When you see NY in movies and on TV it always looks the same…you see the same landmarks, same kind of characters, same hectic rhythm and pace. But, in actuality, NY is a remarkable place in that it is constantly being re-designed. It’s enduring and indefatigable and in a perpetual state of flux, with subtle changes occurring rather abruptly and constantly, and major overhauls materializing practically with every passing generation.
When I was a kid, Brooklyn was a pretty diverse place. Each neighborhood had a different flavor, ethnically, politically, historically, even architecturally. Some neighborhoods may share a design but differ ethnically, or vice versa…
For example, architecturally Bed-Stuy (my neighborhood) and Brooklyn Heights are virtually identical. Both neighborhoods are replete with turn of the century Brownstones designed for the suburban lives of the well to do of that time.
But when I was a kid, at the tail-end of the “White Flight” to the new suburbia out in Long Island or above The Bronx, Bed-Stuy was a predominately ‘underclass’, disenfranchised black neighborhood while Brooklyn Heights was strictly not so much a rich neighborhood as an Old Money white neighborhood.
Later Brooklyn Heights would become more of a new money huxtable Yuppifed neighborhood, predominantly white, by default, but restricted more by economic means (which can certainly look racial sometimes) than by anything else while Bed-Stuy would begin to revitalize itself empowered by community activism (I was deeply involved in voluntarily) and an influx of buppies (gentrification) attracted by its superlative housing stock and an Urban Redevelopment plan sponsored by the powers that be…(we know who they are, or do we?) (-;
Over the course of a decade or so housing values skyrocketed while predatory lenders and the likes preyed relentlessly on the homeowners in the community. Many of the older homeowners took advantage of the winning lottery ticket their house had become and happily sold it and moved. If they had tenants, well…tough luck. Should have bought in when the prices were low. It had been happening in a wave that began perhaps as early as the early 80s, when every desirable area in Manhattan officially became un-affordable, and displaced Manhattanites and the brightest, most creative and / or ruthless folks relocating to NY to make their mark on the world (from their homes across the country and around the world) started crossing the river to Brooklyn where rents were cheaper…some looking to rent others to own. And with these new residents came the businesses to serve their needs. And the flavor of the community they inhabited began to change. Some say for the better, some say for the worse, I have mixed feelings about it seeing that I was one of those people who hadn’t bought into Bed-Stuy before the boom (something I’ll be kicking myself in the ass for for years to come) but enjoyed chilling in a cafe listening to some poet vibein’ on stage or getting some writing done on my laptop; decidedly buppified activities. A couple of my favorites were Brooklyn Moon Cafe over in Fort Green / Clinton Hill and Bread Stuy Cafe in…wait for it…Bed-Stuy. (-:
My first home in Japan was in Saitama in a town called Musashi Urawa. Musashi Urawa is one of those areas in the re-development cross-hairs. It’s on the very convenient, ridiculously overcrowded (and Chikan-happy) Saikyo line (a good 20-30 minutes from Tokyo), and on the Musashino Line which connects not only to Tokyo but to Chiba as well, making Musashi Urawa a major crossroad transfer point- attractive for commercial business and real estate development.
When I moved there Musashi Urawa was still in the primary stages of an ongoing Urban Redevelopment project. After all, the Saikyo line is fairly new (though the Musashino line is little older by 10 years or so) if compared with other JR lines like the Yamanote Line. Of course I wasn’t aware of any of this at the time (nor would I have cared if I had been aware.) I was too glossy-eyed, dazed and amazed at the newness and Japanese-ness of everything around me; too busy sowing my oats and picking all the low hanging fruit I could get my hands on.
However, I couldn’t help but notice that compared with the other stations I was familiar with at the time, the Musashi Urawa station area didn’t offer much. Your typical fare was all: Starbucks, Doutor, Mister Donuts, Mcdonald’s, Yoshinoya, a supermarket and a handful of other family restaurants, Izakaya, the ubiquitous noisy Pachinko parlor and a few other small businesses. It reminded me of Bed-Stuy once upon a time in the not too distant past- only in Bed-Stuy’s case there were plenty of businesses but not much deviation from the ghetto staples, so replace the above franchises with liquor stores, Chinese restaurants, barber shops, beauty parlors, nail salons, laundromats and bodegas, and you’ll have Bed-Stuy in a nutshell.
I frequented the supermarket at the station and had even gotten friendly with a couple of check-out girls…As well as the Starbucks staff who knew my private lesson schedule as well I did, and even the people at Yoshinoya knew my order before I could even say it. I had entered and been accepted by the community (as much as a foreigner can be, which isn’t much.) Then, one day I noticed a high rise was going up near the station. I didn’t really think much about it. There were already a couple of high rises in the area. A ”coming soon” sign announced that there was to be a gym included and I thought if it weren’t overpriced (and had a basketball court) I might join. Well, it had much more than a health club. It had a Walmart-sized SUPERmarket and a bunch of other franchises and services.
Well, you probably know where I’m going with this. Once completed I noticed almost immediately that the long lines I used to wait on at the station market- I couldn’t call it supermarket anymore- were much, much shorter. And on the small farm that had been around the corner- which I felt gave the neighbirhood a bucolic feel that agreed with this escapee from the big city, suddenly had a rather large mansion (the Japanese definition of mansion being an apartment building) being built upon it. I’m sure the community was impacted in other ways but by then someone had whispered in my ear about the so-called Utopia for foreigners that Yokohama was supposed to be and the next thing I knew I was well on my way to going Loco in these parts.
I’ve come to hate words like Urban Redevelopment because in NY it usually entails massive economic-based and/or racial based displacement. It always had the feel of an economic euphemism. I tended to think of it as reclamation of territory previously abandoned in a racially prejudicial haste, fear disabling foresight. But this is such a complex issue I cannot tackle it now.
Perhaps there’s no comparison to what I’ve seen previously back home. Clearly there are areas of Japan that are less expensive than other areas. Musashi Urawa used to be one of these areas. These towers were very expensive, clearly built for the well to do, and vast, so I wonder if they’ve even been filled and I wonder if the cost has gone up elsewhere in Musashi Urawa since I’ve vacated…
That might be worth checking out…
more to follow…I think