Wednesday, May 23, 2012

There Goes the Neighborhood

Many Brooklyn neighborhoods have come full circle. During the Fifties they were alive with either family residences or thriving factories. Then in the Sixties came the exodus. Far-away places like Long Island, New Jersey, and even underdeveloped NYC Boroughs like Staten Island and Queens became the new destinations for Brooklynites. Neighborhoods like Red Hook, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatbush and Brownsville became places where you rolled up the car windows and locked the doors before driving through. Poor minorities looking for cheap housing moved in with the assistance of greedy real-estate developers who engaged in a practice called "block-busting." As Blacks and Hispanics moved in, Whites panicked and tried to sell their houses in a down market where prices were dropping daily. Businesses relocated as the supply of skilled workers fled to the suburbs. Soon, neighborhoods that once thrived were graffiti-covered, burned out slums. 

During this period, Manhattan also boomed to the point when living or doing business there soon became unaffordable. People began to look for places to live where rents were reasonable, and suddenly the old, run down neighborhoods began to show signs of life again. Their proximity to Manhattan facilitated by a viable public transportation system made them attractive to younger tenants. Make no mistake, it took courage to be the first to consider living in these areas. The houses needed maintenance, crime rates were high, and a lot of supporting infrastructure like schools and shopping were poor. But if you were willing to live with these conditions for a while, some great bargains were to be had. Landlords with little hope of selling or renting property were more than willing to let them go cheaply just to get out.

Some interesting groups led the movement to revitalize these Brooklyn neighborhoods. Artists were among the first, attracted by high-ceilinged lofts with great light. Restaurateurs too were often willing to take a chance. For a fraction of what it would cost to open in Manhattan, they took a risk and their faith was soon rewarded with paying customers. As people flocked to the restaurants they began to see the possibilities in the old brownstone buildings and the momentum built. Another early group to put down roots were gays. They wanted enclaves where they could live together without homophobes hassling them. Many had money and soon major renovations were underway. Neighborhoods like Park Slope and Sunset Park owe their resurgence to the gay community.

You might think that reclaiming and repopulating dilapidated neighborhoods would be a good thing, but there was opposition. Established residents complained about gentrification...that Yuppies were pushing them out. I suppose there is something to this phenomenon when viewed from their perspective. In the end though, when you look at what these once viable areas had become and the prospect that they would only get worse, I think the movement to rehabilitate them made good sense for the City before we turned into another Detroit. New York is heavily weighed down with welfare programs and citizens who not only contribute nothing to the society, but only take from it. The resources to pay for public welfare programs comes mainly from taxes, and what better way to increase tax revenue than to collect property tax revenue where none was collected before.

There may be some consequences to gentrification, but on balance I think it brings far more positives than negatives. If you feel the neighborhood is getting too expensive for you, here's a thought...get an education, get a job, and join the parade.


Children's Craniofacial Association

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