To longtime Black New Yorkers, Brooklyn just ain’t Brooklyn anymore. A gentrification bomb was dropped on it and there’s no turning back. It wasn’t an overnight change. It’s been years in the making.
Gentrification is the transformation of underinvested, predominately poor communities from low property value to high property value. During this process, long-time residents and businesses are typically displaced, unable to afford higher rents, mortgages and property taxes, Black Enterprise reported.
I saw it firsthand in the late 1990s. I was living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and at the time there were still remnants of the crack era that disproportionately devastated African Americans. I usually had to step over addicts and dealers sitting on the stairs of the brownstone I called home.
But the neighborhood also had Spike Lee’s Joint where you could get movie memorabilia. His film company’s headquarters were also there. We had a string of small fashion boutiques such as Nigerian designer Moshood’s Moshood Creations. There were art galleries, Black American- and African-owned restaurants and “Black Brunch” events. There was an enclave of Black entertainment industry professionals, artists, and entrepreneurs residing in the area.
Then, overnight it seemed, the police started clearing out the addicts and dealers. More and more yuppies could be seen exercising in Ft. Greene Park. My building was sold to a yuppie couple who raised the rent so much that all the residents had to move out. Soon the whole area was overpriced and the face of the neighborhood changed.
The same scenario played out in other parts of Brooklyn, even those once considered dangerous such as Brownsville, East New York, Crown Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Gentrification increasingly targets lower-income areas. According to a 2015 Governing survey, gentrification accelerated in a number of cities with nearly 20 percent of neighborhoods with lower incomes and home values experiencing gentrification since 2000. In the ’90s, the comparable gentrification rate was 9 percent.
Here are 7 things to know about the gentrification bomb dropped on Black Brooklyn, New York.
1. Black Brooklyn
Black Brooklyn comprises the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Brownsville, Ocean Hill, East New York, Canarsie, Flatlands, East Flatbush, Flatbush, parts of Bushwick, and parts of downtown Brooklyn.
The majority of the population in each census tract was Black in the U.S. Census of 2000.
“In this case, almost all of the census tracts located in Black Brooklyn were majority Black in 2000…neighborhoods with a majority Black population are included even if not every census tract was majority Black in 2000,” wrote Themis Chronopoulos in a paper, “What’s Happened to the People?” Gentrification and Racial Segregation in Brooklyn.”
The paper was published by SpringerLink. Chronopoulos wrote it for the American Studies program, Department of Political and Cultural Studies, Swansea University, in the U.K.
2. Moving in
While gentrification isn’t new, whites in NYC didn’t really start moving into Black Brooklyn neighborhoods until the 1990s. “Although urban neighborhoods in the U.S. have been gentrifying since the 1960s, whites usually gentrified white or Latinx neighborhoods. Whites began to move in larger numbers to some Black neighborhoods in the 1990s, though this movement accelerated in the 21st century,” Chronopoulos wrote
Population statistics are proof. In Northwest Black Brooklyn, whites became the numerical majority after 2013. The numbers of whites also more than doubled in Black Brooklyn between 2000 and 2018. The area of Black Brooklyn where whites moved the most is North Black Brooklyn. In that sense, the Black population of Black Brooklyn shifted south and east, according to Chronopoulos.
3. Why white takeover of Black Brooklyn?
Being close to transportation played a major role in the gentrification of Black Brooklyn. Prior to the 1990s, whites tended to crave the suburbs and shied away from areas where mass transit was available.
Northwest Black Brooklyn was always a desirable area, a part of Brownstone Brooklyn, adjacent to downtown Brooklyn, and close to many subway lines, Chronopoulos wrote.
“Downtown Brooklyn and its environs also became the focus of transnational investment with thousands of luxury condominiums being built in the area. In a general sense, the movement of whites to parts of Black Brooklyn epitomizes the back-to-the-city movement, the dynamic nature of New York’s economy, the desire to live near ‘choice locations,’ a perception that New York is safer and more orderly, and an acceptance of racial diversity by younger whites.”
4. Displacement & Education
A 2010 study on “Who Gentrifies Low-Income Neighborhoods” found that the impact of gentrification on Black residents varies based on the level of education.
By examining around 15,000 census tracts in 64 metro areas from 1990 to 2000, the authors found that gentrification tends to benefit highly educated Black households. In fact, a third of the increase in income among gentrifying neighborhoods during this period came from the progress of this specific demographic, The Atlantic reported in 2015.
In this case, gentrifying neighborhoods are actually more attractive to middle-class Black households. This is not the case with less-educated Black households. Gentrification can have a “negative effect on less-educated Black households by pushing those who did not complete high school out of gentrifying neighborhoods,” The Atlantic reported.
5. Did Jay-Z sell out Black Brooklyn?
It seemed like the perfect photo opportunity. Jay-Z helped bring the New York Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) and the multimillion-dollar Barclays Center events arena to downtown Brooklyn in 2012.
Jay-Z grew up in the notoriously dangerous Marcy Projects in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he dealt drugs.
For some, it was an inspiring image of a BK street kid rising to the top. But for others, Jay-Z helped sell out Black Brooklyn with the project.
“Despite presenting the Barclays Center as something to benefit Brooklyn, Jay-Z’s posturing as the face of the project is a strictly selfish stance. The Center hasn’t produced any sort of career options for kids in the area (let alone the Marcy Projects), unless you count being given the chance to take fast-food orders as creating opportunities for the better of the community. The scale of the stadium is too large to do anything to aid and foster the borough’s music scene. Long-time local businesses are also faced with a prohibitive rent hike next time their leases come up,” The Village Voice reported.
In 2013, Jay-Z sold his stakes in the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center.
6. Bye, Brooklyn
Displacement is a real issue in Black America, despite some studies suggesting that community activists are overstating the problem, Bloomberg reported.
But Ron Daniels, president of civil-rights network Institute of the Black World 21st Century, wrote in a 2018 blog, “Development in Washington, D.C., the original ‘Chocolate City,’ has displaced thousands of Black people, forcing them to move to surrounding suburban areas; the prosperous central city neighborhood and Black business district in Seattle, Washington has vanished as Blacks have been forced to flee to Tacoma and other outlying cities where housing is more affordable; in Los Angeles, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition is vigorously resisting a subway extension that would spur gentrification in one of the most storied communities in Black America; in neighborhood after neighborhood in New York City, from Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx to Harlem, gentrification is rapidly displacing hundreds of thousands of Black people.”
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7. Where have Black Brooklynites gone
In the areas of Black Brooklyn that have been gentrified, the Black population has declined. “Between 2000 and 2010, Crown Heights and the two neighborhoods to its south and east, Flatbush and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, all areas with large West Indian immigrant populations, each lost from 10 to 14 percent of their Black populations, according to an analysis of the 2010 census released by the Department of City Planning,” The New York Times reported.