Sunday, August 26, 2012

Billyburg Comes of Age

In NYC, like in all thriving cities, the issue of gentrification is a non-stop debate. 

On the one hand there are those who love it when new people move in and new businesses open in areas that were once blighted or down on their luck. There is nothing better, in their view, of the old being made new again, of a neighborhoods being rediscovered and made livable again. On the other hand, however, there are those who fear that the new arrivals are throwing out the old timers, raising rents and prices across the board, and making it too expenses for residents of modest means to stay in the neighborhoods they love and have lived in for years.

This is one of those urban issues that will never be settled and debated for as long as cities exist.

Take the case of Williamsburg. The small neighborhood on the edge of Brooklyn used to be for decades -- neigh centuries -- an industrial mecca of factories. Then, as the factories closed, they were converted into apartments where artists who were priced out of Manhattan fled to. In the last few years, as the neighborhood became "hip" and "trendy", as the artists made it cool (like Soho before it), the rich people came. They started shelling out big buck to live in huge condos and now the financial squeeze is on the residents of what some have called "the last Bohemia."

It used to be that you could afford to starve in the East Village but that hasn't been true for almost twenty years. For the last decade, people could afford to starve in Williamsburg -- but that, sadly, seems to be coming to an end.

You should listen to this interview last week from WNYC with a man named Robert Anasi who has actually written a book about this very subject -- about how Williamsburg has transformed from industrial pit to Bohemia to wealthy playground. 

It is a cautionary tale about the direction this city is going in -- and everyone should hear it.

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