Brownsville Locals Vow to “Gentrify” on Own Terms

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    Jazzy Jumpers perform at MGB Pops market. Photo via MGB Pops

    Gentrification has not yet reached Brownsville but is lapping at its shores. Local residents are making a push to improve the area on their own terms, or gentrify “from within,” according to a story in Al-Jazeera. The idea is to improve employment, education, safety and quality of life before high rents arrive to push out longtime locals.

    Efforts include job training, an outdoor marketplace with locally made goods and performances, a cafe and business incubator and street improvements:

    • MGB Pops, a seasonal outdoor marketplace at 425 Mother Gaston Boulevard, kicked off in fall 2014. In addition to locally grown produce and other locally made products, it features art and performances. Recent events have included a ribbon cutting for a street improvements such as seating and a happy hour.
    • Made in Brownsville offers architecture and design training and jobs to local youths.
    • A revitalization plan, spearheaded by the Brownsville Community Justice Center, will improve Belmont Avenue.
    • Dream Big Foundation’s Three Black Cats Cafe, set to open later this year on Belmont Avenue, will serve as a community hub and business incubator.

    “We’re trying to disrupt the normal flow of things,” the story quotes one of the organizers of MGB Pops, Quardean Lewis-Allen, as saying. “If we can empower the residents with jobs and skills that will help them shape the neighborhood’s future, then they are less likely to be displaced when Brownsville suddenly becomes hip.”

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    Rapper Conquest performs at MGB Pops market. Photo via MGB Pops

    The story describes a phenomenon it says is taking place elsewhere in the country, such as in Brickton in Philadelphia, where “middle-class black professionals, sometimes known as black gentrifiers” stay in the area to help “boost the fortunes of all residents while keeping the area’s character intact.”

    As residents of central Brooklyn and longtime readers of Brownstoner know, this is what happened in Bed Stuy, Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. These areas for decades have had a strong black middle and professional class. They and many community groups, block associations, community boards, activists and entrepreneurs have helped reduce crime, improve education and safety, bring amenities into the area and improve the quality of life — all well before the recent real estate boom of the last three years.

    That history hasn’t stopped outside development, capped rents or prevented evictions, but local leaders and business and property owners are typically longtime community members. The majority of new businesses opening are minority-owned, run and staffed — as four liquor license applications at Bed Stuy’s Community Board 3 meeting Monday revealed. Longtime home owners and real estate investors from the community benefit from rising prices.

    Some would argue you can’t have it both ways — as soon as an area improves, gentrifiers move in and rents go up — or that gentrification will happen anyway, even if residents do nothing.

    Yesterday, Brownstoner published a comment from a pastor of a prominent Brownsville church expressing similar concern over gentrification of nearby Crown Heights and pride in the Brownsville community.

    [Source: Al-Jazeera]

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    A booth at MGB Pops market. Photo via MGB Pops

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