Feature

Gentrification: Bad for the neighborhood?

At a public talk, Spike Lee bitterly complained about the white newcomers allegedly ruining his old Brooklyn neighborhood.

I have a terrible confession to make, said Joshua Greenman in the New York Daily News. I’m a white, college-educated young guy who moved to a run-down neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1995, when property prices were rising, and I now enjoy the borough’s locally brewed beer, fresh-roasted coffee, and artisanal pickles. That makes me a gentrifier—“which means, to Spike Lee, I’m the enemy.” In an expletive-filled rant at a public talk last week, the film director bitterly complained about the white newcomers allegedly ruining his old Brooklyn neighborhood. An influx of “motherf---in’ hipsters” has sent rents soaring, Lee said, banning the noisy block parties black neighbors once enjoyed, and doing to the locals what Christopher Columbus once did to Native Americans. These are the words of a “grouchy bigot,” said John McWhorter in Time.com. Black Brooklynites are making good money selling property to the newcomers, “and a once-sketchy neighborhood” is on the rise. “And this is a bad thing…why?”

You’re missing Lee’s point, said Kia Makarechi in HuffingtonPost.com. It’s not the mere presence of white people that angers him, but that the government didn’t care about these neighborhoods when their only residents were black. “Why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better?” he demanded. “Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly?” The answer is obvious: Blacks are still second-class citizens. Gentrification doesn’t have to create such tensions, said Jason Reynolds in Gawker.com. New arrivals need to stop thinking of Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene as places in need of “civilizing” and appreciate the rich, multicultural stew that’s been there for decades. So “sit on the stoop. Speak to your neighbors. And for God’s sake, dance at the block party.”

You won’t see Lee at the block party, said Errol Louis in the Daily News. He sold his Brooklyn home for $1 million in the late 1990s—to a banker and an attorney—and decamped to Manhattan’s wealthy, white Upper East Side. But he continued promoting the hipness of black Brooklyn in his movies, and used his wealth to buy, renovate, and sell properties in the area, fueling “the blazing fire of gentrification.” There’s nothing wrong with Lee’s real-estate opportunism, but how can he complain so bitterly about the very Brooklyn he helped create?

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