Hofstra Papers in Anthropology
Article #1, Volume 5, 2010
The Disputed Neighborhood: Gentrification of “East Williamsburg”
and Identity in the Shared Space
by Amanda Ortega
Winner of 2009-2010 Hofstra Anthropology Paper Award
The neighborhoods of Manhattan are used as identity forming tools to symbolize status among their residents. The Upper East Side is considered one of the most affluent communities in New York City; within its name, it carries the prestige of prosperity and the connotation of influence. Greenwich Village conjures up images of bohemian artistry; its neighborhood status assumes its residents fit this identity marker. Similarly Brooklyn, as a borough, was considered a space for ethnic groups to form their own communities or a space for the working-class. However, neighborhoods in Brooklyn are quickly being reinvented and gentrified. Marcuse’s (1985) definition of gentrification includes the central element of displacement; upper-income households are pushing out the lower-income residents (Curran 2007:1427). Gentrification is complex; many New York City neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights, the Lower East Side, Park Slope and Greenwich Village have already experienced the process. Identity formations within these neighborhoods are contingent upon the reputation formed through gentrification. They seek to repudiate the stereotypes and characterizations of the neighborhood previous to gentrification, and reinvent the neighborhood’s status. Flushing Ave, Brooklyn marks the line dividing Williamsburg and Bushwick. Real Estate developers have renamed this area “East Williamsburg,” in an effort to attach the standing of Williamsburg as well as the demographic influx experienced in that neighborhood.
As a young person, someone coming to New York for the first time, the Williamsburg neighborhood was presented to me as “the new Greenwich Village.” Attaching its status of artistic entrepreneurship, it also follows in its gentrification footsteps. Nevertheless, as I became more familiar with New York, observable disparities in Williamsburg’s urban landscape caught my eye. Abandoned warehouses, loft apartments, converted warehouse space into restaurants, and empty lots became apparent in the setting. Bedford Ave, Williamsburg’s hot street of restaurants, shops and galleries, marks the first stop on the L train from Manhattan. Traveling further east, the Morgan Ave stop is a marker for “East Williamsburg’s” bars and restaurants, attracting the same clientele of Williamsburg. Once in this space, the landscape seemed to be in a state of flux, de-industrializing, converting loft space into living space, and representing an ethnic and class dichotomy among the residents. The friends who I was going out with directed that we would be going to “East Williamsburg” to some bars and enjoy the youth there. However, the signs marking space as Bushwick, threw my associations of our location out the window. Bushwick had been presented by non-residents living in Manhattan, as a neighborhood with a reputation for crime and low-income housing. What became apparent was that there seemed to be competing neighborhood identities in an area that is undergoing some of the beginning stages of the gentrification process.
Gentrification, like suburbanization, is highlighted through the switching of capital between parts of the economy and the city (Hamnett 1991, Smith 1982). Smith argues that the change in the urban landscape is a reflection in the change of the international spatial division of labor (Smith 1982), as factories moved overseas, the neighborhoods’ supplying them became obsolete. The remaining working-class residents are facing displacement by the culture beginning to settle itself into “East Williamsburg,” as trends have shown them, upper-middle class settlement is surely to follow. This area represents a unique situation because it very much in the beginning stages of gentrification as observed through other neighborhoods. Thus, my research team seeks to understand identity formation in the shared space referred to as both “East Williamsburg” and Bushwick. The place names designate a shred of identifying features among the residents; Bushwick represents the tenants who have resided there for an extended period of time with families, while “East Williamsburg” denotes those who have moved in from elsewhere and typically inhabited the area less than ten years. While these associations are not mutually exclusive nor do they perfectly encapsulate the identity markers of the residents, they serve as a designating tool to represent the dichotomous population of the area. This research seeks to explore “East Williamsburg” as a gentrified space and its ramifications for identity construction and relations in sharing the neighborhood.
“East Williamsburg” represents a heterogeneous economic community due to its current demographic changes. Within the physical space, gentrification is symbolized as commercial venues emerge to cater to the inflowing young population. This research will explore these symbols as well as web-based rhetoric for the promotion of the neighborhood. We will explore how identity and space is interrelated between the respective resident populations, how those people receive one another, and how they perceive their orientation in relation of each other. Simultaneously, community activists seek to empower their residents to provide knowledge of the issue while real estate agents adopt terms to “revitalize” the neighborhood. What are the implications for culture and economic prosperity? How do residents perceive themselves, the other, and cross these boundaries within the shared space? Gentrification creates an arena in the neighborhood where consumption, consumer demand, cultural revival, economic conditions and human agency come into conflict (Hamnett 1991) in identity formation. How do the residents understand these conflicts within the perception they hold of their orientation, meanwhile, how does the discourse of “cultural revival” implicate the notion of having culture?
The literature surrounding the process of gentrification has been extensive. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the process for global cities such as London and New York City has been investigated, as well as for smaller cities of Toronto, Melbourne, and San Francisco. Marcuse defines the process of gentrification as,
“Gentrification occurs when new residents-who disproportionally are young, white, professional, technical and managerial workers with higher education and income levels- replace older residents- who disproportionally are low-income, poor, minority, ethnic group members, and elderly-from older and previously deteriorated inner-city housing in a spatially contracted manner, that is to a degree differing substantially from the general level of change in the community or region as a whole (Marcuse 1985: 199).
Displacement is central to gentrification (Curran 2007, DeSena 2006, Lees 2000, 2003, Newman &Wyly 2006), changing the residential landscape of the neighborhood being gentrified. Displacement occurs, in the gentrification context, when neighborhood demographics change and residents become displaced due to housing demolition, ownership conversion of rental units, increased housing costs in taxes and rent, landlord harassment and evictions (Newman &Wyly 2006). This change in demographic profile not only alters the residential landscape, but the stereotypes and perceptions of the area as well. Freeman’s (2006) study of perceptions on Harlem’s gentrification illustrates how as demographics change so do views of the neighborhood, “these narratives clearly indicate a view among residents of neighborhoods that changes associated with gentrification, such as an influx of whites, improved police protection, and new and improved stores, are interconnected” (113). These changes ultimately play a role in policy and neighborhood procedures, which affect the displaced and new, incoming residents. The process is characterized as follows: the first aim of city developers is to overtake control of the neighborhood properties housing a largely working class community and turn over to real estate developers. Next, real estate developers suit the area for a middle class capitalist supporting community while raising appeal and prices (Deutche & Ryan 1984). This means, the area is dressed with physical venues that appeal to the incoming gentry population.
Perceptions of how the process will end or continue vary. The 1990’s spurred speculations that “the process of gentrification had run out of steam” (Lees 2000: 389). Hackworth (2002) summarizes the disputing perceptions on the importance of gentrification as a subject for academic study; he demonstrates how the researcher Bourne believed the early 1990’s real estate downturn would inevitably cease the process and therefore its academic significance is minimal. Meanwhile, Ley (1996) argued how gentrification would gather speed during this period as baby boomers begin settling in the cities. The future of gentrification, its policies and implications, seemed to rely on the outcome of the 1990’s real estate recession as a “turning point for gentrification” (Hackworth 2002:816).
Hackworth and Smith (2001) seek to outline how today’s gentrification is “is quite different to gentrification in the early 1970s, late 1980s, even the early 1990s” (Lees 2000: 397). Although Lees describes it as temporal, she doesn’t address how the gentrification of today is in fact different. Hackworth and Smith (2001) delineate three phases, or waves, in the history of the process. The first wave of gentrification, dated prior to 1973, is defined as a period “sporadic and state-led” (2001: 466), Smith and Hackworth characterized as:
• Sporadic, not widespread
• Funded by the public sector because governments wanted to combat and intervene the decline of private-market investment in the inner-city
• Resulting in worsening conditions for the urban working class due to the aggressive intervention of the government interested in increasing inner-city investment (Hackworth & Smith 2001: 466)
The years of 1973 to 1978 are defined as a “transition” period when the economic global recession slowed down the national housing market. The dropping property values allowed developers and investors to buy large amounts of property. After the transition, Hackworth and Smith (2001) name the second wave of gentrification “expansion and resistance” (466) and illustrate this wave as:
• Gentrification becoming more common in non-global as well as global cities
• Rather than being public sector funded, the state instead focused on prodding the private market rather than directly involving itself, through federal programs such as block grants and enterprise loans
• “For example, tax breaks to develpers became rampant but often only with the proviso that the builders obtain significant commitments from private lenders beforehand” (Hackworth 2002: 821)
• Characterized with a presence of the art community in New York City, “serving to smooth the flow of capital into neighborhoods like SoHo, Tribeca, and the Lower East Side” (467)
• Intense political opposition through activism against gentrification and its part in displacement
The transition period entering the 1990’s brought gentrification to a startling halt after the stock market crash of 1987 (Hackworth 2002: 815), leading some academics to expect a process of degentrification (Hackworth & Smith 2001: 468). Nevertheless, reinvestment took hold and the third wave of gentrification, named “recessional pause and subsequent expansion (468) is distinguished by:
• An expansion of gentrification both in the inner-city areas of before as well as more remote neighborhoods
• Globalization has allowed larger developers to be involved in the real estate industry in gentrifying neighborhoods
• As the working class continues to be displaced, much of the effective activism groups are no longer in the inner-city
• The state’s involvement is stronger than in the second wave (2001: 468)
The changes illustrated by Hackworth and Smith (2001) allows the present context of gentrification to be better understood. Gentrification has grown, but in a way dissimilar from the earlier manifestations. Today, gentrification is “more corporate, more state-facilitated, and less resisted than ever before” (Hackworth 2002: 839).
Gentrification has been called by the New York Times a “dirty word” and has been a popularized term in the media. There exists an opposing relationship between those proponents of gentrification as community revitalization and those that are concerned with the state influence in the displacement of the poor. The political debates surrounding the process center around the topic of displacement. Freeman and Braconi define gentrification omitting the consequential displacement, “gentrification-a dramatic shift in their demographic composition toward better educated and more affluent residents” (2004: 39). They seek to promote the positive attributes within gentrified neighborhoods in how the former residents can benefit from the process. The residents of the inner-city neighborhoods could benefit with “new housing investments and stimulates additional retail and cultural services” (2004:39). However, the new cultural and retail amenities push out the old localized services that defined the neighborhood and in many cases, made it attractive to begin with. Freeman and Braconi conducted research, later refuted by Newman and Wyly (2006), to conclude that although the view of displacement is marked as being a major mechanism in the changing socio-economic disposition of the neighborhood, they found that displaced renters were just as likely to be found in both gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighborhoods (2004: 48). Their findings suggest that normal housing succession is the primary factor in the changing neighborhoods.
Newman and Wyly (2006) critique Freeman and Braconi’s findings. Meanwhile, Freeman has been used as the poster boy of quantitative research for the Real Estate Board of NY Inc. The REB is interested in refuting the existence of displacement and thereby seeking more state help to revitalize neighborhoods. While Freeman and Braconi’s research was purely quantitative, based in the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey (NYCHVS) conducted by the US Bureau of the Census in this case measuring displacement of the 1990s, Newman and Wyly employed the statistics from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Displacement Report, as well as qualitative measures in interviews with residents of the neighborhoods and community organizers. By Freeman and Braconi utilizing the NYCHVS for analysis, it creates a considerable selection bias because of the 1990’s recession. “After two generations of intense gentrification, any low- and moderate-income renters who have managed to avoid displacement are likely to be those people who have found ways to adapt and survive in an increasingly competitive housing market” (Newman & Wyly 2006: 28). However all statistical analysis should be analyzed with caution, to measure how gentrification has affected low-income residents specifically proves challenging because the scope and the scale of those individuals have been elusive in the urban area (Newman &Wyly 2006: 27). It is difficult to locate those who have been displaced, as they no longer reside in the census-takers neighborhood. Not to mention, there is an increased difficulty to measure displacement because it is not a momentary lapse in time.
As noted by Hackworth and Smith (2001), the process has come in waves and transition periods have set the stage for the next wave. Proponents of gentrification have selected bits and pieces from the Freeman and Braconi studies in order to assert that the process does not produce displacement and that, in fact, gentrification is good for the poor and for ethnic minorities. The displacement rates found by Newman and Wyly were higher than Freeman and Braconi’s; yet the two research teams agree that not all low-income residents are displaced (Newman & Wyly 2006:51). Of course, these displaced residents may have already been dislodged from their homes in the second wave of gentrification. Nonetheless, these statistical analyses by Freeman and Braconi have had implications for policy changes and promulgation of the process while community organizers and activists lobby against it. The debate regarding the effects of the process continues. Proponents of the process emphasize the benefits including stabilized tax base supporting municipal services, increased income to support the commercial area, increased home-equity allowing low-income homeowners to make renovations, vacant lots are redeveloped and streets become cleaner and safer (Freeman and Braconi 2004, Hackworth and Smith 2000, Lees 2000, Hackworth 2002, Hamnet 1991). Meanwhile, displacement due to increase in property values, landlord’s evictions to sell the apartment at a higher rate and rising home prices increasing its tax values is a serious problem to long term residents (Hackworth and Smith 2000, Lees 2000, Hamnet 1991).
Along with the term of gentrification others have been used such as “revivalism” or “renaissance” to coin a changing phenomena which some deem for the better (Smith). However, these terms suggest that the area was in some way previously devoid of culture. The rhetoric used to portray the space includes “hip”, “trendy” or an “up and coming neighborhood,” further suggesting that the neighborhood was somehow not living up to its full cultural potential. While the process begins as a real estate development project and changing residential occupancy, its implications go further into perceptions of aesthetics. Bridge (1995) emphasizes the social aspect of gentrification and not only the changing conditions of industry and rent. Furthering the “trendy” argument, Ley (2003) attests to how artists contribute as agents to gentrification. Artists in the US, though economically disadvantaged in most cases, acquire a significant amount of cultural capital. Artists move into neighborhoods or spaces believed as “authentic,” “an old area, socially diverse, including poverty groups can be valorized as authentic symbolically rich and free from the commodification that depreciates the meaning of place” (Ley 2003: 2535). The artist’s antipathy towards commerce and convention as well as their minimal income, move them to a neighborhood pre-gentrification, but with the immense cultural capital artists acquire, other professionals similarly minded embark on this relocation. Ley applies Bourdieu’s theoretical work in the field of cultural production to the artist’s position. Artists have a different form of capital, which nonetheless puts them in the dominant class; gentrifies are the key actors of the process but artists comprise a set of facilitators (2003:2541). “It is the societal valorization of the cultural competencies of the artist that brings followers richer in economic capital” (2003: 2541).
Furthermore, the gentrified neighborhood aesthetic changes to be a visible embedded landscape. New housing developments and physical consumer venues such as fancy restaurants, high-end boutiques and expensive coffee shops cater to a more affluent group of people (Patch 2004). The embedded landscape symbolizes gentrification in the physical space, “how does a gentrified neighborhood actually appear and how does that appearance reflect the incompleteness of the process?” (Patch 2004: 169). Industrial and ethnically diverse neighborhoods become the landscape for the “reinvested core” (Hackworth 2001). The neighborhood that is to be “reinvested” or “revitalized” already has an aesthetic pleasing to the artist gentrification facilitator. Patch (2004) emphasizes a process of the new embedding itself in the old, a visual sociological approach to the site of the gentrified neighborhood. “Ethnic identities are a strong part of the visual landscape” (175). In most gentrified neighborhoods the ethnicities that prevailed remain in the observable scene as do its people to some degree. Alongside the churches, flags and other ethnic aesthetics are the prominence of gentrifier productions. “They [people] share various components of the built environment that fosters social groupings to create, maintain and change both social and physical space” (DeSena 2006: 241). The interaction or lack of interaction between residents in the new and old physical venues affirms their identities.
New York City has witnessed gentrifying neighborhoods. Regions such as the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and Brooklyn Heights have already experienced the phenomenon. Scholars cite the case of Brooklyn Heights as a prime example of the process, calling it “super-gentrification (Lees 2003). Having already undergone the progression into a middle class neighborhood, it is now being intensified into a group of elites financed through the global finance and corporate service industries (Lees 2003). The case of Brooklyn Heights, gentrified and then super-gentrified provides an exemplary source in which to observe the process. Brooklyn Heights was one of the first neighborhoods in the US to gentrify in 1962, thus it provides the ‘how-to’ in the gentrification pseudo-manual.
The literature provides case studies of Williamsburg as well, in terms of its industrial history and new artist community. However, little is stated about the disputed neighborhood of ‘East Williamsburg.’ Curran (2007) discusses the industrial displacement of the neighborhood, where it was once an easy walk for residents to their manufacturing jobs in the nearby factories. As more young adults move into the space, those industrial components become less important and thus displaced. The growing demands for converted warehouse space into ‘loft’ apartments has aided in the industrial displacement. With the influx of new residents, blue-collar workers have had to find new places in which to partake in manufacturing businesses. Although Curran’s case study conducts research on Williamsburg as a whole and how industrial displacement is a factor in the gentrification process, it doesn’t explore issues of the local residents and their perceptions of the neighborhood. The embedded landscape of gentrified neighborhoods allows for the understanding of how individuals form their identities around these spaces, such as Williamsburg’s gentry identity with loft spaces. The restaurants, coffee shops, bars, boutiques, tiendas or other consumer driven spaces allow the physical crossing of boundaries between both long term residents and gentry residents, meanwhile, the implications for the social boundary crossings may be certainly different.
According to the New York City Department of City Planning, Bushwick is designated as Community District Four within the borough of Brooklyn. The official boundaries of the neighborhood include Flushing Ave, Broadway, Evergreen Cemetery, Irving Ave, Wyckoff Ave and Cypress Ave. Meanwhile Williamsburg is contained within Community District 1, which is shared with Greenpoint. The official boundaries include the East River, Kent Ave, Flushing Ave and Newtown Creek. While the city government delineates these lines, local residents’ define Bushwick and Williamsburg borders differently in association with their identities.
As Flushing Ave is the official border dividing Community Districts 1 and 4, we focused our research on this street and the branching off streets. We also paid extensive attention to the surrounding area of the Morgan Ave stop on the L train, where “young pioneers” delve into Bushwick/“East Williamsburg” to form a community around the metro street exit at Bogart St. Contained on this street, less than a block from the train stop, are commercial venues built within older warehouse space. The Archive, a coffee shop with a cup ranging between $3 to $4, adjacent to Brooklyn’s Natural, an organic grocery store, serve as two commercial venues on Bogart St. that cater to the influx of the “gentry”. Along with Life Café 983 and the Wreck Room, two cafes that moonlight as bars on Flushing Ave, we utilized these predominantly “gentry” business spaces as settings for participant observation and semi-structured interviews. The Bogart St. commercial venues were selected because of their proximity to McKibbin Lofts, a residence catering to young people in their mid-twenties. Meanwhile, the Flushing Ave locations were recommended by a new resident to the area while at The Archive. The association and appeal of these locations to the incoming gentry population finalized their selection as venues in which to conduct our research. We sought to observe the ways in which these spaces were used to symbolize a sense of identity. Along with observing interactions, we asked questions that addressed who occupied the space and whether these spaces were shared or contested.
While the venues catered to the “East Williamsburg” population, they attracted non-gentrifying residents as well, though to a lesser degree. Within this same framework, we sought to observe at locations that had resided in the neighborhood on a longer-term basis and appealed to the local Bushwick population. These included Chubsy Wubsy, a pizza shop on Bushwick Ave less than a block from Flushing Ave, and Tina’s Place Restaurant, serving diner style food 24 hours directly on Flushing Ave and near the Morgan L stop. Due to the centrality of the sites they received on occasion, some of the influx of young newcomers. Observing the movement in and out of the settings and group interactions allowed us to examine the boundaries of the groups and claiming of the spaces. The final specific location used as a site was Brooklyn Fireproof East, a bar on Ingraham St. This locale represents a unique setting where its location facilitates a situation where the local population and influx of newcomers cross boundaries and intermingle. The bar is part of an alley, on a street filled with warehouses and little else. It is located across from the Doe Fund, a non-profit that works with low-income, homeless and previously incarcerated individuals to empower them to establish permanent self-sufficiency. The proximity of these two spaces inevitably intertwines two groups of people enjoying a drink at Fireproof East. We observed and engaged inside this setting and attempted to view how the groups created, crossed and enforced boundaries. The claiming of space was enacted through the actions and dispositions of the characters involved, meanwhile we utilized these micro level analyses to construct a greater understanding of the “East Williamsburg”/Bushwick context.
We began with a mapping of the cultural terrain through the research method of a Grand Tour. Our first venture was to observe embedded symbols of gentrification in the landscape of the area. We sought to analyze street signs, locations of shops and restaurants, painted murals, graffiti, building signs, locations of security cameras, local event flyers, parks, vacant lots, aesthetic décor, and pet waste clean up signs. These symbols serve to survey the specific streets and sites that serve different members of the community. They also operate to provide knowledge on the landscape of a neighborhood in the process of gentrification. The changing streets and symbols become a visible topography of gentrification as it is manifested in the physical space.
Our research team collected census information in order to quantify data before entering the neighborhood space. The American Census Bureau was utilized in population statistics meanwhile, drawing upon that, the American Community Survey measures the demographic, economic and housing profiles in separate documents for the three-year period of 2006-2008. To compare, we also employed use of the 2000 Census and Change (1990-2000), which measures along the same lines as the ACS. Although the 2010 Census is not yet available, a comparison of these can give a scope as to how the neighborhood has changed in recent years. The New York City Department of Planning Brooklyn Community Districts 1 and 4 data was used in these census statistics, they measured housing demographics broken down by age, education and income. The foreign-born population, language proficiency, childcare and schools were quantified as well. This information is used to understand the background of the neighborhood. Being that there is no official “East Williamsburg” community profile, we surveyed those of both Bushwick (district 4) and Williamsburg (district 1) in order to gain a background of the measurable data on the region to understand the qualitative data we collected.
Alongside the participant-observation and semi-structured interviews conducted in the various venues around the neighborhood, we developed structured interviews to consult with individual informants. These residents provided us with life histories regarding their years living in the area, the location of their work and reasons they moved to the area or are currently staying in the gentrifying space. Through examining the narratives, we extrapolated their associations with particular physical spaces and the rhetoric they employed that would serve as an identity marker. Furthermore, we identified how gentrification as a phenomena was playing a role in their lives or remained at their sidelines. With these interviews, we gained insight on how these groups negotiate space and cross or do not cross boundaries of class.
Gentrification has received extensive coverage by the media, by activists, and by scholars. Being as such, many people are cognizant of the process and internalize meanings as to how it affects them. Despite one of the characteristics of the third-wave gentrification process being the decrease from the second-wave in activist organizations, Bushwick’s Make the Road NY lobbies for affordable housing and combats gentrification. We conducted a structured interview with Jose Gonzalez, a Bushwick resident and staff member of the non-profit. Through Mr. Gonzalez and Make the Road NY, we acquired reports produced by the organization on gentrification and displacement in Bushwick. Mr. Gonzalez wrote “A Primer on Gentrification in Bushwick” which was utilized to understand the phenomena from an organization invested in keeping the cultural and ethnic vibrancy of the neighborhood alive. Make the Road NY provided their own census quantitative research data in housing vacancies for the neighborhood itself. This measure of displacement illuminated the nature of the phenomenon underway. Mr. Gonzalez also provided the research with a Policy Platform Guide compiled by Right to the City, a national alliance empowering the working class to fight against gentrification and injustices through collaborating with community organizations, researchers, academics, and lawyers. Mr. Gonzalez and Right to the City clarified the state policies surrounding gentrification and helped understand the politics encircling it. Meanwhile, Mr. Gonzalez’ community activism and identification as a long-term resident aided to the data we collected on rhetoric analysis and physical space associations demarcating a sense of identity.
Utilizing the methods of grand tour, structured and semi-structured interviews of carefully selected community members and participant-observation of commercial neighborhood venues we examined the ways in which identity was formed in the community. Through their rhetoric and self-identifying tools, they claim a space as their own while within the boundaries of another. We determined how gentrification is embodied in the physical space and how that space is claimed as an identity marker.
The Beginning of a Gentrified Neighborhood
In order to identify a gentrifying neighborhood in the beginning stages of the process, it is sometimes not sufficient to survey demographic data alone because it doesn’t illustrate a significant change due to the early onset of the process. Furthermore, we are limited to census data collected previous to 2008. Newman and Wyly’s (2006) critique of census data as limited in depicting displacement due to those individuals no longer residing in the area, must be taken into consideration while measuring neighborhood change. It does demonstrate, however, what Jose Gonzalez called “ingredients for gentrification.” The catalysts that set the stage for a neighborhood to gentrify is not only demographically evident, but is also visible in the physical landscape of the neighborhood. “This combination of economic transformation, class reformation, and new cultural demands creates the material conditions for gentrification” (Patch 2004: 169). Along with media promotion, Mr. Gonzalez identifies a high proportion of renters, proximity to Manhattan, low housing values, aesthetic valorization of the ethnic neighborhood and public policies as “ingredients” suggesting Bushwick’s early stages of gentrification.
According to the New York City Department of Planning, the American Community Survey from 2006-2008 identified Community District 4, Bushwick, as being made up of a 68% Latino or Hispanic ethnicity while whites make up 24.5% of the neighborhood population estimated at 128,114. Conversely, Community District 1, Williamsburg, is demographically composed of an 81.1% of whites while the Hispanic or Latino ethnic residents make up 26% of their 146,856-population estimate. Williamsburg, an already gentrified neighborhood, is used as a variable for comparison due to the gentry’s influx to Bushwick relating socio-economically and culturally to the District 1 residents. It also serves to illustrate an expectation in the process of gentrification, insofar as Williamsburg’s status as an artistic, alternative community is being attached through the “East Williamsburg” real estate moniker to the Bushwick border. “Neighborhoods take on an increasing importance in the expression of status as well as a nurturing realm of reassurance related to personal identity” (Atkinson 2006: 822). To exemplify the aspect of change in the demographic neighborhood profile, we utilized the 2000 U.S. Census data accessed through the Population Division of the NYC Department of City Planning (Dec. 2001). The year 2000 presents Williamsburg as having a population estimate of 160,338 composed of 48% white, non-Hispanic and 37.7% of a Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. On the east side of Flushing Ave, Bushwick’s 104,358-estimate population was made up of a 67.2 % Latino or Hispanic ethnicity while whites made up only 2.9%. Although I am not suggesting that there is an exclusive race or ethnic composition to gentrification, this data serves to indicate that there is a change in the demographic composition of the neighborhood. Bushwick’s dramatic increase in its white population, although not a complete overhaul as the jump in Williamsburg from 48% to 81.1%, indicates a shift in neighborhood and real-estate development where the conditions and amenities are being appropriated to house and maintain “a professional white middle class groomed to serve the center of America's ‘postindustrial’ society” (Deutsche & Ryan 1984:93). The influx of whites in Bushwick gives the indication that real-estate development is priming the neighborhood to be gentrified.
Other statistics derived from the Department of City Planning indicate the prospect that Bushwick is in the beginning stages of the gentrification process. Out of Community District 4’s 39,458 housing units occupied, only 17.6% of the occupants own the property while renters make up 82.4% (American Community Survey, Nov. 2009). Smith (1982) understands gentrification in economic terms of relations in capital investments and production in urban landscapes. He links these specifically to the devaluing of inner city property as capital was spent on developing rural and suburban communities post WWII. Smith refers to the values in property as ground rent, “the crucial economic force mediating this relation [uneven development due to the economic relation of suburban and urban], at the urban scale, is ground rent” (1982: 145). This in turn, creates the rent gap, which stands on opposing ends of the potential for capital of the ground rent and the actual revenue it is currently producing. Once the space between the potential and the actual profits becomes wide enough, meaning the ground rent is sufficiently low with a greater valorization of the land, real estate developers and community developers invest in inner-city properties to profit from new higher paying tenants. Smith’s mode of production for economic capital defines the necessity for the area to include a high number of property renters as well as a low housing value. Bushwick’s 82.4% of rental occupants and low comparative housing value of those rented units against those of Williamsburg, sets up the situation of a rent gap where developers become interested in the potential profit that redevelopment and reinvestment would revenue.
“The transportation system for example, makes some locations more accessible and therefore (generally) more favorable, leading to higher land processes which represent nothing but higher capital ground rent” (Smith 1982: 145). Bushwick’s proximity to Manhattan and availability of two train routes, the L and the M subway lines, serve as another “ingredient” for gentrification. The 2006-2008 American Community Survey (ACS) identifies 65% of its population that uses public transportation to commute to work, similar statistics in Williamsburg reveal that 61.8% of its population utilize public transportation. The ease of accessibility and prevalence in using public transportation are one of the features that valorize the neighborhood as a candidate for real-estate development. In addition to this, the marketing of the neighborhood through the media formulates a desirable reputation associated with living in the region. A New York Times article titled “Psst… Have You Heard About Bushwick?” calls the area “the next new neighborhood.” “In New York, location starts out as having to do with subway lines-in this case the L train” (Sullivan 2006, para. 7). Recognizing the neighborhood’s candidacy for “redevelopment” or gentrification, the article interchanges and recognizes the disputes identifying the claimed space through the terms of “East Williamsburg” and Bushwick. In the promotional discourse employed by the piece, Bushwick is described as catering to artists, low priced, vegetarian options are mentioned at local restaurants, and is overall described as a “cool place” and “the next hot neighborhood” (Sullivan 2006, para. 20). Presenting this region as the place to be, adds fuel to the real-estate developers to close the increasing rent gap between the cultural value’s profitability and the low housing value.
The ACS measures more than 40% of the Bushwick residents live under the poverty level, the economic profile does not provide household number by income and thus the numbers could be higher. The economic, social and housing data allow for a quantitative measure of a changing neighborhood. These characteristics provide ingredients that would surmise Bushwick’s early stages in the process of gentrification. Although not conclusive on their own, they formulate a concise calculation of the changes being enacted and their factoring into Smith’s economic production theory of uneven development. Along with these analyses, utilizing our research method of a Grand Tour we identified symbols that indicate gentrification in the form of an observable embedded landscape. This concept is taken from Patch (2004) in his analysis of the visual sociology of Williamsburg. While he based his study in an already gentrified neighborhood, arguing that its landscape reflects that; we proposed an investigation of the landscape that signals the imminent beginning stages of gentrification. Rather than exposing what a gentrified neighborhood actually looks like, we exposed a visual topography of a neighborhood beginning to gentrify with potential and expectations to gentrify further.
Deutsche and Ryan (1984) examined how artists were facilitators in the aesthetic revamping of the Lower East Side. Similarly Ley (2003) researched the artist influence in assisting the progression of gentrification in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. DeSena (2009) identified the Williamsburg gentry population as being overwhelmingly populated by those who convey an artist identification. Along the same lines, Hackwoth (2007) placed the distinctive artist population popularization of Brooklyn’s DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bride Overpass). There is no doubt that artists, in global cities, assist in the facilitation of a cultural valorization of the neighborhood leading to gentrification. This identification is noted by the residents themselves and will be discussed further along in my paper. Being that they are facilitators not determinants to the process, the aesthetics of the neighborhood change to cater to their needs. It would safe to surmise, that Bushwick receiving a strong gentry population identifying with Williamsburg, would exhibit changes in the embedded landscape that signals an artist culture accommodation.
“The new gentrification landscape is a mesh of ethnic aesthetics, industrial forms and gentrifier productions” (Patch 2004: 176). The surrounding landscape of Flushing Ave, the border of Williamsburg and Bushwick, illustrates an industrial setting with several active warehouses and functioning manufacturers. While in Williamsburg, these have decreased in use, Bushwick’s industrial sector is highly active. Against this backdrop, amenities for the ethnic populations stand side by side with those geared at the gentry population. Landlords in New York City encouraged the occupation of artists in loft space, which in turn created an opportunity for professional developers to sell lofts to New York professionals on the representation of “safe Bohemia” (Bridge 1995:242). Keeping this in mind, the loft space discourse is associated with the artist’s necessity for open space. Industrial buildings convert warehouse space into living lofts or artist’s lofts.
Figure 1. Lofts for Rent
Figure 2: Artist lofts advertised for rent at McKibbin Lofts
Figure 3. Close-up of sign
Figure 2 depicts a converted warehouse space into livable lofts called the McKibbin Lofts. Loft-style living became popularized for the notion of artists being able to live and labor in their workspace, as portrayed in figure 2. In the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan, Zukin (1989) recognized how artists were yearning after manufacturing spaces in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, loft living “Soho style,” has become a commodity associated with gentrification and ‘New York-style’ lofts are used as marketing tools to attract renters in cities around the world (Lees, Slater &Wyly 2008: 120). Zukin attributes the popularization of loft spaces due to what she calls, the “artistic mode of production (AMP)” (1989: 176). This refers to the utilizing of culture industries as a tool for attracting economic capital from a building instilled with cultural capital. While loft dwellers may be invested in the arts, real estate developers realized they could market the artistic aesthetic to individuals not participating in the artist community. Thus the cultural capital associated with a loft identity, was produced to generate economic capital. Figure 1 represents the marketing of loft space as nonexclusive to artists in Bushwick. Lees, Slater & Wyly (2008) cite Julie Podmore’s 1998 research on gentrification of Montreal to find that Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is generated in the loft aesthetic. She found that “patterns of taste, lifestyle, location and the use of space which revealed the practices and judgments that constitute the loft habitus” (2008: 120). In this manner, Bushwick is using the loft habitus to attract not only artists interested in use of the space, but also non-artists searching to identify with the loft aesthetic by the artistic mode of production.
While the loft aesthetic is deeply connected to the industrial landscape, most gentrified neighborhoods are limited with the amount of active industrial companies in the region. The majority has been displaced due to the attractiveness of the space for residential loft conversion (Curran 2007). Bushwick/“East Williamsburg” however, continues to have a very active industrial sector embedded in its landscape. The effect is quite startling, as we walked down
the street spaces would be very noisy bustling with trucks, lifts, cherry pickers, and inaudible clamor. Meanwhile, along the same street, directly past a manufacturing business, we would stumble upon a café adorned with painted murals and young people skulking around its outside. One such instance of this effect was experienced on a warehouse building. Exposed brick, a sliding warehouse door
FIGURE 4. Active manufacturing industry in the landscape.
FIGURE 5. The Archive Café on Bogart St.
with a padlock that no longer functions, a maze of unused hallways leading to the restroom and portable power strips placed throughout the main lounge of the café due to the lack of outlets, embodied a history of industry in a gentrified space. “In working class urban neighborhoods near the city center with historical stocks of industrial loft space, industrial displacement resulting from gentrification is remaking urban landscapes” (Curran 2007: 1439). While much of the gentrification literature focuses of working class displacement, Curran sought to identify the ways in which the manufacturing sector is being displaced. The artistic mode of production (Zukin 1989) leading to a valorization of warehouse space, is not only for residential use but is also used for amenities catering to those gentrifiers associating with the artist industrial aesthetic. The Archive, figure 5, in Bushwick is an incarnation of this process.
Long-term community residents realize these indicators that point towards a neighborhood beginning to be gentrified. In light of this, these residents have participated in claiming physical space as their own through the painting of murals. While newcomer residents employ this method as well in decorating their space, the long-term residence’s depictions can be understood as acts of resistance embedded in the physical landscape.
FIGURE 6. Brooklyn's natural side street mural.
FIGURE 7. Puerto Rican heritage display on Broadway
“Expanded reinvestment has displaced and dispersed more and more low-income renters, effectively displacing opposition and resistance itself” (Lees, Slater & Wyly 2008: 81). While resistance to gentrification has declined in the Hackworth and Smith (2001) “third wave of gentrification”, Bushwick’s Make the Road NY has proliferated an artistic endeavor to decorate spaces of the neighborhood with murals depicting the local population. The Bushwick Arts Collective is a cooperative aiming to bring Make the Road’s artistic depictions against gentrification to the wider public. Upon first learning of this, I was surprised in the way that long term resident resistors have adopted the artist aesthetic and empowered themselves to use it against gentrification. Figure 6 and figure 7 represent two different claiming of spaces through artistry. The first, figure 6, is painted on the side and front of the organic market called Brooklyn’s Natural. This is an amenity catering to a gentry population interested in the green environmental and organic movement. As such, it has been claimed through art depictions of fruits, vegetables, vines and animals. Meanwhile, figure 7 ’s representation of the Puerto Rican majority in Bushwick is enacted through an artistic depiction of the actual population. Putting faces and nationality on the physical urban structure manifests a self-identity with the space. By doing so, the ethnic majority distinguishes the space as their own while resisting its availability for others to infiltrate. Thereby, they are resisting gentrification through an artist aesthetic and embedding their ethnicity in the urban landscape.
Making Sense of Gentrification
A coffee shop on Willoughby Ave underneath the JMZ above ground subway line, about seven blocks from the L, marks the location of a new coffee shop, barely a year old, to take up residence in Bushwick. The interior housed a mismatched array of art pieces, colored walls and arbitrary objects that make up an eclectic and artistic aesthetic providing coffee, pastries, and fresh green salads. Two young partners in their late twenties run the new café, named Little Skips. “Gentrification? You’ve come to the right place,” the co-owner concedes to what she herself understands. “That’s where it starts [gentrification], with the coffee shops.” While not particularly enthusiastic to admit her new establishment was part of the greater socio-spatial change of the neighborhood, she is aware of the phenomenon and actors that play the roles of gentrifiers.
Similar to the co-owner of Little Skips, the predominant emerging pattern in our interviews was an awareness of “gentrification” as a concept and its linkage to neighborhood change. A conversation at Brooklyn’s Natural revealed a similar sentiment,
Woman: “Wow, upscale place!”
Man: “Yea, these organic places are the first wave of gentrification”
Woman: “Why aren’t they in Queens?”
Man: “That’s because there are still a lot of projects”
Others in the neighborhood identified gentrification as a neighborhood change, frequently nodding heads at the mentioning of the term. A young man in The Archive upon learning of my project exclaimed, “gentrification is a hot topic right now.” He directed me towards the ad campaign that he identified with the phenomenon, called AreyouBushwick.com. While the “hot topic” may be fueled by media attention to the experience, these gentry residents identified “markers” of gentrification. Coffee shops, boutiques, organic markets, and art space are all elements of a “bourgeois playground” (Smith 1982: 152). These elements arrived due to the influx of a foreign population, an element few gentry residents added as part of their personal narrative regarding gentrification.
Meanwhile, local long-term Bushwick residents felt different towards the term. An interview conducted with Jose Gonzalez, from Make the Road NY, revealed an awareness of the process in expressions of a racial identity marker. Referring to his friend Amir, he quotes his noticing of the gentry as a flood trickling on the L subway line. “Pay attention to the train ride, where the white people get off.” He associates a white presence in a predominantly Hispanic, Puerto Rican neighborhood as symbolic of gentrification. Mr. Gonzalez reiterated the primary fear of the local population, that of displacement of the low-income residents. Having grown up in a “Boricua” (Taino term indicating Puerto Rican heritage) housing project “up the street from McKibbin lofts,” as he put it, exhibited his close and old ties with the Bushwick community. Mr. Gonzalez noticed a “different kind of folk” taking up residence in the area during the year 2006. At this time, he also indicated the erection of new housing complexes. He remembers feeling angry that the new residences weren’t being catered to his ethnic community; this same resentment was echoed in the Bushwick residents. Exclamations in rage such as, “how do we scare these motherfuckers out of here?!” were generated towards the incoming population. Mr. Gonzalez noted that, “people were pissed.” The need to castigate an entity was manifested in blaming the gentrification process on the new residents. Despite the fact of greater state involvement in the third wave of gentrification, due to the state interest in increasing tax revenue in devalorized neighborhoods through attracting and retaining a middle class population (Hackworth & Smith 2000), those affected at the community level only see the “white folk” actors as facilitating the demise of their neighborhood.
Adam, a 24-year-old native of Saratoga, NY, was interviewed in his rented apartment in the Bushwick neighborhood. As a white, young, skater-photographer he spent much time in the public spaces of the community skateboarding and taking pictures. Having relocated here three years ago, his presence, he felt, was highly noticed. He recalled one day, while he was in the streets skateboarding, of an incident where his being there became an offense to an unidentified individual driving by in a car. “You ain’t going to last long in this neighborhood!” Although he says he was taken aback by the comment, he recognizes his position in the neighborhood as a “transplant” rather than a “deep rooted local.” Setting up a dichotomous relationship between gentry and long-term resident. He defines the self-titled “transplant,” as a young person who came into the neighborhood from somewhere else and commutes to Manhattan for work. Transplants are characterized as being temporal while “deep rooted locals” are invested in long-term commitments to the community. Adam has noticed a significant change in the community, especially he says, in the past year. He laughs at himself while expressing “I don’t want anymore white people living here.” While the angry “deep rooted” Bushwick residents have expressed this sentiment, the “transplant” Adam reveals a disassociation of his position in the gentrification process.
A three-year and 9 month resident on Bushwick Ave, Jon (J.L.), recognized “East Williamsburg popped off about four years ago.” Indicating 2006, he noticed the same waves of change that Jose Gonzalez perceived in the neighborhood. Jon’s inclination to associate himself with the local Bushwick population is enacted by his community involvement. As a marketing and design employee of Zoo York, a skateboarding company promoting New York as a prime skating city, Jon organizes a skate camp for the local Bushwick children out of his own resources. As a skateboarder, he claims to be in the neighborhood public eye frequently and assures me that the locals do not pass judgment based on appearance. Although I don’t necessarily agree with his analysis of physical characteristics not determining opinions or conclusions by the long-term residents, I value his promotion of the neighborhood for its Puerto Rican heritage. Jon asserts, “Local Spanish restaurants are the best” and refers to the new residents living in the recently constructed “trendy” apartment complex Castle Braid as “cock suckers.” His denunciation of spaces associated with gentry populations as well as his adoption of local Bushwick spaces, in which to skate and in which to dine, allows him to remove his connection as a gentrification facilitator.
Gentrification “becomes what a resident wants it to be by virtue of each person’s perception of what is happening in a neighborhood” (Cole 1985: 153). Although I do not doubt Jon’s sincerity in his statement that he “fell in love” with the neighborhood upon taking up residence, his rhetoric and language indicate a conscious awareness of gentrification while removing himself from the greater progression of the scheme. Between Jon, Adam, the young man at The Archive and the co-owners of Lil’ Skips, my research team and I delineated a discourse of cognitive dissonance. In the social psychological definition of cognitive dissonance put forth by Leon Festinger, the theory proposes that “if a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent, he experiences dissonance: a negative drive state (not unlike hunger or thirst)” (Aronson 1997:128). Due to the unpleasant feelings this creates, a person will attempt to dispel the sentiment by rationalizing or finding a way to change one or both cognitions to make them congruent with one another (Aronson 1997). While cognitive dissonance is typically associated with a mental state or process of thought, I’m arguing that the discourse utilized by “transplant” residents in our interviews reveals a displacement of their positions as gentrification facilitators. This is done through associations of social identity markers. While the Bushwick/“East Williamsburg” transplants tend to be well informed on the meaning of gentrification and how it changes a neighborhood demographically, topographically, and socially, they do not identify with gentrifiers, despite their presence assisting the creation of cultural capital where the artist aesthetic is revalorizing the neighborhood (Zukin 1989, Deutsche & Ryan 1984, Ley 2003). Jon, for instance, associates himself with the Bushwick local community in that he skates with them, uses the restaurant venues that cater to the long-term residents, and lives in a brownstone apartment. By adopting the habitus of the Bushwick pattern of life, he attempts to shed the gentrifier identity given to him by his status as a transplant. However, at the same time, Jon reveals characteristics that do not coincide with long-term resident’s “deep rooted” community investment. While he scoffs at loft residents, organic food markets, expensive cafes, and gentry amenities, he does not take an active role in combating these facilities or the influx of the population he wishes to disassociate with. Furthermore, his primary social network is comprised of other skateboarding transplants in the neighborhood, like himself. His lack of Spanish language skills and observable white race features, aid in keeping him away from Bushwick Boricua-type identification. So while, he may value the ethnic aesthetic of the community enough to adopt the Bushwick habitus, he nonetheless, as a white individual with skateboarding culture capital is revalorizing the neighborhood in Zukin’s (1989) artist (skateboarder) mode of production. In this manner, cognitive dissonance is manifested in socio-spatial identifications with amenities and residents of the community.
Who Gentrifies? Conquests of the “Trendy Frontier”
What has motivated the early gentry residents to relocate to Bushwick? Some, such as Adam narrowed his reasoning to “Bushwick is cool cause it’s cheap.” Along these same lines, the owner of the pizza shop Chubsey Wubsey rationalizes the incoming gentry as doing so because of the rising expense of living in Manhattan. Others, such as a Cooper Union student living off of Knickerbocker Ave, cite the affordable rent as well as an already established group of artist students residing in the area. On this same note, Jon’s reasoning included the presence of an already recognized community of skateboarders in the neighborhood. Both artists and skateboarders have low economic capital but high cultural capital and a strong social network (Ley 2004). Although most scholars have typically cited artists as facilitators of gentrification through the artistic mode of production, I argue that skateboarding communities assist in a similar manner. Both the artist and the skateboarder constitute a subculture of mainstream American society, where communities are formed through mediums of their craft. Those communities in turn attract gentry through a popularization of where they have taken up residences.
As facilitators of gentrification, these communities appeal towards neighborhood aesthetics that connote authentication. Ley (2004) identifies an aspect of Bourdieu’s habitus formed by aesthetic views and practices, including the valorization and occupation of space through a ‘”stylization of life” (2532). Furthermore, art to Bourdieu, should be understood not only as a material creation or a symbolic product to be viewed by an audience, but should evoke an understanding of social positions within the art world as a whole. Art cannot be art unless it’s instilled with value by the art world, “but this art world is itself shaped by the whole field of cultural production” (2532). Bourdieu’s cultural production refers to the valuing of cultural products through the hegemonic structure that delineates it as so; this valorized product is then presented for consumption to the masses. Artists belong to a dominant class, through their high cultural capital, though subjugated by others within this class. The Cooper Union student, Tommy, complained about his lack of wealth due to his entire paycheck being utilized to pay rent. Cooper Union art students have a strong reputation for being some of the best in the country; the school only admits students solely on merit and all receive full scholarships to attend. Once leaving Cooper Union, the artist cultural capital is immense while their economic status struggles to keep up. In a similar fashion, skateboarders who are sponsored or work for reputable skate companies gain celebrity status and therefore cultural capital, but little in the arena of economic revenue. Locations and neighborhoods are valorized as commodities in Bourdieu’s cultural production as a piece of the artist and skate community’s habitus.
“An old area, socially diverse, including poverty groups can be valorized as authentic, symbolically rich and free from the commodification that deprecates the meaning of the place” (Ley 2004:2535). Bushwick provides such an area. Adam asserts in our interview that “people want the real culture of NYC” as well as his fondness for Bushwick is emphasized through his statement, “the locals are ‘raw’ and ‘real’”. Meanwhile, Adam correlates Manhattan with an amusement park. This “raw” and “real” classification of Bushwick gives it a sense of authentication and thus valued as such. Manhattan’s parallel with an amusement park provides a rejected space due to its commodification taking away its legitimacy. Manhattan is thus stripped of meaning, while Bushwick’s “realness” indicates a valued space due to it’s meaning not yet taken away by commodification or later on, gentrification. However, “galleries and artists drive up rents and displace the poor” (Deutsche & Ryan). This is due to the valorization of the landscape as authentic and full of meaning as understood by artists and skateboarders with high cultural capital. Bourdieu’s cultural production applies to space in gentrification, while indicating to real estate developers the valorized status of the neighborhood and its potential to be gentrified.
The employment of a colonial discourse in media outlets and in the language of the interviewed individuals indicates a “pioneering” mentality in the process of gentrification. This in turn, ties into cultural production in that valorization of Bushwick can only come from the outside. The dominant social power delineates what spaces are suitable to be authenticated by culture. Using terms such as “the next new neighborhood” (Sullivan 2006), implicates a notion that the “old neighborhood” was invisible in the governing social sphere having not yet been valorized by cultural production; Bushwick was effectively non-existent. Atkinson (2006) identifies gentrification as a process of class colonization. Jose Gonzalez illustrated this point by noting, “white folks began exiting the L train once in Brooklyn, first at Bedford Ave, next at Lorimer St and so on down the line.” Mr. Gonzalez described what he observed as youth moving in as if there was no community before them and they were the first to establish it. This invisible community was being subjected to class colonization and the rhetoric employed illustrates such a process. A bartender at Life Café on Flushing Ave moved from Los Angeles to Bushwick four years ago because “Bushwick is the edge of civilization.” As any “edge of civilization” it needed to be conquered. The New York Times published an article entitled “Bushwick Journal; the Trendy Frontier? Eastward Ho in Brooklyn” (Barnes 2000). The title of the publication itself is embedded in colonial discourse. “For decades artists have been moving eastward along the L train, out of the East Village and into Williamsburg, in search of bigger spaces, lower rents and hipper neighborhoods” (Barnes 2000, para. 3). Described as “pioneers” and “colonizers,” the artists saddle up on their L train wagon in search for new spaces to claim as their own.
By using a discourse of colonialism it further reinforces the devalorization of the neighborhood as an invisible community. This, in turn, creates a discourse, that working class individuals are not a significant part of American society, or at the least New York City society. Dowling (2009) identifies this omission of the working class population through Wacquant’s (2008) summary, “there are workers, to be sure, but the working class as such is unfashionable, inscrutable, unnoticed if not invisible, across popular culture, politics and academic debate” (837). Bushwick’s promotion through media outlets in a colonial discourse is also employed by the gentry actors in the community. The New York Magazine calls this colonial conquest an “L-Ification” (Graeber 2005). It specifically ties to the location of the subway line and the pioneering artists that brave the Brooklyn eastward L subway. This form of new urban colonialism (Atkinson 2006) serves as an illuminant to the suppression of the working class neighborhood. Gentrification is manifested in this form urban colonialism.
Crossing Boundaries and Guarding Boundaries
“Patterns of gentrification suggest tendencies to employ social affiliation in the neighborhood setting as a means of generating the critical mass by which residence is made consonant with personal identity” (Atkinson 2006: 822). Two distinctive populations along the Flushing Ave border share the neighborhood space of Bushwick/ “East Williamsburg”. As residence is made synonymous with personal identity, the coexisting populations envision the shared space differently. Certain spaces are allocated and claimed by the groups in the neighborhood, which allow for identity formation around the spaces. As such, boundaries are enacted that divide defining characteristics of the gentry group and long term resident group.
Physical consumer and commercial venues are reserved for respective populations. Through participant-observation at Fireproof East Bar on Ingraham St, the intermingling of the diverse population shed light on the boundaries enacted in a gentrified neighborhood. Fireproof East Bar was described by Jon as “designed and marketed for white people but across the street from the Doe Fund where recently freed convicts were trained to get work, so they come in a lot and makes an interesting setting.” The Doe Fund works with several differentiated individuals to empower them to sustain a job and livelihood. The “interesting setting” described by Jon is simply a sharing of space by young gentry and older ex-cons and ex-homeless people. Within this locale, we observed that the social boundaries put in place through claiming of physical spaces were enacted within the bar. Gentry residents generally kept to themselves while the Doe Fund individuals stayed within their own social realm. Deviations to this evening’s bar norm included the engagement of the bartender in extensive, non-consumer related, and conversation with a member of the Doe Fund. Although in this setting, I didn’t interact with the residents to the degree that I had wished, it did provide valuable micro-level observation of the enactment of guarding boundaries.
“The reproduction and maintenance of bounded class identities that are integral to this colonization are inherently spatial and more specifically productive of spatial segregation” (Rowling 2009: 837). While spatial segregation may be enacted through reproductions of bounded class identities, the Bushwick context is slightly differed. Due to the “transplant” population’s valorization of neighborhood authenticity, there exhibits a concern among some residents to maintain Bushwick’s alternate topography. “I don’t want the neighborhood to change further, if it does, it looses its appeal in the first place,” Tommy expressed this concern. Through the observation at Fireproof East Bar and subsequent ones at Tina’s Place Restaurant, we evaluated the boundaries surrounding identities of long-term residents and “transplants.” From observable inclinations, we surmised that boundaries were enforced insofar as groups were interacting socially within. In Tina’s, gentry residents tended to sit together while long-term residents sat at separate tables. Although this should be expected, after several returns to the restaurant, the observable enacting of boundaries remained the same. Tina’s Place was marketed on some websites and food guides as located in Bushwick while others claimed its location “East Williamsburg.” Having been opened for 40 years, the claiming of this space was being negotiated between gentry residents and long term residents who had know the diner for years. In its state of current flux, both populations enact boundaries which sharing the space.
Instances where these boundaries were crossed came in the form of those who are facilitators to gentrification, artists and skateboarders, utilizing these skills that distinguish them as a subculture to cross identity borders. Jon’s community involvement in teaching neighborhood children how to skateboard has made him a valued individual in the eyes of the children’s parents. In a similar way, Adam indicated how he lives across the street from a boy’s foster home. His consistency of being in the public neighborhood spaces, skating, made him a local presence. As such, the foster home boys ventured outdoors to meet Adam. He indicated that he frequently helps the kids with their techniques in skating. “Its no big deal… I would be skating regardless, why not help some kids with tricks while I’m at it?” His immediate acceptance by the neighborhood children once moved into the neighborhood, allowed an easier transition to non-resistance by the older residents. Adam has noted that the residents have been less resistant to his presence, at least on his block. All the same, he has formed relationships with his neighbors who “know a bunch of white kids live here.” Jon, on the other hand, although involved in the community asserts in regard to his neighbors, “we’ve been living side by side, they don’t even each other.”
A final instance of crossing boundaries is within the scope of community activism at the ground level by gentry residents. Bushwick City Farm is a project by an individual young woman, Mosha, who decided the many empty lots of the industrial Bushwick neighborhood should be converted into a sustainable garden offering free food to members of the community. The garden surrounded by buildings is located on Broadway St and Arion Pl. My research team and I stumbled upon this location completely accidentally but it revealed one of the strongest instances of crossing socio-spatial boundaries. Figures 7, 8 and 9 depict the community’s garden, still in its beginning processes of development. The conversion of empty lot space into usable food production space is unique against the backdrop of an industrial landscape.
FIGURE 7. Industrial garden between buildings FIGURE 8. Comida Gratis
Language as an identity tool is used to form and maintain boundaries surrounding ethnicity. Mosha, who would be identified as a “transplant” due to her newness to the area, is breaking this boundary through her capability to speak Spanish. All the signs advertising the gardens are written in both Spanish and English. Exemplifying a unification of both boundary sets of the Bushwick populations. Along with language, the garden is completely volunteer-generated and sustained through voluntary efforts. This creates a need for as many residents as possible to work on the lot, as it is still only beginning to be build up. Chickens and some planted seeds constitute the beginnings of a city farm, volunteers range from other gentry residents, the Hispanic landlord of the next door building and other Puerto Rican inhabitants. The inherent nature of the space is shared, not claimed by any one group. This is embodied through language and movement of those participant actors. Bridge (1995) refers back to Bourdieu’s habitus as a set of shared dispositions producing social units. The Bushwick City Gardens meld the habitus of both population boundaries into a collective community development disposition. DeSena (2006) plays out the interaction between physical and social spaces, delineating how groups associate with the built environment to foster boundaries for social groupings. The Bushwick “transplant” population form their identities around physical spaces embedded in the landscape such as The Archive, Life Café, Brooklyn’s Natural and the Wreck Room. In the same fashion, Bushwick residents associate with ethnic enclaves also embedded in the setting of the neighborhood. Spaces that are shared, like Bushwick City Garden, represent a unique crossing of socio-spatial boundaries resulting in community development through cooperation past class divisions.
Jose Gonzales’s “A Primer on Gentrification in Bushwick,” produced through Make the Road NY, delineates the process of gentrification as having three stages. “Rogue” or “marginal” gentrifiers characterize the first stage; many times they include students, artists, gays, and lesbians (Gonzalez 5). Housing sought after includes affordability, close to a commercial core and racially and culturally diverse. The presence of students, artists, gays and lesbians allows for the valorization of the neighborhood, which due to the group’s high cultural capital, attracts real estate developers and new possible gentrifying residents through Bourdieu’s cultural production theory. The second stage, is characterized as an acknowledgment of the process and promotion of the neighborhood as “up and coming” reaches those outside the community. As gentrifying residents move in, landlords displace low-income occupants to make room for wealthier tenants in order to earn greater revenues. With the influx of the wealthier gentry, amenities that cater to more affluent residents become available (Gonzalez 5).
In my analysis of Bushwick and “East Williamsburg,” I attempted to show an assessment that the area was indeed undergoing the process of gentrification, despite the lack of quantitative data on displacement available. Through the embedded symbols of gentrification, I provided a visual topography of the region’s landscape in order to display a visual analysis of the appearance in an early gentrifying neighborhood. By illustrating this, I strived to correlate the Census quantitative data, demonstrating measurable ingredients catalyzing gentrification, with the visual investigation of the embedded landscape. Along with this, I presented Zukin’s (1989) artistic mode of production in the context of the Bushwick aesthetic to support the valorization of loft space and presence of artists as mediums leading towards gentrification.
Once identified that there tends to be a gentrifying artistic agent, I sought to understand how gentrifiers perceive their orientation in the process and in the their relations to the neighborhood. What I found was a discourse of cognitive dissonance, where an awareness of the process was present but a disassociated perception of the individual’s agency in the process was also realized. Gentrification can be said to be a urban class colonization process (Atkinson 2006). The rhetoric used in media and by individuals was concluded to identify the process as a manifestation of hegemonic class relations, where the working class was perceived as invisible. This leads me to believe, that the unnoticed working class population in the gentrifying neighborhood allows the prospect of displacement to be outside the realm of the real-estate developer’s and policy maker’s sphere of concern. Thereby, perpetuating “redevelopment” at the state level to be more rigorous than it has in the previous two waves of gentrification (Hackworth & Smith 2001).
Artists and skateboarders make up two distinctive, yet not mutually exclusive, subculture groups that perpetuate gentrification through their high cultural capital yet low economic status. Their influence in Bushwick has been noticed through the prevalence of a loft aesthetic as well as amenities catering to this population. Physical spaces are claimed as identity markers and boundary formers, around socio-spatial characterizations. These boundaries are crossed through art, skating and community development in Bushwick between the gentry residents and long-term residents.
There is no doubt, that Bushwick or “East Williamsburg,” is undergoing the second stage of gentrification outlined by Jose Gonzalez. The internalization of gentrification as manifesting in the visual topography, community of gentry, ingredients for the neighborhood to gentrify, colonial discourse of conquest and devalorization of the working-class population all point towards the region being gentrified. Key facilitators such as artists and skateboarders, dissociate themselves as important catalysts of the process, meanwhile they consolidate their identities built around gentrified embedded space. The constructed gentrified socio-spatial identity comes at odds with their attempt of removal from the process already embedded in their residential spatial identify and consequent habitus.
American Community Survey. (November 2009). New York Community Housing Profile 2006-2009. New York City Department of Planning, retrieved from www.nyc.gov
American Community Survey. (November 2009). New York Community Economic Profile 2006-2009. New York City Department of Planning, retrieved from www.nyc.gov
American Community Survey. (November 2009). New York Community Demographic Profile 2006-2009. New York City Department of Planning, retrieved from www.nyc.gov
American Community Survey. (November 2009). New York Community Social Profile 2006-2009. New York City Department of Planning, retrieved from www.nyc.gov
Aronson, E. (1997). Review: Back to the Future: Retrospective Review of Leon Festinger’s “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance” American Journal of Psychology 110(1), 127-137.
Atkinson, R. (2006). Padding the Bunker; Strategies for Middle-class Disaffiliation and Colonization of the City. Urban Studies 43(4), 819-832.
Barnes, J. (July 2000). Bushwick Journal, The Trendy Frontier? Eastward Ho in Brooklyn. The New York Times (NY). Retrieved May 3, 2010 from www.nytimes.com
Bridge, G. (2001). Bourdieu, Rational Action and the Time-Space Strategy of Gentrification. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 26(2), 205-216.
Bridge, G. (1995). The Space for Class? On Class Analysis in the Study of Gentrification. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 20(2), 236-237.
Cole, D. (1985). Gentrification, Social Identity, and Personal Identity. American Geographical Society 75(2), 142-155.
Curran, W. (2007). ‘From the Frying Pan to the Oven’: Gentrification and the Experience of Industrial Displacement in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Urban Studies 44(8), 1427-1440.
DeSena, J. (2006). “What’s a Mother to Do?”: Gentrification, School Selection and the Consequences of Community Cohesion. American Behavioral Scientist 50(2), 241-257.
Deutsche R. and Ryan C. (1984). The Fine Art of Gentrification. The MIT Press, 31, 91-111.
Dowling, R. (2009). Geographies of Identity: Landscapes of Class. Progress in Human Geography 33(6), 833-839.
Freeman, L. (2006). There Goes the ‘Hood'. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Freeman, L. and Braconi, F. (2004). Gentrification and Displacement. Journal of the American Planning Associations 70(1), 39-52.
Freeman, L. (2005). Displacement or Succession? Residential Mobility in Gentrifying Neighborhoods. Urban Affairs Review 40(4), 463-491.
Graeber, C. (October 2005). L-Ification. New York Magazine (NY). Retrieved May 3, 2010 from www.nymag.com
Hackworth, J. and Smith, N. (2000). The Changing State of Gentrification. Economische en Sociale Geographic 92(4), 464-477.
Hackworth, J. (2002). Postrecession Gentrification in New York City. Urban Affairs Review 37(6), 815-843.
Hamnet, C. (1991). The Blind Men and the Elephant: The Explanation of Gentrification. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 16(2), 173-189.
Lees, L. (2000). A Reappraisal of Gentrification: Towards a ‘geography of gentrification’. Progress in Human Geography 24(3), 389-408.
Lees, L. (2003). Super-gentrification: The case of Brooklyn Heights, New York City. Urban Studies 40 (12), 2487-2509.
Lees, L., Slater, T., and Wyly, E. (2008) Gentrification. New York: Routledge.
Ley, D. (2003). Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentrification. Urban Studies 40(12), 2527-2544.
Low, S. (1996). The Anthropology of the Cities: Imagining and Theorizing the City. Annual Review of Anthropology 25, 383-409.
Marcuse, P. (1985). Gentrification, Abandonment, and Displacement: Connections, Causes and Policy Responses in New York City. Journal of Urban and Contemporary Law 28(195), 195-240.
Mumm, J. (2008). Redoing Chicago: Gentrification, Race and Intimate Segregation. North American Dialogue 11(1), 16-19.
Newman, K. and Wyly, E. (2006). The Right to Stay Put, Revisited: Gentrification and Resistance to Displacement in New York City. Urban Studies 43(1), 23-57.
Patch, J. (2004). The Embedded Landscape of Gentrification. Visual Studies 19(2), 169-186.
Slater, T. (2006). The Eviction of Critical Perspectives from Gentrification Research. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30(4), 737-57.
Smith, N. (1982). Gentrification and Uneven Development. Economic Geography 58(2), 139-155.
Sullivan, R. (March 2006). Psst…Have You Heard About Bushwick? The New York Times (NY). Retrieved May 3, 2010 from www.nytimes.com
U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). New York City Community District Profiles SF-1. Retrieved from www.nyc.gov