The Brits Lament the Death of Williamsburg

Reading a news article about the gentrification of Williamsburg might seem, before anything else, painfully dated. After all, Williamsburg’s transition from its average, working-class origins to its currentstatus as the hipster mecca is pretty extensively documented. It’s all old news. 

Except when the news source is overseas. From Sunday’s Observer — that would be our British compatriots — comes a story about what writer Paul Harris calls “the battle for Williamsburg’s soul.” In this case, Williamsburg’s Fort Sumter is the newly-opened Duane Reade on Bedford Avenue, which residents see as a frighteningly-plausible indication of where Brooklyn’s hippest neighborhood might be headed. (Williamsburg cigarettes notwithstanding.)

With the increasing infiltration of cooperate America into the “tranquil enclave of independent bohemians,” Harris notes, comes the inevitable risk of gentrification. Harris details the process pretty well: 

Sadly for Roman and other youthful and trendy denizens, the story of neighbourhood change is one of the oldest in the Big Apple. It has a simple plot that goes something like this: an old neighbourhood has cheap rents that attract artists.That attracts the bars, shops and restaurants the newcomers like. The neighbourhood becomes cool. And safe. That attracts wealthier people, with families. The rents rise. Older inhabitants and original pioneers then leave and start again somewhere else.

That, in the end, doesn’t sound too dissimilar from what the hipster invasion itself did to Williamsburg. Harris writes: 

But the hipsters and young bohemians are not entirely innocent victims in the process of change. After all, before they arrived Williamsburg was a quiet, unassuming working-class place with its fair share of problems but plenty of affordable housing.

The real clincher is that, for the former residents of Williamsburg forced out by the neighborhood’s spiraling rents, a Duane Reade might actually be a good thing, not just because Duane Reade sells beer, but because the store offers a pretty significant convenience for customers.

The Brits Lament the Death of Williamsburg