I’ve been going to NY regularly since my sister moved to NY with her husband in the early 1990’s. She has lived in Park Slope and the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. I recall traveling to her first apartment in the diverse and quaint Park Slope neighborhood, walking up and down Atlantic Avenue, Fulton Street, and around Fort Green. This was the New York of Kevin Powell. This was the New York of Spike Lee and the Brooklyn that was depicted in the documentary Brooklyn Boheme.
I felt at home in Brooklyn. My alter ego could run loose in Brooklyn; I felt confident wearing my natural hair as women walked carefree with all types of hair with no looks or stares from anyone. No trip to Brooklyn was complete unless I got some stew chicken from a West Indian take-away and seldom did I return home without the latest reggae tunes.
My recent treasures in Bedstuy have included the addition of the Voodoo Lounge as well as Ms. Dhalia’s where they make some mean Ginger Iced Tea and the best biscuits I have tasted this side of the Mason Dixon line. I have sat in the cafe on numerous occasions people watching and listening to a playlist filled with a variety of neo soul artists.
Each time I visit my sister, I am quickly reminded how the neighborhood is changing. The last time I went to Ms. Dahlia’s, the neo soul playlist was replaced by Michael Buble and Sara Barralies. No complaints really as I sang nearly every tune that came on the new playlist. I am completely comfortable stepping outside of my comfort zone, but when I stepped into Dahlia’s on a hot Summer afternoon in 2013, I was met with a strange and uncomfortable gentrified experience.
I welcome the changing make-up of any neighborhood as diversity brings about mutual understanding and cooperation, but as the years have passed, I have noticed a gradual change in the neighborhood similar to the change that is happening all across the globe in major cities from the London neighborhood of Brixton to Harlem and Brooklyn in New York. I have debated the concept in my head trying to understand which side of the fence my heart fell on: to gentrify or not. My options have increased for safe and local things to do in Bedstuy when I visit my sister. However, I know that with each coffee shop that moves in with its standard playlist of coffeehouse music, there will be fewer of those authentic places I once loved. Additionally, gentrification, while many tout its diversity, really tends to white-wash neighborhoods a well create a severe economic divide.
When I visited my sister in July of 2013, I exited the C train at the Kingston-Throop stop and climbed the steps until I stepped onto Fulton Street. For a moment, I was dis-orientated. I thought I got off at the wrong stop or perhaps walked out onto the wrong side of the subway exit. I had gotten off this stop more times than I can count, but the make-up of the residents has drastically changed. I thought I was in some suburban town anywhere in the USA as white teens congregated on the corners and around the local McDonald’s.
In addition to the drastically changing demographic of these neighborhoods, the economic divide, as mentioned beforehand has also changed. As these blighted neighborhoods are improved (and who wouldn’t want their neighborhood to improve), the house prices are soaring making it unaffordable for long-term residents or the children of long-term residents to live in the areas where they were raised. For those residents who wish to stay and own their property, the increased property values often raise the property taxes. The increased property taxes make it difficult for those who live on fixed incomes or have limited room in their budget for increased expenses.
Philadelphia, where I reside now, has been a hotbed for the gentrification debate as areas such as Northern Liberties and Point Breeze are drastically transforming. My argument for those against gentrification is why didn’t you fix up your own neighborhoods? Why does anyone else have to come into your neighborhood to fix it up and make it desirable. Why didn’t you collectively build a nice restaurant or cafe instead of only allowing liquor stores or Asian take-aways in the neighborhood. And for those who are buying up property and flipping them driving up the prices, don’t you think there is some responsibility to the neighborhood? Perhaps coordinate efforts with the residents and/or work with the neighborhood associations on how your real estate venture will help them in the long run?
The gentrification debate is full of emotion. It crosses many lines people are afraid to openly discuss such as race and class. While my writings offer no real solution, it’s just an obituary for the Bedstuy I once knew – as I am mourning for my long, lost Brooklyn Boheme.