Welcome to the New Neighborhood
May 2014, I move off the campus grid to a railroad style fortress on Marion Street. Marion sits at the cusp of Bed-Stuy, also known as Bedford-Stuyvesant, in East New York's eyesight and Bushwick's rearview mirror. A month prior, my roommates and I make our first visit to an available apartment at 351 Marion Street. Internally, I scream this is it, this is the one through the entire tour. My gut and confidence trump our deliberations over potential landing places and we settle on this very apartment.
Before unpacking my belongings I march into our narrow hallway and knock on the neighbor's door—one step away from mine. Jackie Backus opens the door. Jackie has lived in 351 Marion for over 30 years with her husband. Her mother lives downstairs below me and her sister lives upstairs with her son. Jackie is a lunch aide at an elementary school in Long Island. Her husband jokingly offers me sandwiches after he witnesses me dig through the garbage, one day, trying to fit my trash bag in.
Jackie observes my jeans stopping above my achilles tendon, and immediately recalls when this behavior was taboo in Brooklyn. Stealing a car radio, after its owner walked inside an apartment was not. Viewing the street name as a flag, a symbol, of territory you worship and die for was not taboo. She shakes her head and my hand as we go our separate ways.
Later that week Shamar, one of my roommates, and I skateboard around to shoot a promo video. We bypass three basketball courts in a three block radius, a huddle surrounding assorted twenty dollar bills and a pair of di, plus a gentleman with a message: I got that sour.
Immediately, I seek out the messenger. One block south, still on Marion Street, I meet Joey. Joey, his wife and two sons are all Brooklyn bred. He is a quintessential New York hustler, involving himself in multiple grassroots businesses—even co-founding a web-series. I tell him I go to college by Wall Street and he is convinced I will be a millionaire one day.
He is also convinced I dress like a Knickerbocker after he notices my high jeans. Joey grew up on Marion street during the 80s/early 90s crack epidemic. He remembers all the dealers and consumers in his family and how the distribution went down each day. He is convinced someone who dresses like a Knickerbocker would get robbed instantly in that New York, but not this one. As we exchange merchandise and contact info we promise to keep in touch, and then we head our separate ways.
Every other day I walk outside and follow the echoes of stereos leading me to a block party. Music playlists mix upbeat Soul from the 70s, hip hop classics from the 90s/00s and today's trunk-rattling hits to create an environment all ages partake in. Food and porches become props during stories and group discourse. I even bypass Jackie and her husband. No violent or criminal activity happens explicitly, and after the sun sets everyone goes their separate ways peacefully.
Unfortunately, I would be lying if I claimed all the surrounding neighborhoods—especially further east—share Marion Street's tranquility. According to Elliman's report my community's (by zip code) crime rate is double the National average. Realtor.com says the average income sits around $35k - $40k, up to 50% below the city and state average—I don't help that statistic yet. In addition, black people make up 87% of the population. By Kingsian standards, on paper, this is a sketchy place.
Still, the population increases 10% yearly. As rent prices explode in Brooklyn people seek shelter further and further east. They carry one heavy piece of baggage: gentrification. Brooklyn, NY separates itself, daily, from its Gotham City past. One can look at Fort-Greene/Clinton Hill area before and after the Barclays Center opened, to see how a gentrified transformation operates.
When an area becomes gentrified, the culture transforms. Businesses and stores open up, but the cater to the incoming population not the present locals. Residents struggling to stay above the poverty line cannot splurge inside expensive shops or upscale grocery stores. Neighbors transition like clockwork as leases shorten, preventing neighbors from establishing long term bonds with one another. Block parties and front yard cookouts begin to disappear. Then, home doesn't look much like home anymore.
I wish city officials and realtors could see the same neighborhood I see. A community's history withers before the eyes of gentrification. A culture falls back on the margin. Individuals and families forget what home truly is. This troubles me; I hope there is another solution for stimulating a community's economy and tranquility. I hope gentrification and I can go our separate ways and never meet. It's too soon to leave the home I just fell in love with.