By Elise Goldin
This might come as a shock to you but Brooklyn is gentrifying. There. I said it. Can I bring you a glass of water, or maybe a local organic lemonade-ice tea from the corner “petit gourmand?” Cool your face with one of Brooklyn’s top 10 frozen desserts? Relax with a copy of Brooklyn Magazine, filled with beautiful white hipsters. Where are all the people of color you ask? Not in Brooklyn, apparently.
A recent study based on race by zip code revealed that Brooklyn has the largest increase of white people in the country. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have seen the greatest influx have been (in order) Clinton Hill, E. Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, and Bushwick. Surprised? Didn’t think so. This study determined 25 zip codes nationwide with the greatest influx of white people, and no other place has more than one zip code in the same state. Four zip codes are in in the city of Brooklyn, NY.
Gentrification is about access to affordable housing, how resources are distributed in a neighborhood, and levels of safety and comfort for all residents. My work at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board around predatory equity directly plays into gentrification– when a neighborhood is seen as lucrative on the real-estate market, predatory equity (and consequently gentrification) occurs with greater frequency, displacing residents. This process is gentrification at its worse.
For many young, white transplants (like myself), there is a lot of guilt associated with living in Brooklyn. As I prepare to leave the AVODAH bayit (house) and embark on that dreaded journey apartment hunting, I have a lot of questions. How can I be committed to housing justice while simultaneously needing to live somewhere with cheap rents? What determines gentrification– Is it simply racial? Is it measured by income level? How can it be avoided, and how can we move beyond guilt and anger?
An exciting new documentary called “My Brooklyn” addresses these complex questions through interviews of residents, city government, development companies, and community activists. The documentary is told through the eyes of a white gentrifier, Kelly Anderson, who follows the the politics behind luxury condo development in her neighborhood and the controversial redevelopment of Downtown Brooklyn, particularly Fulton Mall.
Filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean wrote about My Brooklyn for the NYTimes’ Fort Greene/ Clinton Hill Local. Here is an insightful exert:
Our interviews with locals from Fort Greene to Bedford-Stuyvesant brought out similarly polarized responses, but we also found that many newcomers felt bad about being gentrifiers and felt powerless to do anything about it. Could people stop gentrification just by not moving somewhere? The conversation seemed stuck, unable to get at real solutions.
Missing from these debates was a larger sense of how gentrification really happens, and what’s truly behind it. We made “My Brooklyn” to move beyond the tired focus on individual choice and blame that we kept running into, and to help steer the conversation in a more productive direction. We also wanted to offer people a concrete sense of what they can do to make development more equitable…
All of this new development might have been okay if the rezoning had also, for example, fulfilled the public need for truly affordable housing. A more sensitive approach would have also preserved the mall’s thriving small business community and its unique, homegrown culture. Instead, it is being slowly killed off.
Interested in learning more about gentrification in Brooklyn? Connect with the great work of Families United for Racial and Economic Justice (FUREE). FUREE is a women of color led organization fighting gentrification and for racial justice in Brooklyn! Stay informed and continue the conversation!
Elise Goldin is from Evanston, IL and attended Macalester College. As a New York AVODAH Corps member, she is a Tenant Organizer at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, which supports self-help housing and community building in low-income neighborhoods by training, organizing, developing, and assisting resident-controlled limited-equity housing co-operatives.