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Bushwick: Hipster Playpen Or Just Capitalist Takeover?

Gentrification grabs hold in Bushwick. Does it improve the neighborhood or just take their money?

By Jeff Vasishta August 11, 2016
Rheingold Brewery. All photos courtesy of NY Curbed.

Extreme makeovers, the permanent look of surprise, the faces of 70-year-old men made to resemble 9-year old Filipino girls. The makeovers sweeping American cities, however, are not the grotesque handiwork of Hollywood plastic surgeons. But gentrification can be equally alarming. The landscape of urban America, with all its sins and soul, its salsa and sound systems, bullets and bodegas, is being transformed into a spotless and some would say, soulless cities of gleaming glass and metal, resembling homogeneous shopping malls.

RelatedAs Netflix’s The Get Down Celebrates The South Bronx’ Hip-Hop Past, Its Future Is At A Gentrification Cross Roads

Currently in mid-surgery is Bushwick, Brooklyn. As with most gentrifying neighborhoods, the artists came first. There were raves in cavernous warehouses with passwords and secret entrance doors. There was jerry-rigged electricity and faulty plumbing. Then came the bars, restaurants and exposed brick coffee shops and the hordes with their shiny Mac’s typing slavishly away on who knows what – novels, day trading, song lyrics. With them and the proximity to Williamsburg, came rent hikes, displacement, anger and now two massive development projects that could have residents paying $1900 per month for a studio and $5000 per month for a 3-4-bedroom unit. The times, they are a changin’.

In mid-June renderings for a million square foot rental complex built at the former Rheingold Brewery site were unveiled to the public. The plan, to be developed by Williamsburg based All Year management is, according to Curbed, “…be inspired by a “European village.”

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Next door at 10 Montieth St. is a 400,000 square-foot luxury development proposed by the Rabsky Group. The two developments, though not connected, are set to set to have a profound effect on the neighborhood. With 32% of Bushwick residents outside the walls of the proposed structures falling below the poverty line, the rapidly changing street scene is growing more contentious by the day.

At a Local Community Board meeting last month, Council member Antonio Reynoso stressed the importance of ensuring that Bushwick continues to have affordable housing. “We need to make sure that the 3-family homes on the block stay there, that people don’t buy 4 properties and build 1 tower in the middle,” he said.

Residents and community advocacy groups remain skeptical. Yet, the original developers of the Rheingold Brewery site, Read Properties and Princeton Holdings, agreed to a 30 percent affordable housing quotient before selling their interest to the Rabsky Group.

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“Many people who are new to the neighborhood choose to ignore those realities because it’s not affecting them as much as it’s affecting us,“ Will Giron, a lifelong resident of Bushwicktold the Village Voice in December. “We’re the ones who are losing our homes, the homes that we were raised in,” he said. Giron found himself in the news earlier this year after an artist mounted a crochet mural of a Wes Anderson film to the side of his family’s building without permission. The episode sparked outrage in the community and became a symbol of the area’s escalating battle against gentrification. “I don’t think people understand how emotionally exhausting it is to constantly see your community being erased. When I see cafés pop up that a lot of people can’t afford, when I see businesses directed toward one type of people, when I see condos going up geared toward one type of people, just sort of the erasure of our history here, it conjures up feelings of anger but also of hurt and pain.”

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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