Roberto A. Ferdman had an excellent post this morning on Wonkblog about a Williamsburg bagel company serving rainbow bagels, and becoming super popular by doing so. Putting aside that a rainbow bagel is an abomination and should not be permitted to call itself a bagel, the most interesting part of the post for me is the indignant reactions of Williamsburg residents lamenting the effect that the bagel store (called The Bagel Store) has had on the neighborhood. And no, as Ferdman points out, it is not long-time Hasidic Jewish residents complaining.
First, let me list my bona fides. I lived in Brooklyn for a few years in the early/mid-nineties (Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill), then moved to Atlanta. In the early aughts my wife and I purchased a condo in DUMBO/Vinegar Hill where we have lived for over ten years. My wife is Brooklyn born and lived a year in Williamsburg when there were limited commercial options, and none that were “ruining” the neighborhood.
There is a sign in my neighborhood which reads “DUMBO is the beginning of Brooklyn.” DUMBO is a perfect choice for the beginning of “Brooklyn”, the parts of the borough that are thought of when describing an area of a different city as “the Brooklyn of ___.”
First of all, “DUMBO” is an invented name of an invented neighborhood. With no disrespect intended to the developer who had the vision and the means to turn the area into something, DUMBO’s creation and development depended as much on the invention of “Brooklyn” as did Williamsburg. I’m not sure which came first, the overwhelming self-regard of the neighborhood pioneers and or the cachet of reinvention (of people and blocks) but these things fed each other. By coincidence I learned about Williamsburg when it was still filled with artists who were turning commercial spaces into residential spaces (and then being evicted by landlords for violating their leases) but, in general, once the idea of someplace “happening” reaches a critical mass then it’s already happened and is on its way to being over. By that standard, Williamsburg has been over for more than a decade.
DUMBO/Vinegar Hill has also been “dying” for a while. (No doubt since before I moved in.) The artists who squatted in DUMBO were forced out years ago as the buildings went condo or rental and the prices got too high. And when those people moved out some of my neighbors felt that something important was being lost, ignoring that the Starbucks in the area had been open for years and that whatever they were concerned about had already been lost.
But, of course, nothing is ever really over. Times Square and SoHO and the LES are not over, not really. True, visitors from out-of-town will feel as comfortable walking through those areas (aside from some parts of the LES) as they will queuing for rainbow bagels in Williamsburg, but that doesn’t mean something unacceptable has happened. It only means that those places evolved and then the cycle begins in the next place.
So Williamsburg and DUMBO are dying and will no doubt continue to die as new luxury condo buildings open. There is a limit to just how over DUMBO/Vinegar Hill can get thanks to the the Farragut Houses, a public housing development in the southeast corner of the area. Williamsburg is compensating for its southern limit of Hasidic housing by pushing into Bushwick, displacing brown and black folks, first with white folks who are pioneers, who have “edge” and then later by folks like me who are grateful that the city evolves to accommodate them.
What is interesting is that no one moves into a new area and thinks its over. For my wife and I, we wanted (and still want) more food options. An additional neighborhood bar would be great, too. There’s an MTA bus stop on my block that didn’t exist a few years ago. Other than the Starbucks and the Shake Shack at Fulton Ferry Landing, there are no national chains in the area. For me, my neighborhood is poised at the edge of being perfect and being over.
Everyone has their own idea about the proper tradeoff between safety and convenience on one side and coolness or “edge” on the other. Like those people complaining about the rainbow bagels, complaining about changes ignores that this has been going on for a long time. Neighborhoods are not preserved in amber when they reach that perfect point. (Heck, even Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge are changing.) This is all on a continuum, and there were people before us who hated the changes and there will be people after us who will hate the changes. Complaining about it is the height of arrogance and entitlement.
For those wondering, the only acceptable bagels are plain, salt, onion, garlic, poppy, sesame, egg and everything. That’s it. (I know I’m forgetting something, and it’s not cinnamon raisin.)
Where is next? Bushwick and South Slope (and Sunset Park) and evolving, and since I know it that means you’ve probably already missed the boat. I keep thinking parts of the Bronx are next, which means those places are also probably almost over. Bed-Stuy is hampered by areas without great access to the train, similar to the long-standing issue in Red Hook. I know a couple who moved to Ridgewood in Queens, so that is out. Honestly, if you’re a pioneer you should move to East New York right away. You may have to wait for a while but that’s what will eventually be next. (And then will be over.)