Bogart – Extreme Makeover: Hipster Edition

Katarina Hybenova

Bogart.No, not the charming actor from Hollywood’s Golden Age or a misspelled variant of a Harry Potter monster; this is a much less mainstream cultural phenomenon. Bogart Street is a growing and thriving center of culture in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, specifically, hipster culture. Of course, hipster-ness is a strange paradox; to define something as hipster makes it not hipster, but I digress. So. Bogart, Bushwick, and culture. This area of Brooklyn has only begun gentrification in the last twenty years, slowly building a firm commercial hold to combat the area’s troubled past. Looking back over the history of Bushwick, from residential community to crime plagued streets to the hipster paradise it is today, what role has and will gentrification play in Bushwick?

Bushwick is well known for being a dangerous place to walk alone in Brooklyn, but this was not always the case. In the mid-twentieth century, Bushwick was a charming little white middle class community, with more children playing on the streets than murderers. However, people began to get greedy. Realtors in the area began selling houses to ethnic minorities, and then use the new diversity as a reason to lower housing prices. Fearing they would lose money by staying in Bushwick, many of the WASP families moved out, selling their houses to the realtors for far less than they were worth. Realtors then sold these unwanted houses to more families of minorities for far more than the homes were worth, making a profit, but changing Bushwick in the process. The community became defined by lower class ethnic families, primarily African American and Puerto Rican, people who wanted to join the Bushwick community in hopes of a better life.

However, these hopeful families were abused by their realtors and given loans and mortgages they had no hopes of paying off. Many had no other choice but to forfeit on their mortgages, losing their homes and overflowing the housing market with unwanted and overpriced houses. From here, the crisis escalated quickly. People began to riot, gathering in the streets, setting fires, and looting, upset over how they were mistreated and screwed over in their attempt at pursuing the American Dream. Crime rose, hundreds of buildings were left abandoned and the neighborhood descended into chaos.

Then, there was calm. The local government began making efforts in the nineties to combat the rampant crime in Bushwick, strengthening the police force and increasing public housing assistance, and thankfully, these efforts were successful. Crime began to drop and people slowly started to feel safer. However, this Brooklyn community was literally a shell of its former self, plagued by empty buildings, which, until taken care of, would only serve to attract more crime.

Then, almost as if by a supernatural force, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, following years of turmoil, hipsters, artists, and the adventurous began to arrive. Drawn like fauna to an open spring, these white, privileged folks started the process of exploring the predominantly Hispanic Bushwick, looking for what brought those that came before them: hope and the American Dream. Fleeing the exorbitant rental fees of Williamsburg and Manhattan, these thrifty hipsters discovered the empty shell buildings in Bushwick and realized the possibilities. Soon, long hollow buildings became filled, both with people and with a new sense of hope and purpose.

The new wave of people not only brought inhabitants, but also art. The main group that moved to Bushwick in the early 2000’s was seeking a cheap and creatively-stimulating environment in which to show their art, creating galleries in abandoned warehouses, such as the now acclaimed Bogart 56. See, we got back to the street name. This gallery grows every year, switching out its venues to new artists looking for a chance to make it big.

Of course, where hipsters go, the rest of society eventually follows. Soon Bushwick began a commercial conversion. New stores that more appropriately matched the artistic needs of Bushwick’s new residents began to pop up and define the community. Fine dining, organic grocery stores, thrift shops full of trendy clothing, truly Bogart street and Bushwick in general became a hipster paradise.

We have caught up to the present. And more surprisingly, we have almost come full circle as well. Bushwick started out as a predominantly white middle-class community seventy or so years ago and it is rapidly becoming the same type of neighborhood in the present as well. There are arguments about the positive and negatives of gentrification, but with the speed this community is changing, these arguments miss the real problem at hand. Those who are pro gentrification in Bushwick point to the areas newly found commercial and residential success as reasons to celebrate. Those who oppose this change fear rising rental costs will force out the area’s long time inhabitants.

This back and forth fails to be relevant because it only addresses the present, ignoring the faults of the past and the potential danger in the future. Regardless of whether or not rental costs rise, the local residents will eventually be pressured to leave, not due to overcharged rent, but lack of rent in general. Why would any landlord accept rent when they can just sell the building for a ridiculous amount and cash in? People will be evicted, Hispanics and hipsters alike, to make room for higher paying residents. The community will shift back to being white middle class, following the slightly stale hipster trend.

Here is where the issue lies. What is to prevent the housing crisis that threw Bushwick into chaos from happening again? Yes, the community is growing and finding financial success now, but it was in the past as well. Nothing is stopping another group of greedy realtors from making a quick buck and fleeing the scene of the crime as they have done before and may do again.

Why the focus on specifically Bogart? No other building sums up the history of Bushwick better the Bogart 56, from hollow shell to artistic haven. However, even more important than art is the public response to Bogart Street. People love it here. The architecture is ironically industrial chic, and the graffiti is modern art. While both may be true, to ignore the history of the neighborhood is a dangerous mistake. For the people of Bushwick, both hipsters and Hispanics, I wish the best of luck, and implore them to look to their past to avoid their future.

Works Cited

Gottlieb, Martin. “F.H.A. CASE RECALLS BUSHWICK IN 70’S.” The New York Times. New York Times Company, 2 February 1986. Web. 2 May 2016.

Lipinski, Jed. “Next Stop, Bushwick.” The New York Times. New York Times Company, 7 March 2012. Web. 2 May 2016.

Malanga, Steven. “The Death and Life of Bushwick.” City Journal. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Inc., Spring 2008. Web. 2 May 2016.

Sullivan, Robert. “Psst… Have You Heard About Bushwick” The New York Times. New York Times Company, 5 March 2006. Web. 2 May 2016.

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