The Q's been reading a lot lately about topics that once would have sent him right to sleep. Zoning. Text amendments. Theories on displacement. Urban blight and urban growth. The history of NYC's migrations and settlements. I was always into issues of race, class, power, money...that's the sexy stuff. But I'm no longer sexy, so my tastes have changed.
Through 100+ years our town has grown, despite the one down decade-or-so in the late '60s to '70s. Current projections see us at 9 million in 2030, and as many as 10 million in 2050. It's kinda silly to assume things like terrorism and climate change aren't bogeymen, that could blow those numbers to smithereens. No one saw the 1970's coming either. But for sake of spits and giggles, let's roll with it.
Immigrants, for one. Notoriously undercounted in the ham-fisted 2010 census, NYC continues to beckon to dreamers all over the world. There are few cities that can so quickly absorb new workers - there's a never-ending supply of need for people willing to endure the toughest domestic, retail and sweatshop work. The entire region is teeming with undocumented workers. Bloomberg was right to head to Washington and to call them the backbone of the City. Without such labor, many of the things we take for granted would disappear from child care to stocking to everything else. Other cities take in fair numbers of foreigners with or without papers. But NYC is still the world's city, and it's a quick entry for almost any non-English speaker.
Glory-seekers. I love to call them the quarter-finalists - folks who grew up all over the country, and world, eager to make their mark in their respective specialties, from tech to theater to music to food etc - to a surprising number here to make the world a better place, one garden or student or issue at a time. They showed promise, or deluded themselves they had promise, won the local pageant, came to NYC with money in their pocket or not, knocked on doors, drank in dive bars, hooked up, maybe even got knocked up, maybe went to rehab. It's all documented, because many of those people went out to make art about it - writers wrote, filmmakers made films, the zeitgeist got its fair share of cultural recognition. All well and good, same as it ever was, and it's still happening, though if I were to do it over again I might choose Los Angeles. Or Detroit.
Young professionals. This one still kills me. Granted, there were always Wall Street types moving here, or to the near suburbs. But despite their outsize affluence, they were never a large enough minority to make a huge dent on the population - just on the atmosphere. Besides, they tended to ghettoize themselves in certain parts of the City, mostly the UES. Well, at least until the last decade or so. (Tribeca? Dumbo? Been to Battery Park lately?)
No, I'm not talking about Gordon Gekkos. I'm talking about Amanda and Amber and Ashley and Caitlin and Josh and Justin and Tyler. Just graduated from XXX, the Harvard of XXX, they majored in Econ or Psych or Poly-Sci or one of many Lits, and they're here to, to, you know, start life. Nurture a career. Find a mate. Go out. You know, party. Bowl at Chelsea Piers. Engage in trendy activities. These aren't the "hipsters" you hear so much about. No, if you're still under the impression that everyone young and white in NYC is a hipster, you haven't pegged the nuances. [Hipster (a term too broad to have much relevance, but here goes) is someone who isn't you but who thinks like you and likes the same music and goes to the same parties and wears the same glasses and is just as misunderstood. Meaning, it's you and your friends, because the rest of us are too busy living our lives to care what you call them...which brings me to...]
Young Non-Professionals, or Reluctant-Professionals: How they make their rent is their own damn business, so don't bother speculating. I was one of these. Cynical, reactionary, arty, in need of grooming advice, in-sleeping, slightly maladjusted, thrill-seeking, probably raised somewhere between the Hudson and the Rockies, ambitious but not conspicuously so. Since at least the days of the Beatniks, Teds, Mods, Hippies, Stoners, Metal-heads, Punks, New-Wavers, Goths, Grungers and Technoheads, there seems to have been a steady progression of disaffected trend setter/followers who help create a market for cool music and (slightly) outsider lifestyles. Given that we humans are essentially animals with an abundance of language and self-consciousness, there's clearly some biological imperative happening here. Maybe it's a way for the Betas to have babies? I remember a friend saying once that Punk was invented so ugly people could get laid. I remember grunge being an opportunity to identify as unsatisfied while having the time of your life. Not to put too fine a hat on the point, but it's really all about hooking up, mating, procreating, keeping the civilization going. Granted, that's an incredibly simplistic and entitled cynical remark, coming from the dominant class, in a country that dominates the world. So to those who haven't taken your daily supplement of iron(y), please note where my tongue is planted. (Is that a canker sore? Too many of those delicious Coop clementines...)
Those groups will account for most of the influx. At the same time, the City will lose folks too. Some to the onset of middle or old age, the suburbs, child-rearing. Some to death of course. Many, however, will be from what we sometimes call the lower classes, who in reality are mostly hard-working people who just can't afford to live here anymore. The bright side is that some of them will move to warmer climes or better qualities of living. I mean heck I know lots of people who are decamping now, and they're college-educated white-folk who can't take it anymore. But a great many, too many I would argue, will simply be forced to give up the only home they've known and embark on a scary and potentially unfruitful search for new apartments and a workable future.
Part of this process will mean that an important part of Brooklyn's and NYC's history will become less and less a part of its identity. Black folks, or rather those of the African Diaspora (if you need to be reminded of the wide breadth of such a tag as black) will become more and more of a minority in this City. From 2000 to 2010, black population declined 6% even as the borough gained overall. It's been half a decade since, and some surveys suggest we've lost another 5 or 6% since. I don't have to tell you the borough has become more affluent, and that Lefferts has become more affluent. And in a country where race and wealth are intertwined, well...you don't need another history lesson. You get it.
So what's the Q's point? Growth, my friends, is happening whether we like it or not. The City will not close its borders - it relies on growth to sustain itself. It doesn't want to be Detroit...it wants new opportunities, new jobs, and, yes, new housing. I'm not telling you nothing you don't already know, but it's good for me every once in a while to remind myself how we got here. To this moment, a moment where our neighborhood is up to bat, looking at itself in the mirror, and wondering whether the status quo is sufficient to deal with the reality of unprecedented real estate development and speculation.
That's where we at. That's the backdrop, as we figure how to grow smart and with purpose and compassion. That's the start of the story unfolding as a fight, a fight that didn't have to be so cantankerous. Or maybe it did?
There are other folks moving in and out of course. My sardonic categorizations are hardly exhaustive. So many pieces that create a life, a home, a destination, an opportunity, a purpose. All here, all the time, never-ending, always open. How to plan for that? Times 9 million? 10 million? Rising sea levels? Transportation? Sanitation? Did I mention rising sea levels?
Or to put it another way...at my first job at the Brooklyn Museum, there was a bottom drawer to my desk. It was full of carbon paper. You know?
The Q at Parkside
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.