A Twee Grows In Brooklyn

The Portlandification of the increasingly bourgeois borough

The Radparvars, like many Portlandy Brooklynites, have only the purest motivations. But money, native competitiveness and proximity to the Manhattan media machine are quickly escalating what would pass for endearing quirks in Portland into lucrative commercial ventures and conspicuous consumption in Proco and Bococa. While Portland seems destined to remain a funky cheap neighborhood for the rest of the nation unless someone discovers oil, Brooklyn has been gentrifying from the Manhattan-side in since long before the Lonely Planet named Brooklyn “the hippest part of New York City” in 2007.

“You get a concentration of people who are visibly different in some way that’s not repulsive but kind of attractive for other people to consume,” explained Sharon Zukin, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College and author of Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. “That becomes a kind of brand for a neighborhood, or for the city as a whole, in the case of Portland.

“Then real estate developers start jumping on the bandwagon and marketing the brand, so that what starts out as alternative culture, alternative lifestyle, laid-back, D.I.Y. or whatever you want to call it, that becomes a product and the brand of a place, and then it becomes part of a business cycle where the media pick it up and”—she threw The Observer a bone—“not you, of course, but you know it could be rock critics or lifestyle journalists, they pick it up … and then it becomes very expensive to live there because more affluent people beg to move in, because they want to be different too.”

This process, she added, “seems to be getting more intense faster than before.”

At this point, Brooklyn is already so Portlandy that even the media appear to be tiring of the story. “One of the things I’ve found is that as a reporter it’s getting harder for me to pitch Brooklyn stories that start like, ‘Hey, there’s a group of guys in Brooklyn or a group of young people in Brooklyn who—’” Mr. Smith said. “You can sort of feel the eye-roll of the editor, like, yeah, there’s a bunch of people in Brooklyn who, you name it, are constructing a huge skyscraper out of used coffee cups! They’re learning how to butcher pigs in their own kitchen!

“I’m not trashing Brooklyn folks who try things,” he hedged. “God love them. They’re making it a more interesting place.”

“It’s a little overhyped,” admitted Gothamist publisher Jake Dobkin, 34, who grew up in Park Slope. Mr. Dobkin refused to participate when his writers asked for input on a recent listicle, “100 Reasons Why Brooklyn Lives Up to the Hype,” which included Smorgasburg, Kombucha Brooklyn and the borough’s “alt-performance art party scene.”

“Williamsburg is just becoming like a circus,” he said. “When I’m there, I hear the circus music in my head. Mustaches were like 2010. We’re on to mutton chops. Everyone is walking around like the Sartorialist is about to take a picture of them. That’s not a healthy way to live.

“It’s all just becoming so precious,” he reflected. “And Brooklyn is not supposed to be a precious place.”

I don’t want to trash Portland. It may be precious, but the people who live there enjoy life tremendously. You can eat and drink really well without having to work very hard. I miss having to choose whether to pass the time with pub trivia, disc golf or mushroom hunting.

But I’ve been thinking of checking out Detroit. The Times says an influx of young creative types is turning it into a Midwestern Tribeca.

Correction: The original version of this story reversed the “distinctiveness” rankings of New York and Austin in the City Vitals study. New York is 14th weirdest and Austin is 17th weirdest. The Observer regrets the error.

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