Crown Heights vs. Bushwick: Whose Anti-Gentrification Fight Is More Futile?

In recent years, Brooklyn’s defining characteristic has increasingly become the class warfare that has spread, epidemic-like, from the East River

Crown Heights may be gentrifying faster than any other neighborhood. (untitled name)

In recent years, Brooklyn’s defining characteristic has increasingly become the class warfare that has spread, epidemic-like, from the East River towards the ocean. The battles, both brutal and bittersweet, are fought out one cheese shop, exposed lightbulb-lit wine store and frozen yogurt joint at a time. The middle-class displaces the low-income and delights, in the brief window before they themselves are pushed out by the rapidly-escalating rents, in the surge of bars and restaurants, organic groceries and quirky boutiques that follow in their wake.

Once they move on, the cycle repeats, and another community tries to square the undeniable advantages that money brings (more grocery stores, safer streets, better schools), with the fact that staying around to enjoy them will prove increasingly difficult.

This is nothing new. However, the speed with which these changes are happening is. Transformations which once spanned 20 or 30 years now take five or ten. The kind of middle-class strivers (aka yuppies) who once bought houses or lofts, renovating them slowly over decades, now find themselves unable to afford the rent on their apartments, let alone a downpayment on a million-dollar townhouse.

In Crown Heights, relative newcomers to the neighborhood are being priced out after three or four years, according to a DNAinfo. The Crow Hill Community Association, accustomed to fielding desperate emails from long-term residents being pushed out by second-wave gentrifiers, is now fielding desperate emails from second-wave gentrifiers.

“The concern that’s in the public conversation is about long term residents being displaced, but I didn’t realize that many of the new residents who are already paying much higher rents are already getting pushed out,” organizer and resident Trish Tchume told DNAinfo. “I was getting emails from people who live next door to each other.”

The question is what, if anything, they can do about it. Given the speed with which changes are washing over Crown Heights, the solutions being advanced by Ms. Tchume, by the West Crown Heights rezoning, by the group of ex-Occupiers trying to modify the Crown Heights rezoning seem well-intentioned but more than a little naive. Ms. Tchume seems to believe that bringing the two communities into conversation will help, telling DNAinfo that “a lot of the displacement that happens is predicated on people not talking to each other.”

And the Crown Heights rezoning, with its focus on inclusionary zoning to preserve some kind of affordable housing stock, is unlikely to stem the tide of gentrification any more than it did in West Chelsea. (Meanwhile, neighborhoods that have preserved their low-rise character, as Crown Heights wants to, have been some of the hardest hit by gentrification. See: the Village.)

Basically, Crown Heights will become an increasingly upscale neighborhood no matter what; the only factors that might be influenced are the pace of change and how much of a space can be carved out for the current residents to remain.

Meanwhile, a group of Bushwick artists are working together to buy not-yet-unaffordable studio space in Bushwick before they get priced out, according to The Wall Street Journal. To their credit, the Bushwick artists have no illusions about the changes that are coming or their ability to stop them—they realize that the best strategy for confronting gentrification is to find a way to survive it, rather than trying to repel it.

“Let’s lay some roots here before Urban Outfitters does,” painter Jules de Balincourt told The Journal. “Let’s at least stake out our little islands amongst this flood of gentrification that’s coming through.”

Of course the ability to stake out roots by buying property, even in collaboration with other artists (the group is also exploring the possibility of attracting investors to create a trust), requires a certain amount of capital. It is a middle-class survival strategy, not a low-income one. It is also unlikely to be a long-term solution, given that there would be no way to stop the artists—or their descendents—from selling the studios at market rate in the future. But it is likely to buy the Bushwick artists some time. Which may be the best thing that anyone living in New York can hope for at this point.

Crown Heights vs. Bushwick: Whose Anti-Gentrification Fight Is More Futile?