What I Miss About Brooklyn

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    Longtime Brooklynite and Brownstoner reader Heather Murray recently moved from Clinton Hill to Washington, D.C., because of a job change. But the Brooklyn she misses was already history before she left. She writes:

    I’ve always loved places with history — and Brooklyn used to be such a place. Old lived easily alongside the new. People had rent control and rent stabilization, which meant –- pretty much –- that if you stayed in one place for long enough, you could build a nice life there.

    But Brooklyn has changed. I’m stating the obvious, but that’s what I do.

    Brooklyn used to be a place where you could step back in time. Parts of the city seemed to be completely unchanged from the ’20s, the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’50s and so on. There was Italian Williamsburg, and Polish Greenpoint, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens (which I only remember being referred to as “Flatbush” back then) and the Dyno-mite Lounge. Pork stores and Wash-O-Matics. Century-old bakeries on residential streets, and the fresh bread smell in the morning.

    What I find most depressing about the pace of Brooklyn’s change is the erosion of the communities that Chris Arnade celebrates in his article, “Some Things I Will Miss About Brooklyn.” Working class people in Brooklyn are now under siege. If they’re lucky, they might get a buyout, or a lottery slot for affordable housing. If they’re not, they’re displaced. I knew a family at our old school in Clinton Hill who commuted from Staten Island. STATEN ISLAND — so that their kids could stay with their friends and be near extended family for childcare. In Clinton Hill and elsewhere in Brooklyn, churches are closing. And the people — the people that spun the fabric of these amazing communities? Those people are leaving.

    They leave for East New York, for Atlanta, for the Poconos, for Forest Hills, for Yonkers. They leave for Mamaroneck, for Montclair, for Austin, for Florida. And they are replaced with people who are never home (perhaps because they work all the time?). They are being replaced by investors, or relocated bankers from Europe on two-year assignments. New York City has always been a place where people come from elsewhere and move to — in that sense, none of this is new. But what’s being lost now is being replaced with a facade of itself. Behind that reclaimed barn wood is cheap drywall. And all the patina of old Brooklyn that the new Brooklyn loves — the Edison lights, the “hand-crafted” cocktails (as opposed to made by… robots?), the artisanal pickles –- all of that doesn’t make up for the real thing that’s gone forever.

    All of that fake patina, replacing the real.

    I’m a hypocrite. I enjoy a good restaurant with reclaimed barn wood and old timey wallpaper just as much as the rest of my herd. But, having left Brooklyn and most of that motif behind (we live now in a part of D.C. that doesn’t have much of it) — I’m not missing having three wood-burning pizza restaurants that make their own cheese within a five-block radius of my house. I’m not missing much, actually. Except the people. I miss the people terribly. And I hope that everyone who wants to can manage to stay.

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