NY Daily News 10-28-07

City neighborhoods losing character to condos, chain stores

For 20 years, I have followed two neighbors, Robert, my locksmith, and Boris, my shoe repair guy, from place to place as they struggle to remain on the lower East Side.

The last time I took my boots to Boris, the gates were down and the store was gone. Robert recently set up shop on Rivington St., but he looks sadder every time I see him as he contemplates an imminent - and impossible - doubling of his rent.

Robert and Boris are, for me, the tragic faces of a new New York - a city that, neighborhood by neighborhood, is being washed over by a bland sea of chain stores, luxury condos, restaurants, bars and upscale boutiques.

I see a city that's losing its texture, its character, its grit. Yes, New York City is still the greatest city in the world. But it is no longer the most exciting and surely, it now ranks as the most heartbreaking.

In 1984 I walked a New York of fabled, unique neighborhoods - Hell's Kitchen, Harlem, Loisaida, Alphabet City. It wasn't always pretty and you had to watch your step, but the mix of cultures, the music and language in the red-brick tenements and grand brownstones communicated a rich history.

The Little Italy of wiseguys and grandmothers with babies, sitting outside butchers and barbers, has given way to slick restaurants and "Sopranos" souvenir shops.

The lower East Side and East Village, once full of Jewish hatters and tailors, Polish bakeries and Ukranian diners, have been crammed with boutique hotels, expensive bars and destination restaurants named for the places they've displaced: Barrio, Mission, Tenement. Rents are astronomical.

The fabled shopping district of Orchard St. exists now only on historic signposts.

Harlem, the beating heart of black history, was once rich with churches and mosques, soul food and fried fish, hip hop and James Brown. Now the black vendors are losing their leases and black residents their homes as condos go up and real estate speculation steps in.

The Meatpacking District and the Fulton Fish Market, pre-dawn furies, have become a luxury shopping destination and a seaport theme park. The Bronx Terminal Market, wholesaler of ethnic foods - gone. Manufacturing in the city - endangered.

Some call it simple gentrification - but what we're witnessing is much more profound. In the city I remember, people found each other. The punks had CBGB and St. Marks Place. Christopher St. and the West Side piers were fiercely gay. Storefront clubs lit up abandoned downtown with art, music and dancing. Squatters renovated abandoned buildings - teaching each other skills, recycling materials, raising families. Community gardens bloomed on empty lots.

Real estate is king in the new New York. Too many immigrants can't afford to come in. Too many longtime residents are driven out. We are losing our sky to a hideous skyline and our streets to a generic wash of prefab apartments, banks and storefronts.

As Manhattan is squeezed, so suffer the outer boroughs. The Italians and Poles of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are dislocated by hipsters whose creative lives are emphatically commercial. Every possible place is built on, or up. The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn promises the same on a massive scale.

Rents in Queens and Brooklyn are skyrocketing. Coney Island - which I suppose was too real - is poised for annihilation.

In just the last decade, I have seen New York morph into a wealthy, homogenized, tourist-friendly town. This place - that birthed the Beats and Be-bop, Harlem and hip hop, that defined the gorgeous melting pot - has become the billionaires' city. Its new mantra seems to be: Pay to stay.

We've lost our shopkeepers, barbers, cobblers, diners, record stores, our butchers and bakers. We've lost the vibrant mix that made the city unique, the spontaneity that gave New York its edge.

Have we even lost our soul?

Maggie Wrigley, a writer and photographer, is a contributor to the book "The Suburbanization of New York: Is the World's Greatest City Becoming Just Another Town?"


From Brooklyn. No seriously, from Brooklyn.

Theres so many musicians who claim Brooklyn after being here for a full 5 minutes. They're called Brooklyn bands even though they really have no concept of the place and have been here less than a second. Kensington has a few of them I believe. In the grand scheme of life it means nothing of course but I just don't get it. So I have decided to spotlight an artist who actually is from Brooklyn and who actually is from the Kensington area. The rapper Wordsworth.

I don't know him personally but growing up I knew who he was from the neighborhood. He was a few years older than me and I can recall a few times playing football and stickball with him when I was with my older brother. Before PS130 build that extension area the yard was much bigger and by one the entrances to the school(which is now covered by the extension) there was a painted strike zone against the wall. A tennis ball or blue handball and a stick ball bat would be used and we would play a modified version of baseball, over the fence was a double, over the library a homerun, etc., etc. M.F. on church ave. would sell stickball bats, old-timers would bitch and moan saying broom sticks would be fine but whatever

anyway back to Wordsworth.

You can find some articles on him by googling him. Here it has a quick mention of him being from the area and this interview he talks about growing up in Brooklyn a little bit. I remember him living in that building on the corner of ocean parkway between caton and kermit place.

and so there it is. Wordsworth a true Brooklyn artist. you can hear him on "rock rock y'all" on the tribe called quest album "the love movement" so go search him and buy his stuff and listen to it.


Coming home from work last night I saw a raccoon on Ocean Parkway between church and caton. It was on the lawn of one the buildings. It was squeezing through a gate when I first saw it and I thought 'man that's a chubby cat'. Then it started walking on the grass, it was 3 in the morning and I was tired so at first I thought it was a skunk cause the dark eye area of the raccoon was throwing me off while I was trying to recognize which cat around the building this was. It took about 2 seconds to realize this was actually a raccoon. The raccoon walked the building lawn and then climbed the tree.

I blame the kensington hipsters for attracting raccoons.


You've been accepted

There are many reasons that the hipsters cite as to why they moved to Kensington such as, safe neighborhood, affordable rent(if you're a rich hipster or yup sure. Its not cheap here), the diversity, access to public transportation etc., etc., etc. They also always say how they don't want to change this area into Park Slope or whatever other neighborhood that has been infiltrated, "I moved here cuz it isn't Park Slope"--- sure you did. They never ever give the real reason why they moved here which is that they couldn't get into the neighborhood they really wanted to live in. If they really wanted to live here then they wouldn't want to make it a mirror image of all the other hipster areas in the city they would just like it for what it is. I mean come on, I've heard these fools crying for a dog run/park--- what the hell is going on?

Kensington is like the safety school of neighborhoods. You know how students have that last option of school that they really don't like but in case they don't get into the schools they really want they at least have something to fall back on. The truth is these people didn't want to live here they wanted the Village but it was too expensive, they didn't get accepted. And so they search and find their fellow hipsters in the L.E.S. but they can't find a place. sorry but the early hipster gets the worm, thanks for your interest but you not accepted. And so even though they don't want to they have to make a voyage to Brooklyn(you can just here they hipster going ewwww Brooklyn). It isn't too long till they find the hipster haven of Williamsburg but again they can't find a place and when they do find one its in the section that isn't hipster-fied yet but rather in the section that still has natives slumming it and giving them dirty looks. the hipster decides its too expensive to be there and not with their brethren hipsters on the other side of the hood, so they were on the waiting list but ultimately didn't get accepted. Park Slope: too expensive. They continue to get rejected, they travel down to Windsor Terrace but more of the same. Until they find kensington: Congratulations on being accepted, please drive up our rents, our grocery store prices and annoy everyone.

Well since this isn't the neighborhood of their choice they have to change it to resemble it. The hipsters are like that scene from "Rushmore" where the kid is kicked out of his old school and now has to settle for public school. In his first day of class he asks to make a speech and says, "I think you've got some really great facilities and I'm really looking forward to making the best of it over here". Similar to the hipsters and how they talk about Kensington and then the truth comes out when the kid says, "One footnote, I noticed you don't have a fencing team. I'm going to start one up." That fencing team is the coffeehouses they want, the dog run(I still can't get over this), the trendy bars and restaurants, all that crap.


Goodbye Kensington. Hello Krappy Kensington

Church Ave. and Ocean Parkway. These pics are from some dude's site, I don't remember the name of it. I saved the pics to use as wallpaper and screensavers.

I know these out of towners dont mean and intend harm. Obviously though, to certain people and families, harm has been caused by the wonders of gentrification in places such as,,,,, whatever, you already know them.

As with many of, us when it comes to an endless number of issues, the out of towners just don't care about their affect on others. (the others being the long time residents.)

The first issue is always the high cost of rent that they always seem to activate. It must good to be one of those "starving, struggling, making ends meet artists" who can pay whatever. Now, I love my neighborhood and I know New York City in general is an expensive place to be but I'm sorry Kensington isn't that great and thats totally fine with me. It's not some sort of Eden in the city. Rents in this place should not be near the thousand range. Single bedroom apartments shouldn't be at or anywhere close to a $G per month. And that is what gets the ball rolling. It is little things that add up that make the residents move.

The high rents become set, and it seems that coffee houses and restaurants are the prime objective of what the out of towners want(they want to make life an episode of friends or something) never satisfied with whats here. The surrounding businesses take notice of the influx and infiltration and raise their prices (the grocery store on caton ave. between ocean parkway and E.7th is ridiculously priced. And is that a midtown manhattan pizzeria you eating at with those insane prices??? Nope, you're just eating at Korner pizza where the pizza is pretty wack and the prices sky high). Again, no one wants rents to raise and stores to raise their prices, but it happens it. They don't mean harm they just don't care about who they are affecting. (Sort of like politicians)

Theres nothing you can do about the infiltration. Its well under way. Resistance is futile unfortunately. Its like all those who oppose the Nets building their arena in Brooklyn. They're no match for the Nets and the new arena and neither are we any match for the "artists" and other yups.


Back in the day

The Beverly Theater

I cant really imagine a theater being on Church Ave. today but there used to be. It stood there not that long ago actually between McDonald and E.2nd, it was still around in the early 80's.

2 doors down, I'm pretty sure that's Scarola's restaurant which said goodbye not too long ago, it was still around in the mid-late 90's. It's a real estate office now. You know which one.

Now, what the hell is up with people trying to extend the boundaries of Kensington? You know what I'm talking about.

I'm Outtie 5k, later.


In the next millineium i'll still be old school

Thats the intersection of Church Ave. and McDonald Ave. Who knew silver rod goes way back like that? and the greater is now obviously Astoria Federal.

I don't go as far back as that but I remember The Greater, Waldbaums where rite aid is now, cow tree barber shop, The Beverly Theater (ok, its really only one vague memory of falling asleep watching superman 2 and I might not be totally positive it was the Beverly but still)

Kensington Brooklyn. Great place but why do these new comers want to change it so badly and make it Park Slope or Williamsburg or some other hipster/yuppie haven. They want coffee shops, they want bars, they want this, they want that. Why cant they just be happy with what is here and what is here is plenty.

I seriously think the new comer people who want all these things here hate any kind of traveling. They expect everything to come to them. They say they don't want to change this place into Park Slope but the things they want will do just that. You know I'm sure that when Park Slope had their influx of out-of-towners they used to say, "we don't want to make this place Manhattan. We're not trying to change it. we just want some nice things here" and then BAM! Fort Greene out-of-towners - "We don't want to force anyone out. We just want some places to drink coffee and discuss art blah,blah,blah" and then BAM! Eventually Brooklyn is going to be the same exact thing in each neighborhood, high rents and cornballs as residents.

You can easily enjoy whatever yuppie thing you crave by taking the train like 2 stops and going to Park Slope. Its less than 5 minutes! And besides theres already bars here. Whats wrong with Shenanigans? Dennys? Too many blue collar workers for you? Not enough peeps with shaggy haircuts, t-shirts 2 sizes too small, and black hipster rimmed glasses? well why don't you just use that same "takeover the neighborhood" mentality and apply it to those places.

Anything you NEED you can easily get around here. Anything you WANT is just but a train ride away.

--holla back dun