Our friends on the other side of the pond have discovered a little neighborhood called Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, and today in the Guardian, deem it “perhaps the national capital for young ‘hipsters’ trying to beat back the commercialism and standardisation that defines much of American day-to-day life.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. “It is a place that prides itself — and has won fame — for rejecting the malls and big business brands of the rest of America.” Sounds cool, right?
The timing of the article is curious, though it does coincide with the opening of a new Duane Reade, which the British paper describes as “a giant, spotlessly clean space.” Not unlike those condominiums with the balconies!
Jokes and NYC over-it-ness aside, the outsider’s perspective, while late, is fascinating:
Over the past decade the neighbourhood, which sits just over the East River from Manhattan, has been transformed from a sleepy, poor, residential area of Jewish, eastern European and Hispanic working-class immigrants to one where most denizens appear to have beards, piercings, lots of tattoos and belong to at least one band. Most also tend to write a blog and spend all night drinking or involved in art projects. Sometimes that lifestyle is funded by middle-class parents. That has led to Williamsburg being relentlessly mocked by parts of the New York media. Gossip website Gawker lambasts hipsters and the neighbourhood they call their own in its typically brutal style. When the New York Times covered the arrival of the Duane Reade on Bedford, Gawker put up a posting titled: “Horrible Williamsburg Residents Horrified by Arrival of Horrible Chainstores.”
The article goes on to argue that along with Duane Reade, Subway and American Apparel, the possibility of a CVS and other chain stores represent “real issues at stake.” Unfortunately, the article goes on to invalidate its championing of Williamsburg when it briefly mentions the real history of gentrification in the area. Before it was Chipotle, it was coffee houses:
But the hipsters and young bohemians are not entirely innocent victims in the process of change. After all, before they arrived Williamsburg was a quiet, unassuming working-class place with its fair share of problems but plenty of affordable housing. Many of the old residents remaining still attend the Polish, Ukrainian or Russian churches that dot the streets.
And most saliently:
Ironically, it is these older ethnic communities who would welcome the Duane Reades of the world, embracing the cheap prices chainstores bring and the convenience of getting their shopping done at one place.
The conclusion? “Cities and neighbourhoods change all the time. You can’t freeze them. You don’t want to create a sort of museum,” one New Yorker explains.
See you all at Whole Foods.
Brooklyn’s Williamsburg becomes new front line of the gentrification battle [Guardian via Gawker]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 12, 2010