Image Source: (r) Danny Lyon, Manhattan Bridge Tower in Brooklyn, New York City, Framed through Nearby Buildings,1974 & (l) Wally Gobetz, Manhattan Bridge, 2009.
Growing up in DUMBO, Facing The Effects of Gentrification
I grew up in DUMBO, Brooklyn when the streets where populated only with the artists living off of their own money, families who purchased dilapidated factories for close to nothing, and the handful of men and women working hard to make it through rehab at the Phoenix House on the corner of Jay St.
The age of the cell phone was just emerging - though there was no service in the area - so anyone visiting called from the pay phone in the F Train station to announce their presence. There were no trash cans at the corner, no dry cleaners, drug stores, or supermarkets to buy your food. Everyone knew each other, including the guy at the corner who always (and continues) to ask for money when you left home.
In the chaos that comes with growing up, DUMBO was home. It was my sanctuary full of memories, comfort and family.
I fell in love when we lived on Washington Street and had my first breakup after moving to Plymouth St. I played truth or dare by the rocks on the edge of the East River, and had my first kiss in the open field once polluted with glass bottles, dog shit, and unkempt grass, now blocked off by gates and no trespassing signs- the last bit of land waiting to be developed.
I became inspired by the works of great graffiti artists in the area including Neckface, Bansky, and Obey, and even placed my amateurish marks around town during a phase of teenage angst. I had my first legal drink at the corner bar (commonly known as 68 Jay Street) before all the seats became occupied by nameless faces and suits - when artists remained the heartbeat of this area. I partied on my roof top, was one of a handful of people in yoga classes when White Wave Dance Studio opened, hung out with the locals and spent hours in my room reading Virginia Woolf in my quest to learn more about the world.
I got accepted to Middlebury College in Vermont in 2003 and though I knew I would change in drastic ways, I had no idea that DUMBO would too. Every trip home meant returning to a new high rise complex, store, inflated prices or another person in a business suit whom I knew nothing about. And every time I went back to the corner bar, I listened to the artists who created DUMBO as they expressed their fears of no longer being able to afford the increased rent. I watched as slowly, they all left - they weren’t just artists, but people and friends who made sure I always got home safely at night, who helped raise me and who showed me how to let loose once in a while.
DUMBO has come a long way since those days. While New Yorkers dream of living in DUMBO, I dream of being able to see old faces in the area again, of a community that doesn’t only see art as work being hung in a gallery, and of the return of a community that cares deeply about their neighbors.
For better or for worse, gentrification is a reality in a city like New York. But rarely do you hear about the stories of individuals whose sacred places and memories become covered up by money and a desire for more. This is a little bit of mine.