Rapidly Changing Brooklyn & the Perpetual Fear of Displacement in NYC

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.

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8 thoughts on “Rapidly Changing Brooklyn & the Perpetual Fear of Displacement in NYC

  1. Arielle says:

    I think that’s so sad. I know nothing can stay the same forever, but surely there can be a way to develop and invest in neighborhoods without kicking out all the people who made the neighborhood great in the first place.

    • Isabelle says:

      I agree. I think that’s when governments need to step in. In NYC we have rent stabilized and rent control buildings, but they are falling apart and the owners severely neglect them. The city needs to regulate. Some growth and progress is good, but unregulated and it hurts the underprivileged.

  2. Elizabeth Aldrich says:

    This was so beautifully written. It’s true – we do have to accept that everything is fleeting. But I do wish we could find a solution or compromise between letting new people experience these places but also preserving them and keeping them affordable for residents.

    • Isabelle says:

      Wow, thank you for the kind words, Elizabeth!!

      Yes, everything, including life is fleeting. But I also hope for a compromise. It’s up the city to step in and regulate/protect the underprivileged…

  3. Buppieditbonsoir says:

    Really loved this post. I’m currently witnessing the same thing happen in DC. I’m conflicted between surrending to the changes or putting up a fight to protect certain communal spaces and events. However, after several years worth of frontline activist work, I have to admit that I feel like I’m too tired to do the latter. *sigh*

    • Isabelle says:

      Thank you @Buppieditbonsoir! <3

      I don't think there is much we can do... Unless we can buy up the property. :\ What could we do?

  4. ARI says:

    Sad that your home can now be converted possibly to that cookie cutter format, condos, chain restaurants and shops and mini-malls. I recently watched Anthony Bourdain’s show covering QUEENS, and it amazed me how diverse and fantastic parts of New York City are. The absolute chaos and mixing and contrasting of cultures. Brooklyn probably was like that at one point too, but as you say, nothing lasts forever. I hope you find peace there for as long as it’s home.

    • Isabelle says:

      ” I hope you find peace there for as long as it’s home.” I love this line. It’s so real and yet positive. Thank you! Me too 🙂

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