When I first moved in to Williamsburg, Brooklyn I actually could not afford to move into Williamsburg proper but had to stake my claim with five other room mates on the far edge of this vast territory then currently unknown to so many Manhattenites to which the East Village was the cut off point of no return and served as the place to slum, when one wished to go slumming. I first found a loft in a place called Greenpoint that soon became East Wlliamsburg on Craigslist before just being tossed into the mix and seen as the same condos, bars, venues, and sundry other playgrounds of the young at heart known collectively as Williamsburg. It was a neighborhood with a butcher, the kind with saw dust on the floor. A guy sold Christmas trees in the winter on the corner by the White Castle. There was a sports bar by the subway station. From early spring to late summer random processions sprung up. Men carrying statues. Women doing the rosary. There was a little grotto and a few times I bought a candle and put it in place just in case these old people were on to something. I liked my neighborhood and seeing the same people on the street just about every day. When I needed to go out, however, I would take the train in to the city. When the sun went down, the streets by me were dead. Also, everyone I knew lived in Manhattan. And those who lived on that blessed island would not considering hopping over the ocean between us, that old East River. Many of them would rather hop the pond to London or Paris before going to Brooklyn.
Today that place is unrecognizable. Gone the small social clubs of various Italian-American factions, shuttered are so many of the old Catholic churches, those complexes of medieval origin where in one city block school, convent, rectory, church and sepulcher were all pushed together as part of a network of parishes that made Brooklyn, New York for a time known as the City of Churches. The streets I grew up on, those that I learned to replace the mistakes and misadventures of youth with harder lessons of adulthood are today serving a new generation and as so many areas of the city these newcomers all seem about the same age. Yes, there remain families and some even keep vigil on their saint’s day as before, but the streets are much younger now than then as twenty-somethings flush with cash push in and have their Firstapartment in this new trendy spot. There are now miles of bars where there was once one or two. An entire economy built on people not having time or interest in cooking. There are now new restaurants opening up each more fusion than the last one, new clever cafes that can do your portrait in milk foam if need be. Vintage stores that sell shit that reminds me how old I am and how vintage my belongings have become since when I bought them new – oh how I should have saved the packaging, this stuff is so much more valuable with the label on it, what was I thinking? The city is ever reinventing itself, as I guess does The Nation. Change blah blah blah is the blah blah blah constant. But who can help but wish one could just hang on to something for a while. Must everything change so fast? I blink, and a storied edifice is torn down to make way for yet another set of Luxury Condos (call 555-328-7748 to reserve yours today the signs beckon with images of spas and pools and parking and a happy couple yet we know the man in the shot is gay and the woman has 15 eating disorders so she can look like that). Where do all these people come from who can afford the Luxury? Right by what used to be my loft several buildings were torn down and replaced with similar-looking cement Glamorous Boxes, Glamboxes(tm) across the street from what I know is a Superfund site, a place where they used to wash out 55 Gallon drums of toxic sludge, pink slime, and Ebola juice so they could be reused for tomato soup or whatever. The old tree is gone. The man with the dog with all those tumors is gone. The gate that was off the fence because a cow on the way to the slaughterhouse (today the site of a McDonnalds) took it off leading a farm boy to meet a girl who lived there, marry her, and make that their home, never to replace the gate as a reminder of that day they met, is gone. A blank row of buildings as perhaps found in Berlin, Houston, Atlanta, Beijing now consume the street. Each one has a small postage stamp balcony (a terrace in the promotional materials), sliding doors, and fixtures right out of either a) The Home Depot b) Lowes Home Improvement Store.
There is a flattening to the cityscape as there also exists higher and higher concentrations of wealth in certain neighborhoods.
The waterfront of Williamsburg has taken the Luxury Condo business and escalated it to Defcon 5 status. They have really outdone themselves this time. The places I could not afford when I lived in Greempointeastwilliamsburgregularwilliamsburg I can not afford today on a scale far greater than the $900 rent I could ill afford. Today is it 1.5 million property and $3500 rent for a studio apartment (for those not in Gothem a “studio” is a room where your kitchen starts at the end of your bed). I cannot afford these new places as the spread between my income and those apartments grows ever greater and I’m not priced out by a mere hundred or two dollars, but thousands in rent an millions to own. I remember when there were these old wooden warehouses and dead end roads in a state of decay decorated by stripped cars and junk. There was this fantastic factory, a huge space up in Greenpoint and all along the waterfront others like it down to the sugar refinery. Trucks filled with trash or chicken fat or that banging noise rolled up and down the streets. These streets used to be totally vacant back in The Day and I remember walking my dog fearing both Foxy and I would be mugged or eaten alive by zombies. There was a single cafe and I either had to take the subway two stops or walk there (took about ½ hour) to sit there pretending to write, drinking iced coffee until my brain dilated.
Those streets no longer know my name. There was a hiccup in construction in 2008. I remember these buildings standing vacent and unfinished. For a time it was a strange city of the future, halfway between the silents roads I knew and the soon-to-be hotspot it is today. When the change came, it changed fast and hard. They reinvigorated the ruling classes with stimulation money and the machines were restarted and before anyone could say “I got evicted because my landlord sold the building to a developer,” the old Williamsburg was swept away. Snaps I took with friends just a few years ago seem precious historic documents of a lost city not foolish ephemeral evidence of pranking and day drinking of our mid-youth crisis. “Well you kids don’t know what this used to be” I fear saying at any moment. Now, late on any given night there are piles and piles of beautiful people plowing their way through top shelf liquor and going stumblie-bumblie back to their condo that was tossed up by half-assed builders who may or may not have glued the building together correctly so the swipe key may or may not work. But today it looks Luxury and there is indeed a dishwasher built in along with other stainless steel appliances. Their little shoe box Luxury Condo, or Luxcon for short. Trendy Willy-B or WB for short. Whattheshit happened to my old neighborhood? I should have expected to go back so many years later taping the sidewalk with my cane and pointing out all the landmarks. These landmarks are already gone. Vanished into container boxes to be dumped in New Jersey.
The Williamsburg I knew wasn’t going to last anyway. Living in converted warehouses that were as cold in the winter as they were hot in the summer is not fun for adults. As we grew up some of us got real jobs and moved out of the city or moved to more adult parts of the city, some in Brooklyn where the temperature was controlled by a thermostat and one did not need to have 8 room mates. The creatives who broke the sod in Williamsburg were pushed into Bushwick as was I for a time my the more affluent classes now “discovering” our neighborhood we had rightfully discovered first. This should have lasted for another decade, but it was not to be. The ever expanding bubble of Luxury and amenities-seeking denizens of the Glamboxes made inroads into Bushwick and in time I, and many others, were pushed out as cafes and bars and trendy tacos sprouted up through the cracks in the cement and flooded the ugly industrial streets until all but a few poor people succumbed to the waters of rising rents and cost-of-living. In order for the rising tide to lift all boats one must first be in a boat. So now, too, Bushwick is changing fast and the creatives are pushing ever out, until they will perhaps be suburban bound. Which will be an ironic day when the “burbs” are where all the artists are, having abandoned the supposed “creative juices” of the city for the dull routine of being able to afford being creative and buying juice.
Williamsburg today is a fun place to visit. They closed the sugar refinery and are knocking 16 shits out of it. One day the sugar factory will have condos I cannot afford.
These formerly industrial parts of the city had not always been so. Mixed in with the ugly utility I had come to know were remnants of grand institutions. Once the City of Williamsburg, prior to the incorporation in to New York City, was as wealthy as American cities got. So, perhaps the new wealth is a return to the actual Olden Dayes of which the ensuing decades of poverty pigs slopping about in factories and slaughterhouses were but an aberration. Those families who had held on are now able to cash our and move anywhere they wish, taking their stories, saint vigils, and history with them. The newcomers bring with them internet startups, optimism, and enough small dogs that if you stomped on one a day for the rest of your life you would never, ever, ever run out of small dogs to stomp. They are the next wave of immigrants to invade. I wouldn’t mind. This. I guess. Were I able to afford a condo preferably one with a view.