Even though he was an honoree, Governor David Paterson couldn’t make it to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation’s 40th anniversary gala on Thursday night. He was campaigning for Barack Obama.
Things have changed, indeed, for the central Brooklyn neighborhood and its boosters in the 40 years since Senators Robert Kennedy and Jacob Javits founded the preservationist Restoration Corporation.
Women dressed to the nines cried with amazement and pride at lavishly set tables in Steiner Studios in Brooklyn Navy Yard. When Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz made opening remarks about Restoration’s recent successes, including a $25 million renovation to restore and to modernize Restoration Plaza on Fulton Street, the dining room stirred with self-congratulatory remarks.
Bed-Stuy is undergoing a renaissance. The number of restaurants, shops and theaters are increasing along with real estate prices; and Restoration works to nourish a neighborhood that is affordable but also very much in flux.
Party-goers throughout the evening told The Observer about the negatives and the positives of Bed-Stuy’s gentrification. Joseph G. Sponholz, former vice chairman of Chase Manhattan and a Restoration board member who was honored, said that “gentrification is only a bad thing if it’s selfish. This organization is bridging the gap. It prevents outright pushing out.”
And Deborah Wright, CEO and chairwoman of Carver Bancorp Inc. and also an honoree, said she might sound old-fashioned, but “home ownership is really a commitment” and “today it’s [just] about investing.”
Melanie Castell, a high-school student who has participated in Restoration’s youth initiatives, gave a speech about an article she wrote about the “crisis” that gentrification sometimes is, how people can’t afford to live in their own homes.
But her friend Shajaban Salam doesn’t mind new people moving in: “That just creates more diversity.” Board member Lesia Bates Moss said that “healthy gentrification is about integration and empowerment."
“[It’s] an issue of apathy versus the impact of change,” Ms. Moss said. “You have to deal with the fact that people might be apathetic but they’re lives are going to change.”