Most people who claim they live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, don’t.

A warehouse on Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, near South 5th Street.
A warehouse on Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, near South 5th Street.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, like so many other neighborhoods in the five boroughs, has benefited from the last six or so years of economic boom times. It’s one subway stop across the East River from Manhattan, and until lately, the rents were far cheaper for far bigger spaces than you could reasonably find in Manhattan, particularly now that the East Village, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Inwood and the traditionally avoided Harlem are being ransacked by newcomers and developers, the renters looking for good deals (many of them Midwesterners willing to pay too much money just to be in Manhattan, even if it means living in Washington Heights where train service is poor, the ratio of Hispanophones to Anglophones is about five to one and the bar districts and fancy restaurants are a long way off, further, in fact, than if they lived in Newark), the developers looking to divide huge spaces to create more units by buying up cheap buildings and throwing up thin walls.

A view of lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center from Kent Avenue in Brooklyn.
A view of lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center from Kent Avenue in Brooklyn.

Like all such districts, the artists were there first. That is, from the neighborhood known as Northside, south to the Brooklyn Navy Yard through Southside and Williamsburg proper, and even in East Williamsburg, which starts at Union Avenue where it meets Williamsburg, north to about Meeker, south to about Flushing Avenue, east to the English Kills, one of the industrial canals that feeds off Newtown Creek. After the artists, other related hipsters followed, and then the real estate people noticed. Now new lofts and studios are going for the same prices as comparable spaces in Manhattan, though there are still plenty of deals to be had. But it’s not really Williamsburg.

>Warehouses along the waterfront are constantly under renovation or in the process of being dismantled for new housing or commercial developments.” border=”2px” width=”345″ height=”100″ style=”float: center; position: relative; top: 5px;margin-left:5px;display:block;”></a><br />
<i>Warehouses along the waterfront are constantly under renovation or in the process of being dismantled for new housing or commercial developments.</i></div>
<p> The true Williamsburg begins <i>below</i> the Williamsburg Bridge. Above it, or northward, is Southside, Northside and Greenpoint. The whole stretch of Bedford Avenue that acts as the spine of the neighborhood that runs from McCarren Park (in Greenpoint) to Broadway (which connects to the Williamsburg Bridge) is not in Williamsburg. Not that it much matters. Except “Williamsburg” has become a code-word for “cool” and there are still people who are like, “Gah, you mean you haven’t <i>been</i> to <i>Williamsburg</i>?”, like, What are you, asleep? You pathetic nothing who has no life and no idea where all the cool people are habitating and hanging. </p>
<div><a href=A view of the Williamsburg Bridge.
A view of the Williamsburg Bridge.

If you want a clear picture of what developers and ambitious young trendies can do to a neighborhood do this: First go to the Bedford Avenue stop on the L train. Walk around a little. See the hipsters in their untucked short-sleeved work shirts. See them with their bandolier-style Manhattan Portage bags. Watch them in their Fifties-style eyeglasses, their ironic rock T-shirts, their coffee bars, book nooks, their wraps, molded furniture, their manicured sideburns and studied casualness, their desperate “apartment wanted!!!” fliers, their equally desperate apartment sales, their art, their smug self-assured grins which are equal parts ego, relief that others have bought in and others have approved, that Williamsburg is working out, man, and part, Yeah, I’ve been here three years, long before all of this. Also look at the two remaining Polish butchers, the Polish travel agency, and think about this district when it was something else. Then walk south on Bedford to South Third Street, turn left (east) to Havemeyer Street, turn right (south) and walk to Broadway. It’s about a ten minute walk. Stroll along under the elevated J-M-Z subway line. It’s Black, Hispanic, vibrant, alive, with cheap shoe shops, 99-cent stores, cuchifritos stands, families and kids hanging out, music blaring, record stores, bootleg compact discs on the street, and other than the hormonal antics of the teenage boys, very little posturing. Just people being real. It’s a nice contrast. Anyway, this is my new neighborhood: a three bedroom share, $600 a month, South Third Street. Me and my Drew Carey glasses, my untucked short-sleeved shirts, my black boots, my penchant for nerdy young women in horn rims and Birkenstocks.

Half of a house along Flatbush Avenue near the Manhattan Bridge. The owner said the back of the house fell off when his neighbors dug too deep while leveling their own building and that insurance would not cover the damage.
Half of a house along Flatbush Avenue near the Manhattan Bridge. The owner said the back of the house fell off when his neighbors dug too deep while leveling their own building and that insurance would not cover the damage.
Police lights arrayed for sale or storage in the lot of the NYPD auction yard.
Police lights arrayed for sale or storage in the lot of the NYPD auction yard.
Wagons marked with poets' names on the plaza of Metrotech, a small, pleasant pedestrian shopping district near the Polytechnic University in downtown Brooklyn.
Wagons marked with poets’ names on the plaza of Metrotech, a small, pleasant pedestrian shopping district near the Polytechnic University in downtown Brooklyn.

Posted June 9, 2001

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