The day I showed up in a moving truck with ten of my similar-looking friends, a woman on my building’s stoop commented not so quietly into her phone, “All these white people got the wrong building.” No wonder: according to a recent New York Times article, the number of people like me in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has grown 15 percent over the last decade, driving up rent prices 36 percent in 2011 alone. Naturally, as we flood in, others head out.
In her article, Liz Robbins terms it a renaissance, the neighborhood’s turn from a place of violence and drug deals to one that’s attracting young creative folks seeking affordability and comfort. Here’s a snapshot of Franklin Avenue on any given weekend: “Young Brooklynites gather…often waiting an hour on weekends to get into Barboncino, a stylish and spacious four-month-old pizza restaurant named for a toy poodle.”
Within two weeks of Barboncino’s opening, it was already being cited as a neighborhood hot-spot by those crafty apartment ads on Craigslist. Meanwhile, crime rates in the hood have gone down significantly. Once-vacant storefronts are filling up with new restaurants and bars and shops, and real estate brokers are touting the area as "ProCro," the next Park Slope.
Sounds great, right?
But here’s the thing. Crown Heights is a neighborhood that’s been through a lot, and that’s something that us newbies would do well to remember. We weren’t here when the riots erupted in 1991, and we weren’t around for the two decades after, as the natives worked to rebuild their lives. It's understandable that residents are displeased to see us rolling in, with our attempts to say gracias to storekeepers as we buy six-packs of PBR, chatting on our way out about the sweet rent we pay for our massive apartments. We're obnoxious. Have we considered why the prices are so right, or why English isn't the primary language?
Instead, as the train platform each morning grows evermore crowded with us twenty- and thirty-somethings in our cardigans and plastic-framed glasses, it wouldn’t hurt for us to stop at that Caribbean spot on the way and order a Jamaican patty, or ackee and saltfish, instead of our Stumptown coffee. Yes, we’re part of a rapid shift in neighborhood identity, but maybe that shift can feel a little less abrupt with some effort at integration.
Because the older residents aren’t against us, per se. That woman who wasn’t too pleased to see me pull up in a moving van outside my building? Renee and I are now on a first name basis, and I lend her my lighter in passing on the front stairs. Here we all are, after all.