Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Commentary by an NYU Student living in Sunset Park


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"Since I moved to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, I’ve fallen in love with my neighborhood. I savor the brownstone blocks, the buzzing Mexican barrio, the borough’s biggest Chinatown and the grassy park with its views of the Manhattan skyline. I feel at home in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, I am destroying it.

My roommate and I discovered Sunset Park after realizing we couldn’t afford to live in any of the neighborhoods we considered cool. In one weekend, we saw eight apartments. Some crawled with roaches and rodents, others had beautiful bay windows and hardwood floors. Late Sunday afternoon, we found it – a cozy two-bedroom in a four-unit row house near the park.

Rent here is cheap, and food is cheaper. Mexican restaurants, bakeries, record stores, ride services and travel agencies line Fifth Avenue, the main drag, and on warm Sundays, vendors clog the sidewalks, hawking tamales and bootleg DVDs. A few avenues away, Chinese groceries, fish markets, karaoke bars and banks stretch for a mile. There are no movie theaters, bookstores or coffee houses – the closest options are in the next neighborhood.

Waiting for the D train, I’m legitimately surprised to hear English. When I go out for dinner (Chinese or Mexican), I pass kids riding their bikes, men playing soccer in a dried-up kiddie pool, families picnicking on park benches, and women working in sweatshops. In a New York that grows ever richer and ever poorer, Sunset Park is still a working class neighborhood. But if more people like my roommate and me move in, it won’t stay that way for long.

With the money my roommate earns lifeguarding, and the cash I saved interning, we can hardly cover rent and utilities, even with help from our parents. But as students seeking inexpensive living, our economic status differs greatly from that of our neighbors.

College students are the best gentrifiers. We move to neighborhoods with low rent and high crime rates. We feed the local economy with our parents’ money, but frequent bodegas only until a CVS opens. The businesses we close make room for bars, coffee shops and ethnic restaurants that better fit our demographic. We invite our friends and our friends’ friends for parties; the next year, our friends and our friends’ friends move in.

Many of us relocate every year. Whenever one of us moves out, our landlords increase rent by more than 4 percent – the typical inflation rate. After a couple of years of collegiate immigration, longtime residents can’t afford to stay.

We pay half as much rent as our friends in Greenwich Village do. Our neighbors probably pay about half what we do. When we moved in, our building was the only space on the block that catered to college students. In the last eight months, three new condo buildings have sprouted from vacant lots, all inhabited by gentrifying students and expats from the nearest gentrified neighborhood, Park Slope.

Sunset Park is calm compared to how it was 20 ago, when it earned its rough reputation. It still has its problems. Coming home from class, I pass rows of cars with smashed windows and missing stereos. I’d play more basketball in the park if the kids weren’t wearing gang colors. These are the times when I’d like to see Sunset Park change. I want the drugs out of the park, the gangs off the streets and the sweatshops closed. If that makes me a gentrifier, I don’t feel bad about it.

Other times, I regret killing Sunset Park. I should support the community, but most local businesses don’t fulfill my needs. The movie rental shops don’t carry anything I want to see, so I rely on Netflix. I’ve tried to get my groceries from only local shops, but the two nearest bodegas don’t carry cheese or bread. I used to walk four blocks every morning to get the Times, but delivery is so much easier. A few times a week, I grab a torta or a banh mi, but giving service to restaurants isn’t the same as giving back to the community.

It’s easy to criticize the knockout punches of gentrification, like Whole Foods or Starbucks moving in. But the baby steps of gentrification are rarely criticized – often, they’re praised. When young people (students) “revitalize” a neighborhood, we force out longtime residents. The new neighborhood becomes a destination. Ten years later, we mourn the death of this trendy, quaint, “authentic” neighborhood. No, gentrification doesn’t begin when big business dominates a neighborhood. Gentrification begins when students arrive."

(My feedback to this)

Ben:

You don't need to feel so much guilt! I don't think you are "killing" the neighborhood. You are doing the very typical thing that everyone in this neighborhood has done, which is to seek out an affordable place to live.
You can use your skills and abilities to help the neighborhood, by getting involved in community organizations and patronizing the small businesses here. What bodegas don't carry cheese or bread? I get really fresh cheese in the grocery next to the JFK chicken place on 5th Ave. next to the Sunset Park Diner (39th and 5th). Did you know there is a Farmers Market every Sat. until Nov. at 4th Ave and 59th St. Also there are several produce vendors on 5th Ave usually on the weekends, near 52nd and 53rd St.
I feel as you do in that not everything I need is here. There are a lot of things I would like to see here...bookstores, healthy restaurants. But not at the price of jacking up the rents....if that is the case, I will use the old metrocard to seek that stuff elsewhere. I don't care much about dvds but I do belong to the Park Slope Food Coop because I do like to eat organic food. But we DO NOT NEED a Starbucks here!! That's where I draw the frickin Line!!!

Any other feedback to his article?



5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I also trek all the way to the coop because I can't find organic and local produce in the area.

MarĂ­a Roca said...

While I trek to the coop, as well, I am careful to spend as much money in the neighborhood, as possible. Re previous comments about Sunset Park (THE PARK), I invite you to join us the "Friends of Sunset Park" in "giving something back" while insuring a cleaner, safer and magnificent park for all. Send us your contact info and we'll add you to our distribution list for upcoming events.

Anonymous said...

this is a discrase you ppl r destoing the nebiorhood y push out the long time residents wen this is their nebiorhood y kick out all of the poor hispanic residents to create another destroyed nebiorhood in brookyn that contains all white people.ous nebiorhood lasted this long without all u idiots trying 2 tak it from us. u r the problem with america today u r all out 2 destroy the low class neiborhoods th only ojnes with any sort of culture if u luv those mexican restrants alot then theyll be bought out by starbucks no1 likes star bucks go type at ur house lik a normal person u r a dumass stay out of sunset park ok

Anonymous said...

3rd Comment,

Were all the people who currently live in Sunset Park the first people to ever live there? No. Every neighborhood in New York is constantly changing. After WWII, when the Army terminal shut down, thousands of jobs were lost, everyone left the neighborhood, and crime rose, which gave the ancestors of many of the current residents the opportunity to live there with cheap rent. Cheap rent is why this student moved there. Its a cycle. You may have more in common than you think.

Anonymous said...

Hahaaa, thanks for that one stoops!