The space I described in my first blog post, my living room and kitchen in my apartment in New York, is now a different space all-together. In past 4 months since I came to Montreal for school, my parents decided to revamp the space and turn it into an air bnb rental apartment. It was intensely cleaned, my odds and ends and artwork removed, and new decor put in the place of the old. It now excludes certain bodies, while it includes others: While I used to welcome friends into it regularly, it is now a place that strangers inhabit- strangers who are willing to pay around $100 a night to stay. It is more sterile now in a homey kind of way, and I have to take close care to make sure it kept it’s order. No more painting, partying, smoking, or disorderliness. When there are people renting the space, I am excluded. Though I am nostalgic about what was there before, it was a smart and necessary business decision considering the rapidly gentrification of the neighborhood, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The transformation of the space led me to thoughts and reflections about the history of the neighborhood.
My family moved to our home in East WIlliamsburg 2011, a part of the neighborhood that managed to remain somewhat ungentrified.We converted the bottom floor, which was previously a small church, into a rehearsal and performance space. The studio is both a private and public space, as sometimes it is reserved by individuals who pay to use it to rehearse, but during performances, it is open to the public to attend. It was very conflicting taking the space of a church, but the move was inevitable and the patrons were glad that the space was going to a family who would use it for arts, as opposed to a developer who would demolish it. Something I was faced with upon moving to our new home was our impending effect on the neighborhood. My parents moved to Williamsburg in the 80’s, and like most artists arriving to the neighborhood, were young, poor, and white. The artists of Williamsburg- and their whiteness- brought about undeniable change. The influx of artists coming to the neighborhood began in the late 80’s and in a decade, Williamsburg became a hip hop spot. There was something romantic about the quaint polish-Italian brooklyn neighborhood-turned sanctuary for starving, young artists. The predominant ‘whiteness’ of Williamsburg’s inhabitant’s was also a significant aspect of it’s gentrification. The neighborhood went from hip to gentrified. My building was evicted in the mid-2000’s and we found our home in East Williamsburg. Entering my new neighborhood something occurred to me: The same way that the poor artists moving into Williamsburg caused the area to gentrify, perhaps my family moving into a less gentrified area could have the same effect, directly because of our whiteness. Race is a tool of gentrification, which racializes urban areas by appealing to certain groups and increasing prices, which forces low-income and minority groups to leave. This in turn leads to racially segregated neighborhoods where either wealth or poverty is concentrated. Gentrification forces people to turn their lives upside down, benefitting some while it hinders others. Molly Crabapple’s writings on “The myth of Rescuing Sex Workers” loosely relates to ideology that people use to justify gentrification: Sex workers are all disempowered victims who need to be saved: The neighborhood was “rough” and “dangerous” before, “we’re just trying to help by making it a better, safer place:” The idea of swooping into an area and “rescuing” it’s inhabitants from their decrepit surroundings- the idea that whiteness inherently makes a neighborhood more safe. In recent years Williamsburg has had reopened community centers, parks, and public pools. Oh good, positive change for the community! Oh but one thing- The neighborhood’s only inhabitants are now those who can afford the whopping rent. The changes made to “improve” the neighborhood occurred after it’s previous inhabitants have been pushed out through rent increase and eviction. Go figure.