The Gentrification of Williamsburg

In the cultural movement of the 1970’s, many artists and progressive-thinkers made their way to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as it had large spaces for cheap rent compared to the nearby East Village. Just a few subway stops connect the iconic Bedford Avenue and Union Square.

The people who originally lived in Williamsburg were generally ethnic minorities or members of the Hasidic faith; a culture which remains highly concentrated in south Williamsburg. But the 1960’s and 1970’s provided a recreation space for many local kids, though many parts of the neighborhood were thought of as “tense,” according to someone I interviewed. This man grew up in Brooklyn and spent a lot of time between the late 1960’s and the 1980’s in Williamsburg, and he had a lot to say about what it was like before the gentrification.

” Everyone was either middle middle class or lower middle class.  There was no such thing as gentrification.  Stores were locally owned – no chain or boutique stores.  It was real and raw, not pseudo/pretend cool like it is now.  At that time – for me, the first round in the early 70’s and then again in the late 80’s, Williamsburg was truly bohemian – like a Jack Kerouac novel, ”

This statement is profound, the rich cultural state of modern Williamsburg is seen as commercial and shallow to residents from pre-gentrification. The streets were simpler, you could,  “…hang on the back bumper of buses, walk up to Miltie’s toy store, go to Three Guys for an egg cream, Grabstein’s for a knish, or play some sandlot football.” Williamsburg was personal and fun, even though there was “ethnic tension,” it was still a unique and memorable place to be.

But as more and more artists filled the apartments, things began to change. At the time of this initial influx of residents, much of Williamsburg was downtrodden and littered with abandoned warehouses, which were rented out for remarkably little to pivotal members of then-modern culture.

Over the course of the next few decades, Williamsburg slowly became flushed with unique cultural and a slew of residents and businesses that could exist nowhere else. The growing music scene was a pivotal aspect of the gentrification, as seen in the 1990’s and on. Bands like Japanthers and Matt and Kim notoriously came out of Williamsburg around this time period, and oftentimes the venues that would house concerts were small art galleries or warehouses. This low-key, lo-fi art scene attracted a strong, underground crowd that would help define the modern state of the neighborhood.

Increased popularity in the Brooklyn Brewery and borough-specific things like “Warehouse Parties” brought more and more attention to Williamsburg in recent years, since the other areas of New York, like post-gentrification Greenwich Village, became more uptight with the new permanent residents. Williamsburg was still defining itself, and it

Williamsburg is known for it's open-mindedness

was very loosely policed, so the neighborhood offered different freedoms that no longer existed in other neighborhoods.

The gentrification of Williamsburg was driven by the looseness of the entire neighborhood; a freedom was present for people to come and redefine a community as artists and off-beat bohemians. The entire neighborhood was just waiting for people to come along and take advantage of it’s open spaces and unoccupied streets, and so now Williamsburg is one of the most popular neighborhoods in all of New York.

According to the government census, the population in Williamsburg and the closely

Surge of youth population

surrounding areas has increased by 8%, over 20,000 people, since 1990. And since Williamsburg is growing at such a rapid rate, the next round of census information will show even greater growth, since the popularity of Williamsburg has continued to grow in the last three years since the census data was relevant. The majority of new residents in that time period are caucasian and asian people over the age of 18, which speaks to the crowd that Williamsburg draws. It is a place for people in their twenties to come live and experience the kind of life that just is not present anywhere else, and was not    present when their parents were at this age.

The gentrification of Williamsburg is new and it is still growing. Every day more and more

"Every city has such physically homogenous neighborhoods." -Jacobs

buildings are constructed, apartments are rented and warehouses are converted into small businesses.

I interviewed people in that age range who currently live in Williamsburg, and they describe it as “unique in that it is on the cutting edge of fashion, music and the lot.”

To the people who live there, Williamsburg is “an unstoppable cultural hub. ”

In what I found to be a great encapsulation of what Williamsburg has become, my interviewee stated proudly,

“…my favorite part of living there was the culture and it seems to me that that is the direct result of the amazing people who live and work in the neighborhood.”


Works Cited:

Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Modern Library, 2011. Print.

“Williamsburg, Brooklyn.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web.

Nolan, Hamilton. “Heroic Williamsburg Condo Owners Reminisce on “Wild West” Days of 2011.” Gawker. N.p., 11 Sept. 2013. Web. Nov. 2013.

Harshbarger, Rebecca. “Brooklyn Curmudgeon so Upset about Hipster Noise He Made More than 400 Phony Calls To cops.” New York Post Brooklyn Curmudgeon so Upset about Hipster Noise He Made More than 400 Phony Calls Tocops Comments. N.p., 5 Jan. 2013. Web. Nov. 2013.

Coyne, Matt. “The New York Observer.” The New York Observer West Williamsburg From Hipsterville to Collegeville in the LastYear Comments. N.p., 3 Oct. 2011. Web. Nov. 2013.