Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Friday, August 24, 2012

Robert Anasi gives a firsthand account of the swift transformation of Williamsburg from factory backwater to artists’ district to a trendy destination synonymous with hipster culture. His book The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a celebration of the dream of bohemia, a lament for what Williamsburg has become, and a cautionary tale about the transformations of city neighborhoods throughout the United States.


Robert Anasi

Comments [18]

Ok, so north Williamsburg is an area for the wealthy...and the artists are squashed out. Big deal. The guest came to ny seeking an unrealistic artistic haven. Maybe he found it for a few years, but it is really annoying that people come to NYC expecting life to be as affordable as the American cities they "fled". WB, and the other downtown waterfront neighborhoods constitute only a fraction of Brooklyn's land. There are many other affordable, diverse neighborhoods throughout this borough where all kinds of people live that could be home to the priced out artists.

Aug. 25 2012 01:41 AM
John from Williamsburg from Williamsburg

Lopate fan for 25 years. Never heard him so disconnected to an interview. If the author was female, listen closely, he'd be a lot more attentive. Have to boycott Lopate and listen to WFMU. Lopate, loved ya, but you douched this one. I'm out at Noon from now on. Ugh.

Aug. 25 2012 01:00 AM

Inquisigal is kinda right. And I struggle with artists pushing out immigrants who came before them. but in soho, red hook and other neighborhoods - no one was living there before the artists. These were industrial districts, and when manfacturing left the city for cheaper areas outside, owners were desperate to have anyone pay rent for their big spaces that no one wanted. Artists need big space to make art, so it was simpatico-ish... for a while.

Artists are owed nothing... until they put in the sweat equity and make something out of bankrupting empty buildings, then they have a point about being forced out.

Aug. 24 2012 01:33 PM
David from Williamsburg

I'm an artist. I don't claim to be more important or more deserving, but New York will become a bland, gray place if people like me keep leaving and younger artists (and actors, musicians, designers, etc) can't find a way to live and work here.

Gentrification happens, and neighborhoods change. But what has happened here is too much, too fast. And it's not just tenants refusing to pay more in rent and choosing to move on when their lease ends. Landlords see so much profit in emptying a building to make way for hotels and condos that they bury tenants with court cases and lawsuits until they give up.

Aug. 24 2012 01:33 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

The one thing I will agree on with the guest, is that the city has taken on a different feel that is rapidly changing from what many of us wanted when we moved to the city in the first place. The influx of incredible wealth in MHTN, combined with a preponderance of people with children who normally would have moved to the suburbs to raise their kids - has caused many neighborhoods have a dull, suburban white-bread feel that is much different from the energizing, exciting vibe that used to exist in a much cheaper NYC.

My former neighborhood - Ft. Greene - has become unrecognizable in the past 3 years, and the price of entry is insane. I don't happen to be charmed by brunch places charging $4.00 for a regular cup of coffee.

Aug. 24 2012 01:28 PM

Inquisigal that's a great comment. The city just needs more affordable housing, period. People I know who are born and raised refer to many of the artists and others that move in and subsequently drive up rents as colonists. It's a similar mentality; "discovering" some neighborhood that's long been populated by working and middle class making it a livable home for themselves.

Aug. 24 2012 01:19 PM
David from Williamsburg

Your guest is right on target. I've been here in a decaying loft building for 17 years, to be out via eviction in 2 months. On top of all the other factors in the swift gentrification of wburg (the cool+hip factor, people leaving Manhattan after 9/11, increased safety), there was the massive 2005 re-zoning of the Northside and waterfront. Blue-collar workers and artists both got burned. The jobs left when the businesses sold out for redevelopment, and the artists lost because the rezoning paved the way for an influx of wealthy new tenants that created a powerful incentive for landlords to kick us out of their loft buildings.
The Loft Law of 2010 was supposed to help the artists (and other live/work folks) stay in place, but it has been severely compromised by the difficulties of Albany politics, a tendency in Brooklyn courts to favor landlords, and the success of the real estate industry as an economic force and a lobbying force.

Aug. 24 2012 01:18 PM

He whines about being priced out of his neighborhood, which I totally understand...but then his response to local business owners (who have been there LONG before him) concerned about new hipster restaurants taking business is: what can I say, I like my brunch. Wow.

Aug. 24 2012 01:16 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I'm sort of torn by this conversation; I was a creative person who lived in the city (Boston) in the early 90's, and when I came to NYC in 2000 it was still affordable ($600 a month for a nice-size studio in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn). Where ever I found myself living, there were usually a mix of artist-types and minorities, and that occured solely because of economics, not because of any desire on my or any other artist's part to live in a bohemian atmosphere.

Now that I'm in my 40's, it bothers me to hear my artistic peers discuss today's real estate problems from that stand point that artists deserve a cheap housing solely because we "make art." Making art is a choice, not a right, in our society, and it's incredibly disrespectful to everyone else in the city who is struggling with the cost of housing to continue to talk about artists being pushed out of certain neighborhoods WITHOUT talking about everyone else in these neighborhoods who are also being pushed out.

And talking about artists as "pioneers" is also offensive, because most neighborhoods in the city - including Williamsburg - were already populated by human beings before these neighborhoods attracted artists and creative people.

I would encourage my fellow young and aging bohemians to stop considering yourselves part of an elite group that is somehow more important, and more deserving, than the other people whom share our income bracket or the neighborhood we live in. We are all in this together, and need to join a larger conversation about wealth disparity - NOT keep focusing on so-called pioneering artists losing cheap housing. EVERYONE in this city is losing cheap housing!!

Aug. 24 2012 01:07 PM

There is no problem with "working class families". It is just that they are not the ones who are willing to live in a crap hole and work on it (instead of calling the super) until it's a nice, livable space. It's the artists who are desparate enough to do that. And then, developers push them out after they do all the work to make the area inhabitable. Working clase families don't deserve any credit for making NYC a better place, because they don't do anything they don't have to.

Aug. 24 2012 01:03 PM
Steve from 11211

I've been a resident of Williamsburg for 9 years and have my own issues with all the development. But this guy is just an ass. The idea that artists or anyone else are entitled to an area all to themselves while keeping out economic growth is absurd. I don't like the growth, but I understand that is the way of the world. Suck it up, man.

Aug. 24 2012 12:58 PM
BK from NJ

This same conversation takes place in Hoboken. I hear complaints from long time residents (B n R, or born and raised, in local lingo). How can the guest not see any upside to gentrification? Lower crime? More cultural outposts? Revitalized public schools as new residents raise families in the area? High property values for long time residents (I have seen plenty f blue collar families essentially hit the lottery when a family member passes on and leaves a building behind that is now worth 20-30 times what they paid for it). It's not all good, but it almost sound line the guest would rather have Times Square peep shows again instead of tourists spending money and supporti the economy because it's not as "authentic".

Aug. 24 2012 12:58 PM
John Huntington from Windsor Terrace

Wow, can this guy contradict himself any more? Everyone's priced out but there's still lots of poor people in the neighborhood? No one's interested in the life of the working class any more--have you seen most of the shows on the discovery channel? I have students who found apartments in park slope for only a couple hundred dollars more than I paid as a low income writer in 1990. The new generation will solve these problems.

Aug. 24 2012 12:55 PM
Tim from NYC

Leonard- Your guest is right. WB is an area for the wealthy - artist or not. Remember how young artists used to live in the East Village and made a living on a part-time job? NYC has become a thema park for the wealthy.

Aug. 24 2012 12:53 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

.... and what about plain, ol' working class families?

Aug. 24 2012 12:53 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

"Make art"?? The guest just lost me on that one... why does it always have to be about art? And aren't the so-called artists the ones that make neighborhoods like Williamsburg become "hip"?

What about other types of work? Where is there room for blue-collar work?

Aug. 24 2012 12:51 PM
Sadie from Manhattan

I think that by "artisanal mayonnaise", Leonard is referring to small- batch, retail mayo in flavors like miso and black garlic, like this:, not to homemade mayonnaise. The Empire Mayonnaise shop is in Prospect Heights, but I think it started as a booth at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg.

Aug. 24 2012 12:41 PM
real foodie

Are you calling real mayonnaise artisanal mayonnaise? Are we that unfamiliar with real food? Mayonnaise is just a little lemon juice or vinegar, an egg yolk, a bit of mustard and olive oil carefully whisked to its texture - you can vary the amount of oil. Of course this is artisanal if you consider making it to sell in supermarkets. But it's just a sauce. If you want to make aioli you start with a smashed garlic clove. If I make my own salad dressing is that artisanal, too?

Aug. 24 2012 12:15 PM

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