What's Williamsburg to You?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Little traffic - save for a few bikers - on the Williamsburg bridge Monday morning. (Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

In her essay “How to Quit," n+1 contributor Kristin Dombek talks about her personal history with Williamsburg and takes calls on how listeners' lives have changed alongside the changes in their neighborhoods.  Are you still a punk rock squatter while everyone around you is a luxury condo dweller?


Kristen Dombek

Comments [25]


My Williamsburg is visiting my Puerto Rican family members in South Williamsburg. It's my parents noting that the places they grew up are now mostly Hasidic. It's my grandfather's apartment that has an amazing view of Manhattan but really crappy tile floors and dark, unwelcoming hallways. It's also going to Transfiguration Church, where my parents were married, for funeral services for my family members. North Williamsburg is where I fell for my ex-boyfriend, who lived with four roommates in a converted loft building across the street from luxury condos.

Mar. 29 2013 09:08 AM
fuva from harlemworld

...I might add that narcissism and cluelessness may make one irresponsible, but it does not absolve one from responsibility.

Mar. 28 2013 06:33 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Sure, Inquisigal, there are pathetic and/or clueless and/or economically-stressed black people complicit in this perpetuation of socioeconomic exclusion. In fact, years ago, it was money-grubbing black folk who facilitated the initial entry of blacks into these neighborhoods, because blacks could be over-charged, because they were housing-segregated (despite the fact that they were also employment-segregated and, in turn, underpaid)...

But these propery owners are the minority and are by no means driving this phenomenon. For one thing, there is a much lower percentage of black ownership in the city, because of the history of housing and work segregation, redlining, etc. that has afforded white people unfair economic advantage for centuries. In effect here, undisputably, is the long tail of terror that continues to unfairly advantage whites, which is why they can afford the rates that those relatively few black landlords command.

Sure, many a hipster may not completely understand the phenomena at work. For that matter, most blacks don't completely get it (though they feel the pressure and sense the foulness). Apparently, you don't either. Here, information is definitely required to discourage simplistic analysis. Of course, the concentration of resources to make that happen is not in the black community. Nevertheless, we are certainly obliged to both surivive and correct the nonsense...

Thanks for the dialogue

Mar. 28 2013 06:29 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

Fuva, in all due respect, I'm going to push back a bit on what you said. "Young white kids," like most kids of any ethnic background, are not "leveraging" anything on purpose. Their focus is narrow, sometimes due to the need to work hard to be able to afford to carve out a life for themselves, sometimes due to their lives being in a state of transience, or more often than not, because they're very self-oriented at that age, and have a lack of curiosity about others. A few of them are probably aware about the negative ramifications of gentrification, and are as flummoxed as the rest of us are in terms of what they can do about it. But let's not forget that when we were all 24 years old, most of us were not invested in our communities; this is typically something that comes with age, home ownership, or when people decide to settle down in a particular neighborhood for the long haul.

As a white "gentrifier" myself - I started my rental history in 1990 and have been watching this dynamic play out for a long time. On the one hand, I am well aware of the history of red-lining in my neighborhood (Bed-Stuy), and the lack of resources and racism that long-time residents of my neighborhood have suffered through over the years. I also know that more people need to learn about this history, and have more empathy. Yet I also know that white residents don't purposely "push out" black people (or Latinos, or Asians, etc.) from their homes or businesses; as an individual, I have no control over the decisions that a landlord or home owner makes, and in my case, every landlord I've had in black neighborhoods has been black. When I rented an apartment for $900 a month in Bed-Stuy back in 2000, my landlord was cashing in on me, while plenty of my immediate neighbors were probably paying half that much. No one ever wants to talk about how landlords or the sellers of houses only care about making as much money out of the situation as they can, regardless if they end up displacing people from their own community, yet this is a reality in our capitalist society. And commercial landlords are the ones who keep asking such high rent that only businesses selling very high-priced goods can afford the rents there.

Most rational people are getting sick of this greedy, NYC real estate mentality where the price of space just keeps getting jacked up and jacked up, so that only people working in the financial industry or young people with rich parents can afford to get a foothold in the city now. How can we stop this "luxury" society from taking over all of NYC? Could the city go back to rent control, or could there be a way to impose regulations to require that all tenants in large rental buildings actually be the ones on the lease (as opposed to out-of-towners subsidizing their kid's apartments, or snapping up rentals as pieds-a-terre)? We need to pay attention to the policies that the mayoral candidates are touting, which may in some way be able to remedy the situation.

Mar. 28 2013 04:27 PM
fuva from harlemworld

These 'young white kids who barely have any money', have way more money and socioeconomic opportunity than the long-excluded people they're displacing. They are leveraging their unfair advantage.
This must, at least, be acknowledged.
Yes, these gentrified neighborhoods needed change. But not this way.

Mar. 28 2013 01:44 PM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

Reggie, I can assure you that when you are white and an artist or a punk, your mere presence does not get the cops to "clean up" a ghetto. In my 20's, I lived in some very dangerous, poor neighborhoods, and besides not having been raised in those kind of circumstances, still had to deal with and navigate within those "ghettos" in the same way that other residents had to, with the same crappy services and businesses, with no attention paid by the cops or local government. Though that was in the late 80's and the 90's.

I'm not going to pretend that the presence of cops TODAY has not increased in neighborhoods that were formerly ghettos - I've seen it with my own eyes.
But I just don't think it's productive to point a finger at young white kids who barely have any money themselves - who have historically moved into neighborhoods because that's what they can afford. It's a much more complex situation, and the bottom line we need to all agree on is that something in this city needs to be done about the policies that bring about unaffordable housing and racist police practices.

Mar. 28 2013 12:08 PM

I'm not an old-timer by any means (moved to the neighborhood in '98 from Manhattan), but the exponential changes have been interesting. I'm heading to a place further out within the next year precisely because of the weird combination of clean-cut young professionals and that it's now a temporary destination for Manhattanites. I don't care for the fact that within the last 2 years I can no longer walk down Wythe without fear of being run down by a cab. I also genuinely fear for the L train capacity.

Another thing that slightly bothers me is the ease in which people can find dwellings these days. They just pick the "hot" neighborhood, find their place online, and move in. Speaking strictly in terms of new school residents, they were still a little more diverse when you actually had to trek around the area before moving, and crossed your fingers you didn't make a mistake after sighing the lease (remember when apartment searching involved standing in the Village Voice line at Astor place with a pocket full of quarters??). Porch...shotgun...get off my lawn.

Mar. 28 2013 12:03 PM
eve sheridan from Rockland County, NY

Moved into a 2500 sq ft loft in the Italian part of WB in 1980, $300 per month, top floor, roof, view of 3 boroughs.
moved out in 1990, as it was not a good place for infants and I had one then.

Saw the old building recently, it is all subdivided into tiny apartments, but the espresso bar I frequented is still around and we all remembered each other there. I loved the Italian stores, a few remain, but I would not move back! Had a great decade there- 80-90

Mar. 28 2013 11:59 AM
Tony from Canarsie

Forget it Jake, it's Trust Fund Town.

Mar. 28 2013 11:58 AM
whoa from wmsbrg

Quite a travel in hyperreality - one generation of gentrification reminiscing on it's authenticity vs the previous version + some voices of residents who were there prior to the first gentrification. Not invalid - just a comment on the speed of capital. What's missing is comment on the cultural aesthetic. Not that it's white - as a catchall. It is, but beyond that, what is the culture - the behavior, attitudes, norms.

Mar. 28 2013 11:58 AM
Jf from Truthland

Rent is a crime against humanity here. Its not ok. I would rather get mugged twice,a year than get mugged every month by the land lord. The sad fake posing people in williamsburg must be millionairs. Revolution is comming. 50,000 homeless.

Mar. 28 2013 11:55 AM

Punks/hipsters are the first part of the deployment for gentrification. They are like the marines that go into the ghetto and make a stink so that the cops have to clean it up. Follow the white punks and you will find the next real estate bloom. So much for punk!

Mar. 28 2013 11:54 AM
Ellen from Williamsburg

Williamsburg has become a very sad place to be for long time residents. I see my old neighbors, and we wave at each others like refugees, although we are in the same place, we have been inundated by the elite, and there is less and less room for us.

After being in loft board court for over 10 years to avoid eviction from the places we built, I sometimes wish I could just leave. One of the things I loved about the neighborhood in the 80s was how quiet it was, and because it was still a little dangerous, the streets were spacious, and the L train was never crowded. Now I avoid the L, but the rich people are finding the JMZ..

My bldg was a mixed use residential bldg, but in around 1998, the landlord felt the wind shift and evicted the businesses on the lower floors and made little loft-ettes below - they got wifi, and we got a court case. There has been construction steadily in my adjoining blocks since around 2001, and I live right behind Domino. We are dreading that, if it comes to pass, may it never come to pass. That will be another 10-15 years of pounding, dust and the noise and unpleasantness that accompanies construction, and in the end, we will lose out skies and views.

So, it's mixed. It s home, but I feel set aside. Still have some old friends living here - we are all visual artists, but so many have been lost, most recently the residents of the Tung Fa bldg across the street - I miss them.

Mar. 28 2013 11:54 AM
eric from park slope

it's a hipster theme park. too bad. it was interesting for a minute in the '90's.

Mar. 28 2013 11:53 AM
clif from brooklyn

Williamsburg is what it is: trendy. I was hanging out there right before it went big. A friend had a (cheap) rehearsal space there and we had some great jam sessions! There was a great falafel place and there wasn't 5000 kids with silly hair cuts and fake glasses on the street every time you tried to walk somewhere.

Williamsburg is the poster child for developers & real estate companies co-opting a once cool neighborhood.

Mar. 28 2013 11:53 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Hipsters seem to be in denial about their complicity...

Mar. 28 2013 11:52 AM
Betta from nyc

Been thinking the same way of Brooklyn in general - few neighborhoods are safe from the million dollar condos. What am I still doing here, renting rooms and not moving up in anyway.

Mar. 28 2013 11:51 AM

Your guest's article for _n+1_ was perhaps the worst piece of hipster-focused writing I have read. Ever. Or it was the greatest satire I've ever read on the subject. I'm still not sure.

I lived in the East Williambsburg "Industrial Park" 10 years ago. I guess that was right at the peak of development in the post-full-fledged-gentrification Williamsburg neighborhood. The Bedford area was annoying (but nothing like it is now), but the EWIP part was lovely and very different feeling. (It's now just exactly like Williamsburg proper.)

Mar. 28 2013 11:51 AM
antonio from baySide

Billyburg was the proto gentriHood...
I have a question, it's been like 16 years since it blew-up, so where it's child. Like where next big thing?

Mar. 28 2013 11:48 AM
Steve from Williamsburg

I've been living in East Williamsburg for nine years and love it. The development creep keeps moving further every year, but it's still manageable in my immediate area. The old Italian neighborhood vibe is still around.
But the Bedford area is horrible. It just makes me sad and angry most of the time. I can't take it!

Mar. 28 2013 11:46 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Never have so many been so impressed with themselves with so little reason.

Mar. 28 2013 11:45 AM
Freddy from Bushwick

I guess when I think of Williamsburg, I think of Bedford Avenue where I lived in 1998 and have seen so much of it change...both good and bad. There probably hasn't been a punk rock squatter in that area in years, and I was driven out years ago once the "luxury condos" arrived and so many of my friends: artists and musicians who moved there not because it was cool, but because it was affordable, had to leave. We used to frequent the bodegas, the restaurants that were there before us. I knew my neighbors, spoke Spanish to the ones who there for decades before I arrived. Now, with gentrification, comes the loss of community. The people who are willing to pay $3500 a month to live in a glass box on the river, don't frequent the bodegas, or talk to the locals. They make noise-complaints about music venues that were there for decades, rejoice over the arrival of a Duane Reade instead of frequenting the local pharmacy, and don't flinch at a $30 dollar per person brunch at yet another "hot new destination".

Mar. 28 2013 11:30 AM

Williamsburg gave us bands like "TV on the Radio" and the "Yeah Yeah Yeah's"...I guess that's good enough for me ;-)

Mar. 28 2013 11:24 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Williamsburg (the north side) went from being a dump for Lower East Side rejects 20 years ago to a neighborhood replete with overly thought out shops and luxe condos, full of fairly well off 20 somethings, pretending to be poorer than they are.

That being said, it's the one place in Brooklyn that is thankfully awake, past 12:00 on a Sat night, yellow cabs and all.

Mar. 28 2013 11:23 AM

Being woken up at 7am every morning to the sounds of jack hammers outside my window and god knows whatever else it takes to move enormous amounts of earth and rock to build 169 luxury condos.
waiting for packed trains to arrive in the morning that you may or may not fit on.
elbowing your way down Bedford avenue when all you need is a litre of milk and some toothpaste.
wanting to go out for a quick bite to eat and the majority of your choices are $29 main courses.
Having to leave your apartment because the rent is doubling and you can't afford to stay either in the building or the neighbourhood.
Thats what Williamsburg is to me. 16 years here and now its time to move on.

Mar. 28 2013 11:12 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.