The image of the new Brooklyn has, “with remarkable speed,” almost entirely displaced the image of the old Brooklyn, wrote New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott apropos of Spike Lee’s now notorious rant against gentrification at a Black History Month event in February. In movies, television, books and real life, the old Brooklyn was a melting pot of ethnic communities from which the ambitious fled. The new Brooklyn shares much with Portlandia, said the story.
The tension built into the “Brooklyn” brand is that it’s both a local, artisanal, communal protest against the homogenizing forces of corporate culture and a new way of being bourgeois, and as such participating in the destruction of non-middle-class social space. Its rebellious energies are focused largely on restaurants, retail and real estate.
The story ends by saying the old Brooklyn is not quite gone, and the artists and writers who live in the borough now must write (or make art) about the two Brooklyns.
The Brooklyn of that time, as recalled by Mr. Lethem and Mr. Lee, is a place where a painter and a writer — or a schoolteacher and a musician — could raise their children in relative comfort. It was also a place where such families lived in close, sometimes uncomfortable proximity to people in very different circumstances, where class and race could not be wished away. That Brooklyn still exists and cannot entirely be bought out, built over or exiled to the kingdom of memory. It will be the task of the artists and writers who live there now, native and otherwise, to discover it.
We already touched on this topic yesterday in our reblog of primary news, but late yesterday the Times had a sweeping story about how this year’s primaries show the power of the new Brooklyn.
In New York City, few stories have gotten more attention in recent years than the ascendancy of Brooklyn. What was once a national punch line became a catch phrase for urban cool — and very costly urban cool, at that. But on Tuesday night, with Bill de Blasio emerging as the top vote-getter in the Democratic primary and Joseph J. Lhota winning the Republican nomination, Brooklyn moved to center stage politically in a way not seen in decades. Both candidates hail from the borough, and both were propelled by constituencies that populate it. It was like a variation on an often repeated line: Brooklyn is the new Manhattan. Now, Brooklyn is not only the new kingmaker, but also the borough of kings — or at least of the next mayor and the next public advocate, too.
New York City last elected a mayor from Brooklyn in 1973, when the borough was a very different place. “That Brooklyn would be almost unrecognizable today — grittier, poorer, more dangerous. Brownstone Brooklyn has evolved into a gentrified destination for growing numbers of upper-middle-class singles and young couples seeking intimate neighborhoods, artisanal shops and restaurants, and liberal politics,” said the story. The borough — which now, of course, has its own major-league sports team, arena, and tons of Brooklyn based businesses and brands — is seeing a major growth spurt in both jobs and population. The number of people living in Brooklyn is up more than 60,000 since 2010. We are nearing our population peak of 2.7 million, which occurred in 1950.
Another interesting demographic shift the story noted: Black people increasingly live in Brooklyn, not Manhattan. “The city’s black political center of gravity has shifted from Harlem to Brooklyn, which now accounts for more than 4 in 10 black voting-age New Yorkers (compared with a little more than 1 in 10 in Manhattan),” said the Times.
Lastly, the election perhaps signaled an exasperation with the Manhattan-centric Bloomberg mayorality. Do you agree?
Bonjour Brooklyn! That’s the name of a feature in this month’s Vogue that shows models who live in Brooklyn posing with their children in front of borough landmarks, such as Jane’s Carousel and the Bedford Cheese Shop. Here’s the intro: “Models, writers, actors, and artists have been flocking to New York’s Left Bank for its destination restaurants, bustling farmers’ markets, Parisian-style parks, and passionate dedication to l’art de vie. Welcome to the new bohemian chic.” (See Lily Aldridge wearing a matador style top and pants by Stella McCartney to eat at Rucola with her daughter, Dixie Pearl. Except for the children’s names, it’s just like Manhattan.) In another article in the same issue, about pearls making a comeback, the author remarks, “after all, it’s nearly impossible to turn a corner in Brooklyn without seeing some hip chick in Delettrez’s signature earrings — a solitary gold arc bookended by a pearl on one side and an enamel charm on the other.” Uh, what?
Coincidentally, The Atlantic has a story this week on the very same topic. It asks: “Is it still possible to be a bohemian in today’s New York City, where average rents now surpass $3,000 a month? Or are the rents just too damn high? And — if they are — what does this mean for the future of artists and intellectuals of the sort who have long been as much a part of the natural order of the city as pigeons and locust trees?”
Their piece was inspired by another story in literary magazine N+1 lamenting the sinking financial prospects of bohemian intellectuals. We remember just before N+1 launched going to a party where some of its founders lived in an inexpensive preserved-in-amber apartment off Broadway in South Williamsburg, back when it was a little bit scary to venture so far down Bedford after dark. This was in 2003 or so — a decade ago.
The Atlantic story ends with a very typical thought: Maybe if artists have to struggle financially, their art will be better. Well, they’re not all struggling. Artist Jack Pierson just bought a former knitting mill in Ridgewood. Oh wait, that’s Queens (the part that used to be Brooklyn). Do you think that if artists have to struggle financially, they’ll be too busy working at ad agencies and fancy restaurants to pay the rent (or the mortgage) to make any art?
Journalist Henry Alford embedded himself in North Brooklyn hipster culture and wrote about his experience in the Styles section of the Times. Appropriately, given the state of the borough these days, he stays at the Wythe Hotel (rather than, say, an illegal loft cooperative in Bushwick), gets a shave at Barber and Supply, rides a fixie, and takes a butchering class at 3rd Ward. His conclusion? The kids may be a little precious but they’re all right. “I’d much rather have a young Abe Lincoln serve me his roof-grown mâche than I would have an F. Scott Fitzgerald vomit all over my straw boater,” he said. How I Became a Hipster [NY Times]
Some designers, artists, professors and branding experts are attempting to crowdsource the graphic identity of Brooklyn via Kickstarter and the Web, as FIPS pointed out. Here’s how they put it on their Kickstarter page:
In recent years Brooklyn’s culture has received national and international attention due to its booming arts and maker cultures juxtaposed with its historical significance in the United States. As Brooklynites and Brooklyn-lovers, we want tap into the borough´s pulse and make it the world’s first community branded by participatory design. We, a micro-collective of award-winning artists and branding experts, have designed a four-part project that allows Brooklynites and people from around the world to contribute to the cultural identity of this borough. (more…)
Brooklyn is now so popular that its population is growing at a rate of 2.4 percent, more than any other New York City borough, according to Real Estate Weekly. If the growth continues at that pace, Brooklyn will overtake Chicago as the third largest city (if it were a separate city) sometime in the next 12 years. Then again, Chicago is growing at the slowest rate of all the large metro areas in the U.S., according to the Census. “For the first time since before 1950, more people are coming to New York City than leaving,” said Mayor Bloomberg. Demand is causing real estate prices to boom, and in turn, new construction may be helping to draw new residents into the borough. “In 2012, investment sales were $4 billion, a 106 percent jump over the year prior…The dollar value for commercial transactional jumped 383 percent from 2011, while office product rose 314 percent,” said the story. Meanwhile, as readers of this blog already know, “apartment prices in prime Brooklyn neighborhoods are now fast approaching $1,000 per square foot, comparable in cost to Manhattan.” (more…)
Is there anything more to say about Brooklyn cool? We thought the topic was exhausted, but over the weekend The New York Times’ T Magazine examined the meaning of Brooklyn as a brand in a brief essay. “To the extent ‘Brooklyn’ now designates more than a mere landmass, it means: small-batch production, urban husbandry, period facial hair, a fixed-gear bicycle, ‘Girls,’ ” the author found. Confusingly, however, areas as diverse and long-standing in their own culture as parts of Paris, Berlin and Stockholm are now said to be undergoing “Brooklynization.” This only starts to make sense once you consider that “everything we now associate with the word ‘Brooklyn’ actually originated 10 years earlier, in Portland, Ore.” It’s a strange case of the idea of local going global. “We reach out for reality, and no sooner do we brush it with our fingers than it turns into a brand,” said the Times. Brooklyn: The Brand [T Magazine]
The New York Observer yesterday ran one of those stories that get lots of attention for their broad and sweeping condemnations of something or other, in this case Brooklyn’s restaurant scene. A critic named Josh Ozersky claims that, out of context, Brooklyn restaurants would be recognized as the mediocre, sloppy joints serving off-cuts they actually are. He notes: “The borough, once universally understood as a backwater, set an all-time high for Zagat reviews, with 250 (up from 217). Adam Platt of New York, on the heels of some very good reviews, announced a ‘culinary power shift east’ thanks to Brooklyn Fare and a small number of ambitious efforts.” It seems to us Ozersky’s viewpoint reflects that of a restaurant critic above all, in which money is no object and getting in is less of an issue. But for ordinary people eating at everyday prices in restaurants that don’t take reservations, Brooklyn still offers a much better value for the money, in our opinion. (Also, his information seems dated. Dumont faded years ago.) What do you think? Above, Blanca’s tarragon prawn. The Truth About Brooklyn’s Overhyped, Undercooked Restaurant Scene [NYO] Photo by jmoranmoya
An essay by Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder describes how the owners, builders and corporate and political sponsors of the Barclays Center have capitalized on Brooklyn and its brand. If you’ve missed any of the recent blow-by-blow, this is a good summary. Most amusing are the details about the Brooklyn Water Bagel Company, which isn’t based in Brooklyn and doesn’t use Brooklyn water in its bagels. “The company’s plan for an arena outlet was derailed — they blamed venting systems — but they’ll still provide water at some arena events. Until then, you can pay $4.50 for a bottle of rootless cosmopolitan Dasani,” said Oder. (Incidentally, Coke is cheaper than water, he reveals.) Above, Barclays in August, rushing to finish construction before opening day. A Brand Called Brooklyn [Brooklyn Rail]
When Andrew Tarlow opened Diner, his first business, in South Williamsburg, the area was desolate. The growth of his mini-empire since then, culminating in the opening of the Wythe Hotel in North Williamsburg in April, and sparking or paralleling both the growth of Brooklyn style and the intensification of gentrification, depending on your point of view, could be seen as a metaphor for the trajectory of the whole borough. On Wednesday, a panel at the hotel, part of the week-long City Modern program hosted by Dwell and New York magazines, considered the relationship between gentrification and design in Brooklyn. On the panel were Tarlow, Wythe Hotel designer Stefanie Brechbuehler of Workstead, and Wythe Hotel architect architect Morris Adjmi. New York Magazine Design Editor Wendy Goodman moderated. “The building is a character, it has a personality,” explained Brechbuehler, describing the evolution of the design of the hotel, repurposed from an old factory. The panel agreed that the essence of Brooklyn design consists of taking over old, falling apart buildings, and rebuilding them while preserving the character rather than sheetrocking over it. (more…)
Today the New York Times takes a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to run one of the “new generation of mom and pops that has thrived in regentrified Brooklyn.” This means places like the oddities antique shop Holler and Squall, Smith Street clothing boutique Epaulet, and popular cafe One Girl Cookie, which just expanded to Dumbo, above. (Flea fave Red Hook Lobster Pound also gets a shout out.) All these businesses are run by a husband-and-wife team, who share the trials and tribulations of ownership. Some relationships, like that of Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich of the Lobster Pound, struggle under the constant shoptalk of the business. Michele Pravda and Patrick Watson, owners of Stinky Bklyn and other Cobble Hill joints, found a balance after Pravada stepped back from the business after she had a child. So are these “co-preneurials,” as the Times calls them, living the Brooklyn dream? Maybe, but one thing is clear: No matter how cute the merchandise, 80-hour workweeks are the norm. And the Boutique Makes Three [NY Times]