 4 boroughs networked by trains, not many stones have been left unturned. Some of the city’s worst areas, like the South Bronx, have long been discovered. In Queens, industrial areas, like Long Island City, are nearly as expensive as Manhattan.

In Brooklyn, it’s a return to its former glory. Perhaps a little less polished in some ways, but that suits today’s culture just fine. Everywhere throughout the world, people know that Brooklyn is the place to be or to want to be. Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Gowanus, Sunset Park, Red Hook, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, Greenpoint. Other areas are long well established: Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Manhattan Beach, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge.

The neighborhoods closest to Manhattan, well-serviced by subway, are the first to go. In recent years, the areas along the L subway line are being progressively sought after. As one neighborhood becomes played out, it’s on to the next subway stop. Only the neighborhoods most resistant to the tide of gentrification are left, places like East New York, Canarsie, or Far Rockaway.

Recently, for reasons which I will divulge in part 2, I found myself in East Williamsburg. Like Gowanus, I found the low rise, one-story buildings a pleasant respite from the towering, crowding, imposing edifices of Manhattan. Like the Village, where I live, the scale of architecture in places such as Gowanus and East Williamsburg seems to befit humans best.

A veritable army of graffiti soldiers were busy waging war against the tired, decrepit surfaces of the buildings, with spray paint as weapons. I chatted with a number of them and confirmed that they were working with the approval of the building owners in a welcome trend that respects the rights of property owners. In fact, many owners now solicit and pay for the work of better artists who they know by name. Ironically, I was on Waterbury Street – Waterbury is an industrial town not far from my where I grew up in Bristol, Connecticut. Waterbury always seemed to be poised for discovery, yet it has yet to see the gentrification that Brooklyn has seen and struggles to reinvent itself.

But I was here on a mission, and a discouraging one at that. I was learning first hand what many others knew and had experienced. I was chasing neighborhoods while being chased and losing ground. It is like a nightmare, being pursued by something large and ominous, all the while being squeezed by time. Fool that I am, I thought, that I would find easily what I needed in Brooklyn. However, as I will explain in Part 2, I am much too late, because, as everyone knows, Brooklyn Is The World :(

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5 Responses to Brooklyn Is The World, Part 1

  1. Very interesting post Brian.

  2. Cheri,
    Thanks. the sequel explains all.

  3. Far Rockaway (in so many ways) is out of sync here. East New York and Canarsie are in Brooklyn. Rockaway is in Queens.

  4. Nice images of street art. I recognize some of the artists even though I live here on the left coast. Good luck in your search for business space.

  5. Great artist lives in Brooklyn.. very good graffiti..


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