They’re As Doomed as the Rest of Us

Residents in Bushwick, Brooklyn make a sad and feeble stand against gentrification.

By Jim Knipfel

In the ’90s, I watched in horror as a flood of money and assholery swept over the funky little Brooklyn neighborhood where I was living. It rolled down from Prospect Park across 7th Ave., then 6th, then 5th and on toward the Gowanus. It washed away all the long-established mom and pop stores, the used book and record shops, the little corner pharmacies, the old man bars and everything else that made Henry Miller’s old neighborhood so unique. In its wake it left behind flashy upscale boutiques, expensive and hip Thai restaurants, chain drugstores, banks, and sidewalks packed with self-satisfied young investment counselors, Jamaican nannies, and high-strung neurotic mothers who wielded their overloaded triple strollers like weapons. And every last one of them was staring at their cellphone screens.

It was only inevitable that eventually the brownstone where I’d been living on the second floor for 20 years, a building which had been owned and occupied by a single extended Puerto Rican family (and me) for decades, was sold to a self-satisfied young investment banker, his neurotic wife and their monstrous and spoiled three-year-old. It was also inevitable that despite all their promises to the contrary prior to the sale, as soon as the deal was signed they promptly evicted the middle-aged blind guy on the second floor. I believe their last name was “Fucker,” but that’s beside the point.

These days Park Slope is known far and wide as The Asshole Capitol of the World.

It was an old pattern and one that rolls on  to this day as that same flood of money continues sweeping across Brooklyn, wiping every neighborhood it swallows clean of personality, identity and ugly poor people.

Sniffing the foul tide headed their way next, a handful of Bushwick residents have decided to take a stand, sort of. This past Christmas season, a few dozen long-time residents, having been nagged at home and at work by persistent developers begging to buy them out, accentuated their outdoor decorations with brightly-lit signs reading “Gentrification is the New Colonialism,” “Three-Generation Household—Not for Sale,” and “I Will Not Move.”

It’s a nice gesture, it makes a point, and it’s utterly impotent, because their neighbors are going to sell out, some little shop owners are going to sell out, commercial and residential rents are gonna start inching their way up toward Jesus, the property taxes will follow, and they’ll all be crushed like everyone else before them.

Instead of little protest signs, I might offer a few ideas that might actually encourage all those asshole developers to turn their attentions to some other neighborhood.

First, though the signs were a nice gesture, it would be far more effective if they just left their outdoor Christmas light displays up ALL YEAR LONG, only making them bigger and brighter and more elaborate as time goes on. Better still, they might want to add a few of those displays that whine out a string of tinny, abrasive Christmas carols at eardrum-drilling volumes on an endless loop. I mean, who the fuck wants to move within a block of some jackass who keeps the Christmas lights up and burning all the time? Especially when they have six different mechanical snowmen and Santas blasting out six different un-synched song loops in the middle of fucking July?

Or, if the monstrous electricity bills that would result are a concern, they might simply try doing what the people in my neighborhood have been doing for years. This is a very proud, old-school Brooklyn neighborhood, see? Possibly the last, and the people who live here intend to keep it that way. So as soon as they catch wind of a marauding developer or a realtor who seems poised to sell a property to assholes, hipsters, or the Chinese, they pick up the phone and start making death threats. Gotta say. when you live in a neighborhood populated by an awful lot of retired cops, firemen and mobsters, those aren’t exactly idle threats. And for the record it’s been working like a charm.

Published January 7th, 2016

Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, The Blow-Off, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and several other books.