Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gentrification and Change in Brooklyn

St. John's "Church of the General's" in Bay Ridge, built 1834.
For the first time, I thought I'd venture out of Manhattan, and write a little something about Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, my father's hometown, and nearby Coney Island, which is undergoing a makeover that is forcing many businesses that have been around since the early twentieth century to pack up and leave. Gentrification throughout the city has, as we all know, had its good and bad points, as it has made the city a safer, more family-friendly place to live, it has also made it absurdly over-priced. I can't help but think that these changes will redefine what a "New Yorker" is altogether. The born-and-bred "New Yorker" or "Brooklynite" of my father's day, a middle-class type who lived and worked in the city, will be weeded out, being replaced by the very wealthy, and as some other bloggers whose work I've read have attested, the city will become an private enclave for the rich. I think it's kind of a disgrace, but that's the way of the world I guess.

I used to be all for turning the city into a safer place by any means necessary, even if it meant "Disney-fying" it to the point that it was a very phony, commercialized, over-priced tourist destination, but now I've got to admit I'm not so sure. I've read a few blogs from some aging rockers who grew up in this city and wholeheartedly despise what it has become, and mourn deeply what it was in the '70s and '80s, what seems to be gone forever, and I've got to admit, the more I study the city's past, the more I'm starting to agree with them. Granted, it's great that I can walk through the city at three in the morning and not worry about being mugged, but I'm already beginning to feel that people like myself, who aren't criminals or drug addicts, are being weeded out as well.

But I digress. My grandmother's house in Bay Ridge was sold this past week, and it was the end of an era. In 1923, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President, the old Yankee Stadium opened up in the South Bronx because the Polo Grounds couldn't fit all the people who were coming to see Babe Ruth hit home runs, and my great-grandfather from Dundalk bought the three-family row house at 222 88th Street. My aunt used to like to take my father out to Coney Island, to Luna Park, the Steeple Chase and the Cyclone, and now, many of the businesses along the boardwalk are going to have to close up shop and fast.

I've haven't made the trip down to Bay Ridge yet, but need to soon to take some pics, such as the 1834 "Church of the Generals," St. John's, where Robert E. Lee was a vestryman and where Stonewall Jackson was baptized in 1849. I hate to say it, but if we New Yorkers are not careful, it may someday be gone to, and it is up to amateur city historians like myself to keep the memory of places like this alive.

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