Brooklyn past and present are coexisting nicely, found a 44-year resident of the borough when he stayed overnight at the Wythe Hotel and wrote about the memories it prompted for The New York Times travel section over the weekend.
The forces behind the changes of the last 44 years are, of course, complex. Many have lost out, been pushed out, as others have thrived; not everyone from Brooklyn has benefited from the new Brooklyn. But coming here on vacation allows you to marvel at what the place has become, even as the forces behind it linger beneath the surface. When I visit a foreign city, my greatest joy is to just walk around. Park Slope is the perfect place for that, with its spectacular collection of 1880s neo-Grec rowhouses. The Plaza Hotel is now a fancy condominium, beautifully done; Prospect Park, a finely groomed sylvan escape rather than a netherworld of foreboding. This is a neighborhood where physical urban beauty is as easy to appreciate as it is in Paris or Edinburgh. Much remains as it was, even if there are an awful lot of bank branches and real estate offices. The sycamore trees on St. Johns Place still provide a cooling canopy in summer, three churches still stand sentry at the top of the block. The faux-oriental plastic letters of the San Toy Laundry on Seventh Avenue are as unintentionally comic today as they were then. The girls whom my 14-year-old son hangs around with look and dress almost exactly like the girls with whom I sat on stoops 30 years ago. They even listen to the same bands.
Other conclusions: The real estate prices are crazy, of course, but one can hear good music everywhere, and the borough is perhaps somewhat more racially harmonious and accepting than it once was. There are still murders and muggings. Do you think it’s a fair portrait?
Brooklyn entreprenuer Andrew Tarlow is sitting down for an interview with former New York Times “The Ethicist” columnist and broadcaster Randy Cohen tomorrow at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Cohen will interview Tarlow about a person, place and thing that have been meaningful to him for Cohen’s public radio show Person Place Thing.
Tarlow, pictured at right, helped pioneer locavore dining in Brooklyn with his Williamsburg restaurants Diner and Marlow and Sons and butcher shop Marlow and Daughters; he recently opened the Wythe Hotel and its restaurant, Reynard, and publishes quarterly magazine Diner Journal.
The event is free for BHS members and costs $5 for everyone else, and tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite. It takes place tomorrow from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Brooklyn Historical Society at 128 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights.
There wasn’t exactly news in the big profile New York Magazine ran about Jed and David Walentas and their Brooklyn development company Two Trees, but it’s an interesting read and documents the elder Walentas’ extraordinary rise from a Dickensian childhood upstate. He lived and worked on a farm away from his family beginning at age five to help his family make ends meet after his father had a stroke.
The story suggests that the firm — a prime mover in the resurgence of Brooklyn because of its development of Dumbo and the Wythe Hotel — may now be losing out to bigger bidders from Manhattan, such as Jared Kushner. But be that as it may, the redevelopment of the Domino site will keep the firm busy for many years to come.
The elder Walentas had some harsh words for de Blasio, which the author of the piece captured as the two were sparring over Domino earlier this year:
“I think de Blasio’s a disaster for the city,” said David Walentas. “His whole administration are amateurs and left wing. He’s never run anything and he has no ideas. All he wants to do is get his name in the paper.”
Two Trees issued this statement after the story came out, which Capital New York included in an email:
All of the statements in this story were made in the heat of intense negotiations. We believe the outcome of those negotiations was mutually beneficial and we are grateful for the opportunity to build this great plan. We fully support Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan and vision for supporting mixed-use communities in New York City, which has always been and will always be core to our approach at Two Trees, and have the deepest respect for him, his ambitious goals and his talented team. We look forward to working in support of those goals in the months and years to come at Domino and across the city.
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]