The clamor of metal clanks, wooden plows, and electric drills from local construction sites have been echoing throughout my street and into my tenement apartment window for years now. Change is inevitable and even expected in New York City. However, the rate of change in my Clinton Hill/Fort Greene, Brooklyn neighborhood has been exponential and feels almost unnaturally rushed. When I first moved to Brooklyn, there were hardly any tall buildings. I could look to the vast blue skies without moving my head up. On some days I could even appreciate a beautiful blood orange swirl of clouds at the rim of the horizon as the sun set down Fulton Street. It was a sweet respite from the industrial hustle and bustle of Manhattan and the Bronx; I was in love.
Today, for years now, the skylines have been invaded with the sight and ruckus of construction and demolition. Just within the last three years, nearly every square patch of space that didn’t contain a tall building has slowly been bought out and rebuilt into condominium apartment buildings. Parking lots have been particularly vulnerable to this takeover. Last year, the gas station and Zipcar lot across my street were demolished and are now being replaced by two monstrous tenement buildings. The construction workers have continuously been building layers upon layers to the ever-growing number of floors of these new buildings. Goodbye, beautiful sunset views from my window.
A few months ago, upon returning from my trip to Asia, I sauntered over to my favorite restaurant, The Berlyn — a local favorite. Even thousands of miles away, I relished in the memory of one of my Brooklyn traditions: getting my favorite cocktail and dish at The Berlyn just before catching a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). To my dismay, when I reached The Berlyn, I was halted by a neon yellow sign. The popular small business had been closed down. I crossed over to BAM, only to learn that they had discontinued their free live music shows (BAM Cafe) which were a community favorite. “We are now renting them out for private events only,” the security guard told me as I surrendered my bag to him for inspection, something I never had to do before.
I sullenly looped around the block where I saw three new, shiny, silver condominium buildings glistening high in the air. One with a moving neon sign that scrolled an advertisement message which read something like “Condos for sale” and another building with a green sign that read “Whole Foods Coming Here Soon.” My jaw dropped agape. Later I found out that there is now also a new Trader Joes, and an Apple Store, along with a full array of chain restaurants in the neighborhood.
The once quaint neighborhoods of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill are now littered with tourists and Manhattanites seeking refuge to the sweet respite from city-life which I once relished in. On the weekends, especially, local cafes are now overflowing with new visitors, and the walkways of our local bookstore resemble the streets of midtown Manhattan.
Recently, I came home to find two men covered in patches of paint outside the window of my fourth-floor apartment. They were re-painting the iron fire escape stairs and balconies on the facade of my building. My eyes widen and nearly jump out of my head in panic. My landlords, though nice people have rarely shown effort or concern for the maintenance of my apartment building, let alone its appearance. Why would they spend any time or money painting the outside which doesn’t affect any of the tenants? Unless it’s not for the tenants…
I sat back in my living room, taunted by the musical composition of the ceaseless construction, wondering if I could be next to go. In New York, it seems almost no one is safe. Clinton Hill and Fort Greene have been my haven for many years. But with each scrape and plow, I’m reminded of just how ephermal New York City can be.
Afterall, unless you own a house, it’s important to accept that you can be displaced anywhere in the world. So the best remedy to cope with the ceaseless changes of New York City living is to never get too attached to an apartment or neighborhood. Always have a backup, no matter how comfortable it all feels. Because in addition to my travel experiences, New York City, above of all, reminds me that nothing is forever.