The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bye Bye Black Brooklyn

The Q's been dreading this post for some reason. So maybe I should resist? Sometimes the more you learn the more you wish you could unlearn, because your idyllic little home enclave ecosystem seems so wonderfully organic and natural, and who wants to see the swamp on which paradise was built? The dynamics of a New York City neighborhood are complex and vital, and while we can all profess to an underlying compact to get along with one another, the reality is always a bit more, er, fluid. No single question so defies logic, and stirs deep fear and pride, than the question of whose neighborhood it is. Anyway. So I keep asking it, hoping I'll come to some sort of conclusion in the asking.

For better or worse, we've become a society of demographics, and even those labels don't do justice to the reality on the ground. Where once it was enough to say black or white, rich or poor, Yankee or Southern, blue or white collar, the shades between have become infinitely more nuanced. Each time the pundits trot out the charts and graphs at election time, they seem surprised that various groups aren't acting according to type. Sure, black folk voted overwhelmingly for Obama. That was historic. But where the experts tell you that, say, white men voted for Mitt, that was true only by a few percentage points. Millions upon millions of white men voted for Obama - twice. Democratic women prefer Hilary, except when they don't, which was almost half the time in primary battles. Blue collars prefer Democrats? No, but plenty do. Even unions aren't unified. Hispanics? Forget convention, even the "dependable" Cubans. Mixed race - which side prevails? How about Jews? I mean how dumb a thing is it to lump Jews together politically or even socially? Have you seem how many ways there are to be Jewish? Lately? Oy.

Poor Muslims, middle class Catholics, rich Blacks, educated underpaid children of mixed marriages, depressive wealthy agnostics, gay business owners, short hirsute unemployed PhD children of second generation Irish immigrants, etc. Surely they as a block, no? Nate Silver, the incredibly accurate common sense statistician, eschewed most of that nonsense for simple analysis of what various district and state polls parlayed and ignored "conventional wisdom," because by the time you've got CW worked out, it's four years later and the sociological train has left that particular station. Ten years ago who would have predicted how many states have gone giddy for gay marriage? And how the "tea party" would've redefined political paralysis? There are no blue or red states; just various shades of purple. And lots of pissed off people living in them.

Where once Brooklyn was a borough of parishes churches and synagogues, where block by block you could identify whose was whose, we're now a borough of rapidly changing sets and subsets wherein the most reliable shorthand for a neighborhood's character is Gentrified or Not-yet-gentrified. But where gentrified in East Harlem or the Lower East Side, or in a previous generation's Upper West Side, meant middle-class whites moving in on Puerto Rican and Dominican turf, gentrified vs. not-yet-gentrified in Brooklyn means primarily-white-and-getting-whiter vs. black-for-now-but-not-for-long. And why? Because with all due respect to the romance of the word "Harlem," Brooklyn has been the gravitational center of the northern African-American universe. I would argue, and I'm sure I'll take heat for it from people who actually know such things, that as whites get bolder about moving into once solidly-black neighborhoods, and given the irrefutable fact of rental racism, we will start to hear more loud and uncloseted calls for a new and more acutely relevant civil rights movement. Resentment is out there big time; some degree of political clout is there too (witness the latest slate of local elected officials and their pedigrees); the double standards are there; the entitlement and stereotypes are out in force. As the Q might ask in his more morally troubled moments, what's so damn great about the world we're living in today, that we should put up with even an ounce of racial injustice? Especially here, in the CENTER of the American Black Universe?

In the 2010 census we were told that blacks were becoming less numerous Downtown, in Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Bed-Stuy, Flatbush and Crown Heights. (Even Brownsville and East NY saw a few pale faces more than the years before). The numbers we were fed were astonishing. But guess what? Things have picked up considerably since 2010, with a building craze not seen since the pre-war apartment boom. You know the one that left so many New Yorkers THRILLED with their closet space? No matter how many more whites resided in once solidly black nabes in 2010 over 2000, we've seen as much again since 2010 to now. Even Utica Ave on the IRT has gone paler - don't believe me, get off at that last express stop sometime and give me a holler if you don't know what I'm saying. Given Brooklyn's vast size and population, it's really quite astounding just how striking is the change. Is it too cynical to equate it to a blacks must move to the back of the bus moment? "I'm sorry sir, your house is conveniently located near some of the best transportation, bistro and park you mind moving to East New York temporarily, until my brethren can gather the gumption to move you from there too?"

For those who still aren't buying my amazement that this isn't MORE of a front page story, consider this: For more than half-a-century, nearly a million African-American folk have lived in a roughly four mile by four mile square area of Central Brooklyn. Their numbers are dwindling at a staggering rate, the steam gathering with each frothy year in the housing market.

You may have already seen, digested, and dismissed the following analysis from the 2000 to 2010 census study, but I'll drop it on you again just in case, and keep in mind this was through mid-2010, nearly four years ago, and things have WAY kicked into high gear since:

From 2000 to 2010, Brooklyn's population grew by 39,000 people. The White population grew by 38,774 while the Asian population increased by 75,838. Blacks lost almost 50,000 people (-49,517).

  • Black losses were substantial in several communities with historically large Black populations. The Black population declined by 10,000 in Crown Heights North (a loss of almost 12% of the Black population), 8,400 people in Flatbush (decline of 14%), 7,258 people in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens (decline of 12%), and almost 6,000 people (-5,936) in Bedford (decline of almost 15%). [Note: The City Planning Department created two separate "neighborhood areas" for the community commonly referred to as Bedford-Stuyvesant. We use the Planning Department's "neighborhood area" delineation for this analysis.]
  • Communities in northern Brooklyn such as Bedford, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill in 2000 straddled the area of central Brooklyn with substantial Black population plurality and the Park Slope/Brooklyn Heights area with substantial White population plurality. By 2010, Black population concentration had declined and White concentration had increased. In Bedford, the White population had the greatest percentage increase of any of the major groups citywide -- 633% (an increase of almost 16,000 people), increasing the White population share in that neighborhood from 4% in 2000 to 25.5% in 2010. In Prospect Heights, the White population share increased from just over one-quarter in 2000 (28.2%) to almost half (47.2%) in 2010 (an increase of 3,818). In Clinton Hill, the White population share more than doubled from 15% in 2000 to just over 35% in 2010 (an increase of 7,419).
Sure, some folks have moved to "East," as Dr. Cuts told me some people call it. Yes, East New York. (I've actually heard the term before and didn't get it.) Or Canarsie, or even Flatlands. And the feel good story you sometimes hear is that some people are moving "back South," presumably, I dunno, because "the cotton is high and the living is easy?" But plenty of people are being "encouraged" to leave high-priced NYC de facto and de toldso. A social worker friend tells me it's commonplace in her profession to coach poor single mothers to move to a more hospitable municipality, preferably one with more government supported housing, like cities Upstate or down South. And then there's that pesky new huge homeless population that grew under the Bloomberg years. A little carrot here, a little stick there, and they should be gone before the REAL numbers hit the books.

I'll go right out and say it. Black Brooklyn is being gutted before our very eyes, and frankly, I'm shocked there aren't more people screaming from the new 40-story-luxury-rooftops about it. You can choose not to care, and clearly most people choose not to care, or you can say it's just the way of things, can't stop progress and yadda yadda. Or you can say, this ever-wealthier City turned its back on one of its greatest cultural, literary and historical legacies. Oh sure if you're brave and lucky enough to join the Black middle and upper classes and CHOOSE to live in Brooklyn, the City will let you stay, provided you don't mind while it tidies things up a bit. Oh, and make sure your taxes are paid up. If so, we cool.

Despite generations of racism, poverty, injustice, malnourishment, bad education, drug epidemics, mass displacement, profiling, getting shot by cops while unarmed, and one after another misplaced do-goodism by people who don't know what the f*ck they're doing, black Brooklyn is disappearing. Oh, and it would be disappearing MUCH, MUCH faster if it weren't for those quaint and oft-ridiculed laws that try to hold rents at a reasonable increase year after year, or rules that try to prevent landlords from gaming the system or hovering like vultures around old-folks on fixed-incomes.

Don't get me wrong, less well-heeled whites and other races and ethnicities are being shown the door as well. But no single group is being more exploited during the current rush to New Brooklyn than those, I would argue, most responsible for its "brand." Okay, the Dodgers too. But when I moved to Brooklyn in 1988, the world knew where I was moving, and it wasn't to Pee Wee Reese's old place.

You know, I WAS going to write about the lovely afternoon I had with Rabbi Goldberg, chair of CB9, on Kingston Avenue the other day. He showed me around his neighborhood. His neighborhood being the area around and mostly south of 770 Eastern Parkway, world headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement. It's a wonderfully vibrant and quaint and distinctly Jewish neighborhood, almost harkens to another era. People know one another. It's a desired location to live if you're part of the clan. It wouldn't be wise to call it "their" neighborhood, because you might sound accusatory, and after all, no one ultimately OWNS a neighborhood. And to be super-clear, I don't mean to pit one reality against another. God knows there's been enough of THAT in Brooklyn's history too. But to a certain degree, the orthodox Jews of Crown Heights have built a true neighborhood for themselves. One wouldn't dare to suggest it shouldn't be so. Certainly not I. Somehow, the idea of neighborhood and ethnicity, religion, race, primacy of purpose - be they Chinese or Russian or Muslim or blue-collar or hipsterist or foodist or older-parentist - they continue to exist, you know? And we yearn for it. We create it. The continuity. The familiar places. The generational transference. In essence, it has meaning to people - deep meaning. And you can sense it when it grows and prospers, and you can sense it when it begins to crumble before your very ideas.

Does any of it matter?


Unknown said...

I sent this on twitter but I'm not sure if you check that. It's an interesting read on this subject:

Anonymous said...

Its not just here the same is happening where ever there is work to be found. The Italian, Irish, Jewish middle class neighborhood I grew up in a few hours north has turned as multi cultural as Dyker Heights. Urban areas across the country are transient populations. A friend who owns a liquor store on 7th, a Brooklyn native, told that over the holidays business was terrible. We're the hardest drinkers in the world. we even put the Irish to shame, so how can this be? Everyone went home for the holidays.
400 years ago the Dutch set up shop here to make money, thats been the bottom line ever since. A lot of people follow the work. The robustness of the NYC economy can be attributed to many factors, attracted a work force is vital. Hence the change, other factors such as not needed the hassle of a car, the cultural firehose effect, etc. But as this astute writer points out the change is blindingly rapid, thats the scary part. These changes used to take generations, not they take only a few years.
Peaks and valleys, I've seen a number of the first wave already head out, back to the suburbs of LI, NJ, PA, or back home where ever that was. Once the cost of living here becomes untenable, what happens then, another suburban exodus? The answer is that there is no answer. A multi cultural nab is an organic creature, so is an all white, all black, all asian. I hate to see it change too, I love this nab for the very same reasons, but like everything else in life, good things are fleeting.
Anybody got a crystal ball?

Anonymous said...

With all due respect Mr. Q, you need to get out of the neighborhood more often. Brooklyn is/was the "center of the American Black Universe?" Seriously? Have you ever been to the Deep South - where the black population is and always has been FAR higher? The good folks of Atlanta may have a few opinions re: such New York myopia.

You are letting the change in our neighborhood, which is dramatic, color your perception of the borough and the city as a whole. The highest the black population ever hit in Brooklyn was 1990, when it was 37.92%. As of 2010 it is 34.34%. The white population in 1990 was 40.13%, in 2010 it was 35.67%. There are FEWER white people in BK now than when you moved here back in the '80s!

What I'm sure bothers you is that a large chunk of that white population has changed from working class to latte class, creating dramatic economic differences.

Neighborhoods change; this is a natural process. We should work to keep affordable options available to all people, regardless of color. A poor (let's say Chinese) immigrant has just as much right to live in a historically black nabe as anyone else. It's not about keeping it the right color, it's about keeping it the right price.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Missed the point much?

I stand by my comment of Brooklyn as the cultural hub of black culture. Should I have said intellectual and artistic? And comparing numbers in Brooklyn to the numbers in THE ENTIRE SOUTH is silly. The concentration is here. Happy to hear someone with a PhD in such things argue the point.

Were I to locate the center of American White intellectual culture, it would likely also be NYC, maybe L.A. Throw in the geographically unspecific network of liberal arts colleges, also predominantly white. But guess what. There's no threat of extinction there. Perhaps you missed the increase in white population from 2000 to 2010? What's the '80s got to do with current trends?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I'd also like to note that whenever one talks about currents, they like to bring up the Dutch. (not you Paul. you have the good sense to stay within the last century).

Also, a big mirage in terms of non-white population comes in the distinction between African American and Caribbean American, or African, migration. Oh, and a huge under-counted Latino population as well.

If you're arguing that blacks aren't being displaced in this borough, you'll have a hard time convincing me. Or anyone with the playbook, quite frankly.

Anonymous said...

I never cited the 80s; trying to focus on the period everyone likes to sweat over.

Over the last 10 years twice as many Asians moved into BK as did whites. And according to the website you cite more than twice as many BK blocks shifted from majority Black to majority Latino as did blocks that went majority Black to majority White.

But in OUR neighborhood, it's mostly whites displacing. When I talk about myopia this is what I mean. You see the change in our neighborhood and think that's what ALL of BK and NYC is doing. Spend more time in Queens and the Bronx and you'll see that these seismic shifts in population are far, far more complex than the tired, easy "black people being pushed out by rich white hipsters" refrain.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I thought my blog WAS about this neighborhood, and Central Brooklyn more generally. I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea what's going on in Queens. My friend here at work tells me I really should get out and explore Queens...fat chance with my current schedule.

I do see the trends for NYC as a whole. I'm concerned about the issues that I'm concerned about, and when I get too global in my thinking I get weary and feel paralyzed. Like the eco-threat. More than my brain can handle. I wear that all on my sleeve. My own life has been incredibly enriched by black culture, and my devotion to the cause of civil rights dates back to...I guess being traipsed around by my parents in the 1960's marches. It's just my grudge I guess, but I feel that people have forgotten how much that stuff matters. The dominant culture begs us to pay attention to our consuming over our moral obligations to each other. If that sounds hippy dippy then call me Wavey Gravey.

I don't do nearly enough to repay the debts and the gratitude I feel. And I'm no a blog is hardly politically activism.

That's where I stand - exactly where, I don't know. No amount of "getting out more" will change that. As if it would somehow encourage me to hide under a rug or retract my "myopic" analysis. It's not just me, though, Paul. Perhaps it's YOU that should get out more often! (Or WE need to get out more often...I haven't forgotten our date.)

Anonymous said...

I give you a hard time because I care, bubala. Of course your blog is about central BK. But central BK is not an island - it's profoundly affected by what goes on citywide and nationwide.

I do try to get out a lot - I am endlessly fascinated by our amazing city. I live in BK but I work in Manhattan, the Bronx and occasionally Queens. I am as full a convert to the religion of NYC as you will find. Fie on the hellish Texas suburbs of my youth!

The Snob said...

I have to agree with Paul that the driver here is money, not color, necessarily. But what goes along with that shift is the loss of generational continuity that the Q rightfully is concerned about. One of the best things about Lefferts, IMO, is that there are still families here, and old folks, and memory. More than skin color, that's what's lost when a majority of wealthier transplants "take over" a neighborhood. That's what makes Williamsburg and increasingly Park Slope feel like college towns. That sense of transience bound together by commerce. So I guess I'll take your peanut butter on my chocolate on this one. (Talking Reeses, folks, don't read into it.)

diak said...

I salute your willingness to put this out there. Clearly you've given this problem a lot of thought. And I think you're right when you call out those who would just shrug this off as inevitable.
But your post seems short on any answers or solutions. Keep rent controls in place... okay. And then? What will this new civil rights movement entail? We're living in a country where even basic voting rights are under attack; do you think you're going to see laws preventing neighborhoods from changing?
Furthermore, are you seriously suggesting that an exclusionary enclave of a fundamentalist religious cult is a model to emulate? I think that is wrong on just about every level...

Also: I second Paul G's remark re hipsters vs blacks. Simply lazy thinking. And I second your endorsement of Nate Silver. I'm in the middle of his book right now... smart man, smart book.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Diak: If I thought that all the displacement in Brooklyn was simply a fair exchange of money for property, I'd not be advocating anything other than what's already out there - more affordable housing, stronger rent stabilization. But that is not ALL that's happening.

It might be convenient to assume that racism is not a big part of the equation. I'm here to say that the horror stories are true. Blacks are being displaced because they are black. They are being denied even looking at apartments. They are being targeted for eviction by greedy landlords who equate white with green.

That's the civil rights issue, Diak. And maybe I'm naive to think that some leaders will emerge to take up the banner. Right now, all I see is huff and bluff.

If you were to get an honest answer from many a gentrifier, they would tell you that it's fine to kick out a few honest folk if it means the gangstas and druggies go too. That position, and I've come to believe it's rampant, betrays an enormous moral and social problem that is being ignored.

The tone is set by developers and landlords. We're the sheep that allow the slaughter.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Shucks. I missed a good opportunity for poetics. What I should have said was...

The developers and landlords SHARPEN the knife. We, the spared sheep, get a front-row seat to the slaughter.

Something like that...

Bottom line. NOTHING is inevitable. It's our City. It's our government. It's our call. To say anything less is to skirt responsibility.

The liberal socially conscious moment seems dead right now. However, just when you think you've outrun history, it has a tendency to whip back around. The conservative revolt is in full swing, via the Tea Party. I actually think Barack Obama is currently the plug in some sort of revolutionary movement. Because it's pretty ugly out there. The middle classes on down are not getting ahead. Even when the economy is good now, the people get scraps.

Am I overstating things? Probably. But there's no harm in hypothesizing. It IS a blog after all, not an academic journal.

no_slappz said...

clarkson, after reading your heart-on-sleeve post it seems to me you're like a fundamentalist Christian whose awakening to the literal word of the Bible includes the certainty that the world was created 6,000 years ago.

For you, though, it's Brooklyn, the Brooklyn you believe was created and existed for a brief period during one decade of the 20th century, though I'm not sure if you've chosen the decade.

That aside, you ought to think about the fact that until about 1955, NY City was 85 percent white. You should also consider the way immigration shaped the city. The coming of the Irish, the Germans, the Italians and the Jews and everybody else and how the timing of the succeeding waves of their arrivals shifted the direction of the city.

You should look at East New York, the formerly Jewish neighborhood that produced a long list of Jewish intellectuals in the 1930s whose astounding performance at City College gave the school its reputation as The Harvard of the Proletariat. To drop one name -- Norman Podhoretz.

Subsequently, their kids went to the other Harvard.

And Jackie Gleason, who was born on Chauncey Street, a street in Bushwick that was fictionally relocated to Bensonhurst for purposes of The Honeymooners. Bushwick and Brownsville were Irish, Italian and Jewish until many of those residents had enough money in their pockets to move, in many cases to the Long Island suburbs. A lot of others went to Staten Island, especially after the 1964 opening of the Verrazano Bridge, which was also known as the Guinea Gangplank.

If you really want to know Brooklyn while you're living -- because Thomas Wolfe says Only the Dead Know Brooklyn -- I've got a couple of books you should read.

"When Brooklyn was the World -- 1920 to 1957" by Elliot Willensky, and for a better understanding of race in NY City, you should read "The Closest of Strangers," by Jim Sleeper.

On the fiction side, a good one, from 1964, is "Last Exit to Brooklyn", by Hubert Selby. Meanwhile, everyone should read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," in which most of the action occurs in Williamsburg, in a part of the neighborhood that is now the site of some large housing projects.

What were the demographics of Williamsburg when Francie Nolan was there? Irish, German and Jewish. The time was around 1912, maybe a little later, when most of the people there were poor, but surviving, however, it seems to me there were no black characters in that novel.

Moving forward a few years there's Bernard Malamud, a graduate or Erasmus Hall high school and that remarkable place, City College, which, in those days, was free. If you want to feel the way Brooklyn was for a lot of people when Malamud was here -- the teens, the 20s, the 30s -- he hands it over nicely packaged.

If you're up to it, you should swing by James Madison High School to look at the photos on the wall of the school's main hall. All the greats, including Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a couple of Nobel Prize winners in science and economics, and Irwin Shaw. The last graduate notable enough to have his photo hung on the wall is Chuck Schumer, who graduated in 1968. Since then -- nobody.

These days Chuck lives in Park Slope, not far from Amy Sohn who wrote a very funny novel titled "Prospect Park West", which skewers Park Slopers a dozen different ways.

However, other contemporary Brooklyn writers seem to have dropped into the borough as some kind of rite of passage, as though if they were here for a while they'd absorb something from the place itself and from the writers who left.

Anyway, the city's always changing. If there's any constant, that's it, though it's also true that money is key. But why should it be any other way? And why should anyone believe a person in NY City, in Brooklyn, has a right to stand his ground and claim a piece of it as his own if he's only borrowing it temporarily from someone who holds the title to it?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

No Slappz: I haven't been living under a rock for God's sake!

It's one thing for immigrant groups, or even whites, to flee the City for greener pastures. It's quite another to displace dense urban neighborhoods with relatively wealthy gentrifiers. It's as if we created a bench-warmer society to keep things relatively neat for when we returned.

I see no precedent in any of examples you cite.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Oh, and I'm solidly agnostic. Except when on a flight during turbulence.

Bob Marvin said...

I think NYC as a whole is becoming (or is already) majority non-white. I'm not convinced that demographic changes that will (slowly, in the long term) ease neighborhoods like ours towards mirroring our cities overall population distribution are necessarily a bad thing; certainly not if one believes that integration is a positive goal.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Sure, Bob. But just like the perfect buzz it's hard to hit the sweet spot without ending up drunk, sick and ultimately hung-over.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Um, at least for me.

Bob Marvin said...

But, that doesn't mean that that "sweet spot" isn't something to aim for.

no_slappz said...

clarkson writes:
I see no precedent in any of examples you cite.

If you want to discuss which groups were displaced, then look at who got booted when the housing projects were built.

The houses and streets of the Williamsburg setting for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were replaced by several large housing projects. Good-by to the Irish, the Germans and the Jews who'd occupied those houses for a few generations.

That's the story for every site in Brooklyn where housing projects were built. Wholesale destruction of neighborhoods under the guise of some bizarre sense of fairness.

What has project housing yielded? A stream of rappers and an endless amount of material for them to interpret. Not to mention soaring illegitimacy, fatherlessness, substance abuse, violence and low academic achievement, but, you know, that's how it goes, I guess.

You seem to have a blind spot for widespread slum clearance that Title I gave to the city, and how replacing some of those run-down neighborhoods with housing projects led to outrageous problems.

Yet you see "gentrification" as the big threat to city life, to Brooklyn.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Nope. I don't want people to live like I want them to. I want them to be able to express their wishes, and if my view comes up more popular, so be it. You, on the other hand, prefer an autocratic money-down philosophy. Fine. Bring it to the ballot box. But let the people have a say. No one holds developers accountable. It's time we do.

The Snob said...

Seems like Spike Lee read your post from the Upper East Side. But he really botched the argument.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Snob. Nothing undermines the intellectual basis for an argument like the repeated use of "motherf***ing".

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Spike had been looking to collaborate with me on a project for some time. THIS is why I've been resisting!

NewChristina said...

I appreciate your perspective, Clarkson FlatBed. The unspoken reality of gentrification is anti-black racism. We argue that the motivations are purely financial, or that it's not only white people who take over neighborhoods, but the bottom-line is that black folks are the targets of displacement. Less black folks equals more desirable in this city, and that's the way it is.

We can't talk about the ethnic/cultural makeup of neighborhoods changing over time without talking about *why* those changes are taking place. And the (admittedly over-simplified) reasons: white folks move by choice, brown folks move by necessity. White flight happened because white people did not want black people to be a part of their neighborhoods, and gentrification is happening for the same reason.

Money just happens to be a convenient excuse, but money and color go hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, cheek-to-cheek.

Govan said...

So, a person of color will never expect to get ahead or have success. Color and money go hand in hand so why even try. Accept your lot and continue to be at the mercy of the landholders and the government. Self defeatism at it's best. Clarkson is right when he speaks about activism. You want to label the Jewish community as a cult, fine. But they are and have been organized for years and have built a place for themselves.

SB said...

White people move by choice?
I am white and was priced out of the East Village and moved to Williamsburg where I was again priced out. I now live in Prospect Lefferts. I did not move from the LES or Williamsburg by choice but by necessity. Seems to me that there is over generalization and racism rearing it's ugly head on all sides.

Brent O'Connor said...

I hesitate to respond but this topic is dominating not only the Q’s blog but the wider media as well in so many stories. I would hope that everyone posting and reading this understands that the sweeping generalizations do not apply in most cases. My wife and I moved to PLG because we wanted to be apart of a community and raise our children in Brooklyn close to the park and all the other conveniences and quirks of this neighborhood. We have been welcomed by our neighbors and enjoy being apart of a vibrant, diverse community. Now to pull the curtain back: we are white and both work hard, but by NO means could we afford a house in any other neighborhood near the park. We were lucky enough to find our house. I am positive the retiring couple was very happy to sell to us, and enjoy the return on their investment. I know this because they told us at closing as they prepared for their return to Atlanta, and the lower cost-of-living it would bring. We spend a lot of our time, energy and money improving our house but also engaging with others. The simple reality is that NYC and Brooklyn are changing; families today want to live in urban areas. The hipster-generation is a hyper connected generation that wants to live close to the action and energy of a city. You are seeing this not only in NYC but across the country. Suburbs are not the panacea that my parent’s generation deemed necessary to raise a family. I welcome the discussion, but implore everyone to avoid the undertones of racism and to realize everyone is trying to make it in this extremely expensive city. Maybe it’s the long cold, snowy winter that has so many commenting and writing on the subject. The good news is spring is just around the corner, and that means I’ll see more of my neighbors returning home from work as I sit on my stoop watching my children race up and down the street.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Brent: Thanks for the reality check. Of course, on a human level, most of what happens is not biased or confrontational. It's essentially organic and consensual, much of the time.

But the bigger questions come up when you talk about planning and development, and the individual and collective acts of real estate interests and landlords - even schools (as you and I well know!)

Why is it, exactly, that the real estate rags call a neighborhood like Lefferts "emerging?" Emerging from what, into what, exactly? Isn't that from blackness to whiteness? And look closely at how new developments are priced, how they're marketed, and what amenities are described as attractive. And how is it, exactly, that the same house, less than a mile or two away, can cost 1/3 as much? Better plumbing? Fewer bistros?

The Snob's story is much like mine...priced out here, priced out there. But weren't we all the beneficiaries, albeit in a round-about way, of racism? We weren't afraid, like some of our compatriots, to live in a black neighborhood. In fact, we were thrilled to get away from the pack and celebrate the true experiment of NYC. I'm not claiming that you or I or anyone I know specifically kicked someone out. Though in our case, the slumlord who owned our house was running it as a boarding house, so when the house was sold, all those SRO apartments (illegal as they were) and their inhabitants disappeared. The house was delivered "vacant," but only because the landlord was ready to cash out.

The conversation, which I'm not at all tired of except for the polemics, needs to happen, in my view, because we should be aware of what is and isn't okay in the land grab. I suppose you could say my plea is a little to little too late...

Let me give one other example. A friend recently got in a fender bender. He's sure it was his fault. When the cops got there, they decided to call it no-fault, definitely benefiting my friend in the insurance realm. The cop said, as they were leaving, "you know those car service guys are terrible drivers."

What an unambiguous example of how the dice are loaded.

diak said...

""But weren't we all the beneficiaries, albeit in a round-about way, of racism? We weren't afraid, like some of our compatriots, to live in a black neighborhood..."

I love thinking back on the Slope/WTerrace–based RE broker who, when we told her we'd changed our minds and were now going to look exclusively in PLG said (with true horror in her voice): "You aren't going to live OVER THERE, are you? I mean, you know, the SCHOOLS..."

Postscript: A few years ago we got one of those letters from her agency, you know the ones— "If you're thinking of putting your house on the market, we are the very best at blah, blah, blah..."
Yeah. Don't hold your breath, lady.

Anonymous said...

So Q let's answer that question - what is and is not ok in the land grab?

Is it ok for a white family to buy the home of a black family (even if all parties are happy in the deal)? Because that IS a form of displacement, in that a white family has taken the place (or displaced) a black family.

Is it ok for an owner of a house outside the manor to charge whatever they want for a unit within their home? If yes, then they are abetting the market's inherently racist tendencies.

Is it ok to develop a fallow site and put in a new building? Maybe as long as the word "luxury" never appears in the marketing materials?

Is it ok to enjoy Kola and Chad's tasty beverages at Tugboat, or should I be wracked with guilt every time I go there instead of the little bodega next door?

I don't mean to tie everyone's liberal consciences in knots (lord knows mine is). I don't know the answers to the above.

But I do know it's silly to think that one is an "acceptable" gentrifier just because you moved here way back in _____ whereas a white/asian/latino kid moving to PLG in 2014 is somehow an unwelcome interloper.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Stop it Paul. Just stop it. I made it perfectly clear what I think is acceptable or not acceptable. You're not reading, or comprehending, or even wanting to comprehend. Your defensiveness is not called for in my opinion. My response to my friend Brent, whom I respect and whose bondafides as a decent guy I'm not trying to call into question, was exactly the answer to YOUR question. I'm not going to repeat myself.

If you want to have an argument over which races are okay and which are not, have it yourself. I'm talking about acknowledgment of the past, and responsibility to the present and future.

And if you think I'm trying to distance myself from the situation, you're not reading me at all. I claim my responsibility as part of the recent avant-garde, no matter how many years ago I bought my house. But there is a difference between being respectful to the neighborhood and bullying your way to complete takeover.

Read my lips: it's perfectly fine to move here if you are white. Just don't be an asshole.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

And to be clear about one more thing...23-story luxury tower along the park, marketed specifically to the class of folks not currently the overwhelming majority of kinds of people living here? Asshole move, even if you throw the community a bone. They took public money. They need to own up to their responsibility.

diak said...

I'd like some clarification. On one hand, we're hearing that the overwhelming objection to 626 is a question over the height of the building. The whole contextual zoning issue, yes? That was certainly the tone of lead story in the Echo.
But Mr CF, reading your comments, it would seem the height issue is really a pretext for excluding people who you feel don't "belong" here.
How is chopping 3 or 7 or 17 stories off the building going to satisfy you if your real objection is not to the architecture but to the building's occupants.
And it would also be helpful if someone who speaks for PPEN could clarify whether the height issue is truly the point or just a smokescreen for class-based exclusion.
Or have adherents of both objections joined forces?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I speak only for myself. I suspect there are many things at play in many people's minds. I've said plenty. If it ain't clear, then that's just a problem of my writing, because it's pretty damn clear in my mind what bugs me.

For me, the similarity in those two is the hubris, and the bigger social context is simply the backdrop. You can remain cynical if you like. In fact, I hope you bring your opinions to the Town Hall and sharing them in public. Eric asked us to make sure the meeting was full representative, so that he can know he heard all sides before taking a position with the Mayor.

Did I say they don't belong here? Diak they're already here, and man of them are my friends (at least as long as my tirades don't piss them off too much). They're coming whether the tower gets built or not. It's not a question of whether anyone can come. Far from's a question of who gets pushed out and by what means. You should know, because I see it in your intelligent prose, that not all issues boil down to a simple A or B answer.

Anonymous said...

Yeesh, sorry if I crossed a line. Perhaps I should better establish my bonafides and decency before speaking?

What I am (perhaps inelegantly) trying to get at was that you frame the "gutting of black Brooklyn" as a moral violation that can be laid at the feet of rapacious developers and landlords. (For if not them then it is you and I who are the guilty parties.)

But this change would likely be happening at only a slightly slower speed if you removed all new development and rapacious landlords from the picture. Even if it were only kind considerate souls like you, Brent, and I (yes, I am nice dammit) moving here it would still be a slow steady wave displacing current residents and changing central Brooklyn. NYC is growing in population, which puts pressure on every single neighborhood from Woodlawn to Rockaway.

I don't think stopping development is the answer. Raise the minimum wage. Dramatically. Increase property taxes on single family homes in NYC (they're laughably low). Tax the ultra-rich. But for god's sake, an increasing population needs an increased housing stock. Our new fearless leader calls for 200,000 new units - where do YOU propose they go?

Lastly, what did our favorite crank No Slappz do in that last comment to deserve it being deleted?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I'm deleting all his comments, and trying to get his IP address to become spam. I did some sleuthing and found out more about his ideology and he manages to play out the same role all over the internet. He's made quite a few comments here that went near the line, and a couple over. I'd ban him outright if blogger didn't make it so difficult.

The gist, however, lest you think I'm not being transparent, of that last bit of vitriol from our dear NS was in fact that I'm King Gentrifier for getting involved in the neighborhood the way I do. His analysis probably has validity, but I actually don't care what a full-bore racist like No_Slappz has to say.

You and Diak seem to want to suggest that racism is not involved at all, and that we're seeing a natural reordering of the City landscape. I'm content to leave it at that - a difference of opinion. I know for a fact that plenty of people get pretty pissed at the dismissive tone in so many comments here and elsewhere. I'm committed to a free exchange of ideas, and frankly I wish more voices would join in that don't feel personally attacked by the idea that the Gutting of Black Brooklyn is a fact worthy of note.

Did you two do it? Of course not. Do we all play a role in who gets snubbed in this culture? Yes. As long as you can bring that knowledge with you wherever you go, you might just end up being part of solutions rather than simply moving the railroad tracks further and further East.

I really don't care who thinks I'm buying into a fantasy. Dreamers are dreamers. In the meantime, all are welcome at my table.

Unknown said...

rasEveryone thinks the man is pointing fingers at you. That's not how I read it. He's saying you benefited from racism, there's a moral responsibility that goes with it. I can buy that argument. It's not helpful to think like a victim, but some folks don't feel like they have access to power, and they act accordingly. If you been treated like a criminal and a lowlife and second class citizen, you start to think like one.

I'm all for the neighborhood changing. You'd think white people invented the idea of picking up trash and organizing against crime and supporting local businesses. Fine. Take credit if you want. There are plenty of us been preaching the same things for years, but now there's more money in the neighborhood people are taking notice. Cops are starting to get cooperation from citizens. Again all good. But if your pad was cheap because other people didn't want to live around black people, you benefited materially. Now poorer blacks are being asked to leave. You call that natural. I call that racism in action, death by a thousand cuts. Nothing anyone says is probably going to change it. But don't think we don't notice. I'm glad folks are talking.

diak said...

I completely deny that I've suggested racism is not involved at all. I've never said so and I don't believe that's the case. In fact, my story posted above about the Slope RE broker suggests exactly the opposite.
As Mr SThompson points out, I'm fully aware that I benefitted materially; there's no way I would have been able to buy a home like the one I have if PLG had been a "better" neighborhood in 1999. (Believe me, we looked all over.)
But I also don't see everything through a purely racial prism. There are also generational, economic, and social aspects to the changes happening all over the borough. I can understand if some people look at the changes and conclude that this is just a simple case of black folks getting screwed once again. But I don't agree that it's that simple— or that it's somehow the "natural order."

By the way, no one has mentioned the two new businesses that have opened just a few doors north and south of the 626 Flatbush site. Hipster hat store? Cute cupcake boutique? Nope. A hair salon and a nail salon. Tidal wave of change indeed.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

"Tidal Wave of Change Indeed" Hold onto that thought, Diak. Let's see how applicable it is in 12 months.

diak said...

Next March it is, sir. Unless I get wiped out by a flying dollar van, I'll be here!

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Just to pop the 'hood for a second, let me tell you what happens on this side of the line. After 1,000 or so posts, the vast majority have no mention of racial issues at all. On a typical day I'll get 500 page views by the end of that 24-hour period. Also typical will be up to a total of 750 for that post over the course of a month.

If, however, I mention the opening of a new gentrifier-friendly business, the numbers pop through the roof. Sometimes as many as 2500 page views over the same time period.

Also, if I post an "essay" (I know, I know, it's a bit much to describe it that way) on race, class and/or neighborhood change, I get similar spikes in views. If Brownstoner picks it up in their Blog Wrap, it's usually double whatever the numbers would be otherwise.

However, my personal email inbox only really spikes when people get pissed off by the comments, and want to express themselves but don't want to enter the fray online.

One frequently echoed comment that I try to bear in mind when I write this stuff:

It's easy to be choosy about when you think race IS or ISN'T an issue if you're white. If you're black 24-7-365 in this country, it's likely you will be less cavalier in your assignation of racism or racial bias.

Another way of saying that is that I would personally prefer to take a white person's perspective on race with a grain of salt.

Readers, I would encourage you to do the same, knowing that I'm a ruddy-faced white boy from Iowa who's lived in the nabe 10 and Brooklyn 25 years, just trying to learn and grow. Though on the latter, the literal fact is that I'm trying to limit my carbs. I'm also trying to rid my diet of trolls, not just rolls.

I do NOT consider Diak or PaulG anything but concerned citizens with whom I sometimes disagree. Salut, gentlemen. I'm glad to have Mr. Thompson join the discussion as well. Anyone else? C'mon in, the water's fine! I think the conversation is tipped to the wonder bread end of the loaf and could use a little more pumpernickel. But in the blogosphere, that may be wishful thinking.

Unknown said...

Keep doing what you're doing, brother. I'd join in more frequently, but I'm not that eloquent of a writer.

This discussion needs to keep happening. Like any great argument, at some point people will get tired of talking from extreme points of view and work their way to the middle.

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