On Gentrification, New York City and the so-called “Hipsters”


On my most recent visit to New York City I finally understood the real meaning of what people meant when they talked about “gentrification”. Gentrification occurs when affluent people (mostly white) start moving into a neighborhood that was originally cheap and maybe even dangerous causing housing prices to rise. When rent becomes more expensive, the original inhabitants of the neighborhood are forced to leave.

This has been very common in New York City in the last 30 years. Before Giuliani, and becoming one of the safest places in the world, New York City was a very rundown, dangerous place. Times Square was a decadent spot and Soho was more dangerous than today’s Bronx. This was immortalized by Scorsese in movies like Taxi Driver and Afterhours. In those days the opposite of gentrification occurred, the so called “white flight” drove out many of New York’s affluent citizens because of its dangerous nature.

So what happened to the once run down Soho? Why did it become cool at some point? And why is it tacky nowadays?

Businesses started injecting more money in New York City and this started slowly cleansing (at least on the outside) the city from its drug dealers, mobsters, prostitutes etc. Nowadays most of Manhattan is perfectly safe. One of the most expensive places in the world to live, it is estimated that in a few years it will be reserved for the worlds richest.

When housing got too expensive in Manhattan, a small artist community, originally set in downtown (Lower East Side, Soho etc.) started doing the unthinkable: moving into the wild and dangerous outer boroughs, especially Brooklyn.

This small community of artists settled in Williamsburg, a perfect location, one stop away from Manhattan from the “L” train, practically nothing. Everything was going great for a while; there was a great mix between the run down Williamsburg, and the daring artists that were adventurous enough to have moved out “that far”.

Soon the once untamed Williamsburg that promised artists a true city living experience was overrun with artists, creating a music and art mecca unlike anywhere in the world. The term hipster suddenly arose and a big number of “local bands” gained worldwide recognition (yeah yeah yeahs, animal collective). Soon the whole “hipster culture” arose with its ever changing aesthetic, “indie” music, outrageous anti-fashion etc.

This is when gentrification took place. Just like Manhattan, Williamsburg started suffering from a raise in housing prices, locally owned businesses had to close, immigrant families had to move farther out.

Nowadays Williamsburg, has lost its unique charm, hipsters are having children, large condos are being built and now you even get your Manhattanites on the weekend that were so reluctant to leave their island before.

Williamsburg is not the only neighborhood in Brooklyn where this happened, in a different fashion and with yuppies instead of hipsters, Park Slope is now one of the most affluent communities in the city. With top notch education, vegan friendly restaurants and lattes being sold everywhere, white affluent democrats are raising families there.

Is gentrification wrong? Well at first glance maybe it isn’t, everything becomes safer, everything is cleaner and businesses become more sophisticated. But it comes at a big price; hundreds of people are forced to move farther away from the city to escape the expensiveness separating entire communities.

What comes after Williamsburg? Will gentrification stop? Apparently it won’t. Bushwick, a little bit farther off from Williamsburg has become the new destination of artists/hipsters inviting the whole cycle to start over.