|'have you heard what happened to williamsburgh?' by lab nyc, march 2014|
New York is a city of change and there is little room for nostalgia. Memories often get bulldozed to the ground, with new, seemingly everlasting monuments, rearing its glittering and glitzy head from the concrete up to the skies, for the next fabulous generation to arrogantly pass it by. There is little space for taking walks down memory lane – often such excursions will merely reveal pathways to the future and recollections with no place to anchor anymore. If you can’t tolerate change, New York is not for you. Someone once told me they overheard one tourist remark to the other, “New York will be great when they finish building it.”
New York is the city of eternal change. But there are some things that seem to remain the same, although they too are changing, albeit at a pace tantamount to the birthing of mountains. You see this change in the neighborhoods of Harlem, where 145th Street and Broadway reveal stretches of asphalt one would expect to find in Beirut. There has been no visible war here, just the vestiges of the results of lack of access, institutional exclusivity and neglect. But talking about such things in New York can be a tricky affair.
There is wealth here, just as there is abject poverty. There are the neighborhoods that remind you that for many, recession is just a perhaps something you read about in biology textbooks (something to do with genes). There are other New Yorkers, who burst through the grind, on the other end of the gamut, shining through because to have just been able to surface through the pressure means that, by default you are among the best. You see this in the young boys who get on subways with their speakers and dance elegantly among seemingly disinterested commuters. Nowhere else is talent so disregarded. In this respect, New York has not changed much.
There is Forte Green, a neighborhood that once boasted a solid Black middle class. It still exists, but with the exponential growth of Brooklyn rent the neighborhood can’t help but boast a few wine bars, parks full of dogs instead of Project-reared children, and the omnipresence of the invasion of the hipster, sushi bars and all.
Williamsburgh has devolved into another entity unto itself. Where once cheap rent could be had for the financially creative and lower-middle class families seemed to have a foothold, now it can be said that we merely paved the way to a new kind of conquest that clutter the skies with high-rent buildings for the privilege. For sure such changes are welcomed by many, but I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness when I wonder, where do the poor go?
You see them, telling their truths, on the streets of Bushwick, where the invasion continues. You see them in BedStuy where, if you do want to own a piece of real estate in Brooklyn the brokers will tell you that it is the new Williamsburgh – the codeword for classy, artsy, and yes, not riddled with poverty. And have no fear if there is a bit of poverty – it offers that NYC authenticity that the Europeans love to see, and just as they tire of it, the poor here too will be swept off to who knows where? Jails perhaps? Yes, there are a few things that don’t change in New York.
It’s an enigma to be able to say that you are from New York. Or in my case Brooklyn. The Brooklyn that I know is no longer there. Instead there are espresso bars and bearded fellows whose look is uncomfortably too close to those who historically never liked us. And by us, I mean those of us whose reflection continues to disappear behind the façade of what it now means to be from New York- a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
There is always a thick sense of melancholy I find myself battling when I return home. It’s a result of the push and pull between the two extremes I often find myself inhabiting. The lure of the modern conveniences and luxuries that crop up and the general realities that many from my socio-economic background, particularly people of color, seem to be experiencing. There is the excitement of meeting up with friends for whom the new success has embraced, and there is a sense of sadness for those who through a variety of variables seem to be confined to a system of very little access and opportunity. It is the melancholy that springs forth when it is once again realized that for many, change has not truly occurred, and if it did, it has not been for the better.