Seeding on Top of the Unseen
There’s an article in today’s The New York Times that has me seeing red. It’s entitled “Restless Pioneers, Seeding Brooklyn” and was written by Donald G. McNeil, Jr.
Now, before I get to just what so upset me on reading the piece, I should point out that my store and cafe, Shakespeare’s Sister, is often credited for “starting it all” in Cobble Hill, with being the first upscale hangout in what is now one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. And I have lived in Brooklyn for about twenty of the last forty years, primarily in places that had not yet been “discovered.” I know something about urban change, having seen it happen. And I know something about the people the change “happens to.”
One of the things that, for decades, has bothered me most about self-styled “urban pioneers” is that they (like the early settlers of American, who similarly didn’t “see” the Native Americans) imagine they are moving into areas where “nobody” is living.
It’s happening in my neighborhood, finally. There are more white faces than ever before, and a new feeling in the area. That’s fine, for things do change. However, the people who are being pushed out also should be recognized… and their needs maybe even considered.
But does that happen?
What do we get instead? Statements like this (from the article):
Café Enduro, a Mexican cantina he opened two years ago in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, east of the park, is beloved by locals.
What “locals” does McNeil mean? Most of the people in the neighborhood have never been in Enduro, and will never go there. Certainly not the immigrants from Trinidad and Jamaica who have populated the blocks around Enduro (just three blocks from my house) for the past decades. Certainly not the Haitians who first came to Lefferts Gardens in the 1950s, fleeing Papa Doc Duvalier (many of that first wave were the doctors, lawyers, and teachers who are still at the heart of Brooklyn’s thriving Haitian community). Certainly not the Asians like the man who used to repair my father’s shoes in a little shop across the street from where Enduro sits, who was killed in a robbery after putting at least one daughter through Cornell. Certainly not the African Americans, who first came to the area when real-estate sharks collapsed property values by whispering that “they” were moving in.
It’s not that I have anything against the food at Enduro. But I won’t be eating there again. I can’t, now; the food will taste of the ashes of neighborhoods pushed aside.
I am going to be happy when Culpepper’s, the Barbados restaurant two blocks in the other direction from my house, is back in full operation (they had a fire, and are now doing only take-out).
Culpepper’s, like Allan’s Bakery, the Jamaican bakery across the street and a block down (where the line almost always snakes out the door), is a place really beloved by the locals here–like Toomey’s Diner, the laconic spot where the Dodgers ate their breakfasts, when Ebbets Field still dominated the neighborhood. But you won’t find McNeil there, or any of the people he “sees.” Just the communities that have been here for years.
Communities whose passing he, and his new “locals,” will never even notice.
And that, as I said, makes me see red. And makes me incredibly sad.