Gentrification in Brooklyn: Turn the Page.

By Martin Bisi

The explosion of energy I saw on Brooklyn’s streets after the Obama win, recedes into the background. And I feel I’m looking at an economic and social playing field that is now undeniably different. The financial crisis has brought a shift in the dynamics of how the neighborhoods will change in the coming years. And I do believe neighborhoods like everything else, occupy the 4th dimension of time, so their identity exists in the context of history and change. The result of the election also has brought about a massive shift, in the mental realm – how 2.5 million residents see their connection with the rest of the continent. That these two forces would occur simultaneously, almost gives a sense of cosmic synchronicity – paradigm shifts occur at break points.

Compared to the near spiritual feelings about Obama’s election, the downsizing of the economy in Brooklyn is the yang, to Obama’s yin. I live across the street from an empty lot that has been the anticipated location of a mega Whole Foods market, with rooftop parking – for years. That plan is now dead in the water. If the company does open its first Brooklyn branch, the official plan is now to do it on a much smaller scale. Atlantic Yards, the gargantuan development project for Downtown Brooklyn, is also being scaled back by an indefinite amount. Common sense suggests it will be scaled way back. That project was so iconic of the over-development of Brooklyn, that it inspired the slogan “Don’t supersize Brooklyn”. Well I wish I’d gotten the T shirt with those words when I had the chance. Those words are not exactly relevant anymore, and that’s what happens in a paradigm shift – concepts and words need to be re-defined, discarded, replaced.

I’ll throw in another word – gentrification. That word was the lightening rod for all the cultural, economic and political ire of the last 15 years in Brooklyn. At issue was the opening of many businesses that catered to economically upscale customers, and the consequences of that. I can say for myself, that the termination of the Whole Foods project across the street, is making my living status feel more secure. The closing of a Starbucks a couple miles from me – in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn – must have a similar effect on some of the residents there.

So with the heat turned down from 10, to maybe 7, the whole phenomenon of gentrification can be looked at more objectively. Some of the obvious contradictions – like the mutual reliance of valuable culture and the influx of educated, moneyed residents – make the classic ‘gentrification’ analysis inadequate for the tensions sure to come. We are also now stuck with the harsh downside, that economic downsizing means less employment, and a different kind of challenge.

It seems things can only be perfect for a blink of an eye – sigh. So I’m glad I hit the streets of Brooklyn on election night – definitely, a unique moment of collective elation.  


Martin Bisi is an American producer and songwriter. Visit him at

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