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Thread: Bushwick: Neighborhood on the Verge?

  1. #1

    Default Bushwick: Neighborhood on the Verge?

    January 25, 2004

    Neighborhood on the Verge?


    Mayer Schwartz says he wants to create a neighborhood within a neighborhood with the Opera House Lofts.

    The Girdle Factory building on Bedford Avenue and North Fifth Street, near the heart of the Northside section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is home to a wine store, a cheese shop, an Internet cafe and a record store that offers an eclectic selection of rare vinyl. In the front window is a sign that in the opinion of the building's co-owner, a 33-year-old developer named Mayer Schwartz, points to the future:

    "Come home to the ultimate apartment complex," the sign reads, amid promises of wood floors, exposed brick and high ceilings. "The Opera House of East Williamsburg."

    The Opera House, the newest project of Mr. Schwartz and his partners, sits about two miles east of the Girdle Factory and its chic mini-mall. Past the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, past a row of high-rise public housing projects and past, even, the outermost edge of East Williamsburg. Although the four-story brick building is firmly situated in Bushwick, some people are already calling it one of the latest outposts of hip young Brooklyn.

    But Arion Place, the one-block street between Broadway and Bushwick Avenue where the Opera House, a former German singing hall, has stood since the late 1800's, is not quite fashionable Bedford Avenue. Not yet. And Broadway has no cafes, no boutiques. Instead, there is a store that sells live chickens.

    The subway station for the L line, which the Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy rated the best in the city in a survey last summer, is a 15-minute walk away. Much closer are the elevated J and Z lines, which the same survey ranked the city's dirtiest.

    The hundred or so artists, actors and dancers who live in the Opera House Lofts, which opened in September, lack some of the swagger of their peers to the west. What they share with their new neighbors in Bushwick is an uneasy feeling that the fate of their community is undetermined.

    The story of gentrification in New York is familiar, but on the blocks around Arion Place, few are sure how this chapter will end. If more of the new people follow, the developer's subtle blurring of community boundaries - turning Bushwick into East Williamsburg, at least on paper - could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Eurides Echavarria can stand in front of his business, a secondhand store under the elevated train tracks along Broadway near Arion Place, and point out the reasons people wouldn't want to move there. Down the street sits a methadone clinic. Across the street gapes an empty lot where people sleep in abandoned cars. A few doors over is a seemingly empty building that he says has been a haven for prostitutes.

    Still, Mr. Echavarria believes that the new people, and the change they represent, will keep coming. He sees them every afternoon around five, young and mostly white, getting off the subway from their jobs in Manhattan and rushing past his store, their heads down, to the Opera House and smaller buildings like it, where rents of around $1,500 a month for thousand-square-foot apartments are not unusual.

    Within 10 years, Mr. Echavarria believes, he will be out of business. The secondhand clothes that he sells, the worn-out coats for a dollar or two, are not ironic or kitschy, like the ones in Williamsburg's thrift shops, and the grit on the sidewalk is not a charming kind of grit. His customers are not stylish young men and women looking for that certain vintage look, but poor people who just want to keep warm.

    As for the Opera House's residents, when they come to Bushwick, "they just come to sleep," said Mr. Echavarria, a thin Dominican with an easy smile who has lived on Myrtle Avenue for a decade. "They bring everything from the city. They don't spend. And they don't talk to anybody."

    Mr. Echavarria's landlord, Morris Todras, who has owned the building for 38 years and is a member of Community Board 4, believes that Bushwick is in the middle of a renaissance, which he thinks remarkable, considering how bad life got. The low point came after the citywide blackout in July 1977, when looting and fires - some of the worst in the city - devastated Broadway, one of the neighborhood's major shopping streets. "Twenty-five, 30 years ago, Bushwick was burning," Mr. Todras said. "The blackout caused many, many of the old merchants to give up and never come back."

    Since those dark days, when the word Bushwick became synonymous with urban decay, wishful predictions of a neighborhood rebirth have arrived regularly. Time and again, newspaper articles cautiously heralded improvement. But real change has been long in coming, especially along Broadway, where the neighborhood meets Bedford-Stuyvesant, another neighborhood that has had its share of problems.

    Is it any wonder, then, that a developer would promote the Opera House Lofts as being in East Williamsburg, reaching for some of the cachet the name confers?

    Mr. Schwartz, the developer, who grew up in Borough Park and who has lived in Williamsburg all his adult life, says he never gave the neighborhood's name much thought; he just knew that young professionals would want to live there. "To be honest, I don't know the legal definition of the neighborhood," he said. "I don't even remember having a question about what this neighborhood is." And his more recent ads do place the Opera House in Bushwick, although those ads are appearing after the 66-unit building is 80 percent full.

    It is an old tactic in real estate, but one that can trouble people who already live in a neighborhood.

    "When you rename something,'' said Marci Reaven, a director of Place Matters, a joint project of the cultural group City Lore and the Municipal Art Society dedicated to preserving New York's local landmarks, "you are trying to wipe out, frequently, what was there before, and pretending that you can start fresh," she said. "There's an old tradition in American history where an occupying force will come in and render the original population invisible."

    Of course, she added, "you don't want to overstate the case, because the people who are moving into these individual buildings are not seeing themselves like that."

    A Renter's Calculus

    The Opera House, which is just around the corner from Mr. Echavarria's store, dominates the west side of Arion Place. It is a sprawling, homely structure with three distinct sections. Most photogenic, and closest to Broadway, is the red brick facade with soaring arched windows that is featured in the ads for the building.

    Stephan Laboccetta, a lanky 24-year-old who works as a real estate broker, a recording engineer and a graphic artist, lives on the fourth floor of the Opera House. For him, the calculus of moving to Bushwick was simple. Rents may be high by the neighborhood's old standards, but they are a bargain compared with rents in Manhattan and the trendier parts of Brooklyn. Mr. Laboccetta pays $1,050 a month for a bright apartment that is around 850 square feet; apartments of roughly the same size advertise for $1,600 or even $2,000 in Dumbo, Park Slope and parts of Williamsburg.

    "Williamsburg's very pricey," he said, sitting next to a large window that faces Arion Place. "Dumbo's getting expensive. This is one of the only places in Brooklyn where you have access to the city in 10 minutes, and it's still a decent place to live."

    If the area can be rough - "not a neighborhood I would recommend walking around too late, if you're a single girl," he said - that is part of the tradeoff. "If this was a nice neighborhood," he said, "this place would be $1,600 instead of $1,000."

    This is Mr. Laboccetta's third apartment in Brooklyn. After being priced out of Park Slope, he moved to Sunset Park, where he lived with two roommates. After discovering the Opera House via the Internet, he moved in last fall with a futon, an audio mixing board and several guitars.

    Mr. Laboccetta was impressed by his new landlord, who had big ideas for the building, and a youthful face behind his glasses and beard. In exchange for a possible discount on his rent, Mr. Laboccetta soon agreed to help build a recording studio in the basement as part of Mr. Schwartz's grand plan - yet unrealized - to fill the 12,000-square-foot space with a yoga studio, a darkroom, a gym, washing machines and a gallery. Whatever amenities the surrounding blocks might lack, Mr. Schwartz's thinking went, the building could make up for it.

    Warily Optimistic

    That idea attracted Nelson Peña, a 34-year-old filmmaker who used to live in Hamilton Heights, in northern Manhattan, but had grown tired of living in a community with few artists. Since moving to the Opera House, and paying more for less space, he has met painters, photographers, actors and other filmmakers.

    But there have been frustrations. The lights and loud music from a storefront Pentecostal church across the street kept him awake at night; finally, after a few residents complained, the church began closing its front doors and turning the lights off overnight. In addition, he said, there is no place in the neighborhood to relax and have a cup of coffee, and people must leave the neighborhood to eat a nice meal.

    Another source of worry is the old Rheingold Brewery, a 6.7-acre site half a block away on Bushwick Avenue, which for nearly two decades had been a vacant lot. Currently, hundreds of units of subsidized housing, including about a hundred low-income apartments, are being built there. Community leaders call it a rebirth, but some Opera House residents have trouble figuring out what will distinguish the new development from the city housing projects in nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant.

    For all this, the new residents say they are warily optimistic. "You've got to get in these neighborhoods while it's still cheap," Mr. Laboccetta said. "When people talk about a neighborhood turning, it's the period that's questionable that's the best time to be there."

    Weddings and Robberies

    Emily Delgado understands why residents of the Opera House would be apprehensive about their new surroundings. Ms. Delgado, a small, round-faced woman of 26, grew up on Arion Place, across the street from the building; she remembers weekly weddings there when she was a girl. Her parents still live in the apartment where she grew up; she lives down the block, and her parents own both houses, along with two beauty salons on Broadway.

    Two years ago, going home late from a class at St. John's University in Jamaica, Queens, Ms. Delgado was robbed across the street from her house. Rain poured down, and the street light was broken. When she got out of her car, she recalled, two men held her up at gunpoint and stole her purse.

    The 83rd Police Precinct, which covers Bushwick, had 44 murders and more than 1,500 robberies in 1993. In 2003, there were still 16 murders and more than 500 robberies, although the crime rate there last year showed a slightly smaller decline than the citywide rate. Yet Ms. Delgado's feelings about the neighborhood are complex.

    "There's a lot of good," she said the other day, sitting in her parents' living room near a large painting of Jesus. "For instance, the street that we live on, the neighbors look out for each other. Although, yes, it was not a good neighborhood to grow up in, and it was considered the ghetto - though more so than it is now."

    Ms. Delgado, who works as an administrative assistant at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, is also ambivalent about all the new housing. Although her parents and other homeowners in the neat row houses on their street are seeing their property values rise, other residents, she knows, are not so lucky.

    White, mostly non-Hispanic people started moving into apartments along Broadway about three years ago, slowly at first. They stood out, because Bushwick is almost entirely black and Hispanic. Some people who had lived there for years found they couldn't afford their rent.

    It gnaws at her that a lot of longtime Bushwick residents are having trouble finding a place to live. "Being that the neighborhood is predominantly Hispanic and African-American, we as a people have not united in the past for this not to happen," Ms. Delgado said.

    "But then again," she added, referring to the people across the street, "they are bettering the neighborhood."

    A Neighborhood of Its Own

    Mayer Schwartz has seen neighborhoods wax and wane. His wife's family made sweaters in the factory at Bedford Avenue and North Fifth Street for more than 20 years, until a Manhattan developer offered to buy them out in the late 90's. The family declined, and Mr. Schwartz set to work converting the building himself. Now, with the mini-mall, the shops, the record store and the 27 loft apartments overhead, the Girdle Factory is a Williamsburg centerpiece.

    But local housing costs are so high that many artistic young people who spurred the area's resurgence can no longer afford to live there. This, in turn, drives them to Bushwick, and to the Opera House Lofts.

    When Mr. Schwartz first saw the building three years ago, it sparked his imagination, and he took pains to preserve as much of the existing structure as he could, fretting at the loss of this or that historical detail. The renovation, which began 18 months before the building opened, and cost about $4 million, is still a work in process.

    The building's new name - the Opera House Lofts - is a tongue-in-cheek poke at the aspirations of the German choirs that once used the hall, but the artistic overtones are intentional. Like his tenants, Mr. Schwartz wondered whether the neighborhood could support a large development. His solution, much of it hinging on his plans for the basement, involves turning the building into a neighborhood of its own.

    Although Mr. Schwartz can be guarded and awkward in conversation, even terse, like any successful developer he is dogged in promoting his building. In a visit on a recent windy day, he pointed out his favorite place, a garden in an empty lot next door, where there are potted shrubs and benches behind a tall fence topped with wire. He has heard reports of a time capsule buried in the basement of his building. And he is especially fond of the roof deck, where tenants have already held getting-to-know-you parties.

    "Take a typical apartment," Mr. Schwartz said. "You have an apartment, and that's it. There's no place to hang around with a friend. The idea of this building is to have people enjoy the space."

    Climbing the stairs to the deck, Mr. Schwartz reflected on how far the building had come. Yes, he said, the neighborhood is unpolished, and it will be some time before it resembles its hipper cousin to the west. Still, he is optimistic. "The infrastructure, and the trouble of getting the neighborhood up and running?" he said. "Yeah, it's a point. But it's going to work."

    From the deck, the Triborough Bridge was barely visible to the north. Closer, a boxy concrete-block apartment building rose on the edge of the Rheingold property. To the south were the housing projects of Bedford-Stuyvesant. An elevated train rolled eastward through the low-slung rooftops of Bushwick.

    To the west, just past Bushwick Houses, the Empire State Building jutted out between two East Williamsburg high-rises, and south of that, one could just make out the metallic-blue towers of the Williamsburg Bridge.

    Up on the roof, Mr. Schwartz thought back on the headlines that greeted his last big real estate venture, just north of that bridge - the gamble on an old industrial building in a gritty neighborhood.

    "It's the same thing," he said. "It's 'Brooklyn Developers Have Lofty Ideas.' And it was about, 'Is the neighborhood going to take off or not?' This was back in '99."

    Williamsburg, of course, did take off.

    "Yeah, thank God," Mr. Schwartz said. "To me, it's a little bit déjà vu."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2


    March 5, 2006
    The Next Neighborhood
    Psst... Have You Heard About Bushwick?

    On a rainy winter afternoon, just a few minutes after running over a stray hubcap, just after having to pull his beat-up Toyota sedan off a beat-up section of the beat-up Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and having to run the little white car back and forth until at last the hubcap broke free, Tom Le, choreographer-turned-real-estate-agent, re-enters the mad rush of the highway and a mile or so later exits as planned, ending up on a detour, Park Avenue. "I'm running a little late," he says, semicalmly, into his cellphone.

    This Park Avenue, by the way, is no Park Avenue. This Park Avenue runs through the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, passing soot-covered stores, forgotten (for the moment, anyway) tenements, forlorn housing projects, factories that may or may not be empty, auto-repair shops and Hasidic women pushing strollers. This is the Park Avenue that — as the sky now begins to pour, as the broken-up streets flood with oil-slicked water — lands Tom Le, a Corcoran Group Realtor, at the intersection of Central and Evergreen, in a vista of plumbing-supply stores and fenced-in yards that is neither central nor green.

    Then he parks, locks, dashes into an old storefront, so that he is suddenly the tiniest bit overdressed, a tinge too businesslike for the all-of-the-sudden hip environs. Brushing off his navy blue blazer and straightening his rain-soaked red tie, he orders a carrot-ginger soup, and a high-energy smile breaks across his face like a banner unfurling. With an accent that is part Californian, part Vietnamese, part top-selling real-estate agent, he asks rhetorically, "Isn't this great?"

    By this he means Bushwick, the next new neighborhood or, more precisely, a neighborhood that is now in the sights of New York City real-estate agents and developers as the next new neighborhood. This is Bushwick as seen from the banquette at Life Café Nine 83, a cool place with mostly comfort food (meatloaf, fried chicken) and a few vegan options. There is also a new late-night menu, now that people in the neighborhood have started staying in the neighborhood on Saturday nights.

    Before the late-night menu, they went to the Lower East Side, for instance, where the first Life Café opened, back when that was the next neighborhood, in the 80's. Or they went to Williamsburg (the next neighborhood of the mid-90's), which, of course, they still do, Williamsburg only being a couple of stops away on the L train. The point is that an early stage of next-neighborhood development happens when the people who have most recently moved in begin to recreate there the place that they either wanted to be in originally or that rent increases moved them out of. It's sometimes tough to distinguish, especially now when the next-neighborhood cycles seem to be picking up speed, when people are beginning to be kicked out of neighborhoods their demographic equals haven't even heard about yet.

    Though people are now hearing about Bushwick. "The neighborhood's definitely, as they call it, up and coming," says Roody Hyacinthe, an agent with Fillmore Real Estate who sells in Brooklyn. "I remember two or three years ago, when houses were coming on the market, we were giving them away." They're not giving them away anymore.

    "You will see," says Le.

    Naturally for Tom Le, as for real-estate agents and real-estate buyers and renters everywhere, Bushwick's hotness is, first of all, about location. And in New York, location starts out as having to do with subway lines — in this case the L train. The L train is connected to Manhattan, the island from which even next neighborhoods still ultimately derive their nextness, but in the case of Bushwick, the L train is the train that connects it to past next neighborhoods — i.e., the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. (Until very, very recently, parts of Bushwick were referred to in real-estate listings as "East Williamsburg," sometimes when it is East Williamsburg, sometimes when it isn't really because it's really Bushwick.)

    Bushwick is roughly the shape of Vermont. Williamsburg is its neighbor to the north. On its west is Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood that, given the rising prices in Clinton Hill, the adjacent neighborhood heading farther west, toward Manhattan, is also something of a next neighborhood. (See also the Port Morris and Mott Haven neighborhoods in the Bronx.) On Bushwick's eastern border is Ridgewood, in Queens — Ridgewood, in turn, being bordered by vast plots of parklike green that, at the moment, are zoned only for the dead.

    After location in the real-estate hotness calculus comes price, and in Bushwick the price is right — i.e., low, or pretty low, as far as New York goes. Rents, which are rising, are around $1,400 for 1,200 square feet, at the moment — about half what they are in Dumbo, which was a next neighborhood six or seven years ago, and perhaps at a third of what they are on the Lower East Side. Likewise, a half-million dollars won't get your phone call returned by real-estate agents in Manhattan, where the average apartment now sells for more than a million. But in Bushwick, half a million dollars can still get you a small single-family home (or could have before this article appeared). As Le says, continuing his lunch-table neighborhood tour, "This hasn't yet been discovered." And by this he still means Bushwick.

    As with exploration in the Renaissance, discovered in New York real estate is a problematic concept. The old building directly across the street from Life Café is owned by the Baierlein family, whose ancestors have been there since around the time Mayor McClellan was elected mayor in 1903, since the first subways opened, since the Williamsburg Bridge was built and since O. Henry wrote his New York stories. The Baierleins are a remnant of the German population that came to the little village of Bushwick in the mid-1800's, the immigrant group that built the breweries of Brooklyn. In the 1920's, after the Germans discovered Bushwick, it was discovered by Italians. After World War II, when the Italians moved to the suburbs, Bushwick was discovered by Puerto Ricans. During the city's fiscal crisis, the last German breweries closed, and then riots during the blackout of 1977 nearly destroyed the neighborhood completely; by then, the Baierleins had boarded up their apartments to protect them from the fires that were raging through what was becoming a neighborhood of abandoned lots. Bushwick was discovered yet again in the 1980's by new New Yorkers from the Dominican Republic, as well as Guyana, Ecuador, Jamaica, India and China, new immigrants who moved to Bushwick not for cool restaurants but to survive in what was a civic wasteland. Most recently, in the 10 years before the opening of the Life Café in 2002, Bushwick was discovered by people moving to New York from Mexico. Bushwick is a Dutch word sometimes translated as "refuge."

    Le's discovery of Bushwick started when his own friends — dancers and artists — moved into lofts in the area in the 90's, lofts with no heat or water or plumbing; they used charcoal barbecues to keep warm. It was then that Le was making the transition from dance to real estate, the business of his family in California. He started with Fillmore Real Estate and became a "top producer," to use the industry term. "I told them to open an office in Williamsburg," he goes on. "So when we did, people started coming into the office looking for places. They'd say my budget, for example, is $500,000. Sadly, with half a million they can't afford Williamsburg or East Williamsburg." And there, by East Williamsburg, he means East Williamsburg. That's when he mentions the discovery: Bushwick. Real estate is so often the business of readjusting dreams.

    Take the couple that showed up not long ago at his office. "We were looking for Williamsburg," Le says, speaking real-estate-ese, a first-person plural. "We had $700,000 to spend. One is a sculptor; the other one is also an artist, does installation. And they said, 'We'd love something we could have our studio in,' and I said: 'Well, 700 is a lot of money. We can get you a two-family. But for a studio, if you want bigger space, you may have to go farther out.' And they said: 'Fine. What do you think you have?' At that time, I had a four-family and a store, plus a warehouse in the back. This is just about a year ago. In the back is a huge warehouse with a 20-foot ceiling. They went there, and their mouths — they just went like: 'Oh, my God! This is great!' And they got it for $650,000! It's off of Central."

    The final factor in next-neighborhood hotness has to do with the presence of what might be broadly categorized as artists. In forest succession, leafy hardwoods like alder precede the towering softwoods like pine, and in real estate in New York, it is the artists who arrive first in a neighborhood that is about to change, especially in industrial sites, especially in large old spaces abandoned and left for dead. "This is the story of real estate," Le says, "that the artists are always pioneering." It is the story of SoHo, West Chelsea, Williamsburg. In this case, the first artists arrived in Bushwick in the 90's, when Bushwick's factory areas were still burning.

    "When I moved in 1991, there was a crack-for-sex trade on my landing," says John Jasperse. Now Jasperse is a nationally recognized choreographer who until recently kept his studio for his dance company in Bushwick; then, he was a not yet nationally recognized young choreographer who, with three other artists, persuaded a landlord to let them renovate an abandoned loft building. "Basically the reason we were there was because nobody wanted to be there," he says.

    "It was a war zone," says Rob Herschenfeld, a furniture designer, who in 1996 was feeling pushed out of a rented space in Williamsburg. He bought a loft building on Boerum Street, a place that real-estate agents called East Williamsburg a few months ago (and may even be East Williamsburg) but is now called Bushwick. He did not seek out cafes at the time, not that there were any. "We were too busy emptying out the crack addicts," he says.

    Torben Giehler, a painter, showed up at the end of the 90's, renting a space in Herschenfeld's building; Herschenfeld's mother and building manager, Phyllis, approved a lease when few other people would. "I couldn't get any credit, and Phyllis, she just liked my work and gave me the place," he says. He had a view of feral dogs, prostitutes and a guy who shot up heroin while driving and, as a result, ran into a couple of cars.

    Giehler's friend Jeffrey Reed, a sculptor and photographer, was there a year or two later in 2,000 square feet of raw space on the side of a construction yard, which he got for $1,200 a month. He found the streets nerve-racking. "If you saw someone, you would start walking the other way," he says. "You just assumed there wasn't any reason that anyone would be there." When Reed visited Giehler's space at the end of the day, they would look out the window at the view of burning cars. Once, as a long stream of gasoline made its way down the street, they suddenly realized that Reed's car was about to catch fire, but they managed to run down and move it in time.

    After artists came students, also as per the next-neighborhood cycle — students like Cynthia Rojas, who moved in 2001, arriving from California, with her husband, Brian Lease, a classically trained vibraphone player who plays in a band called Fisherman's Xylophonic Burlesque Orchestra. For recreation, they went to the Laundromat on Flushing Avenue. "That was it," she says. "It was like camping."

    The development of cool places kicked off in 2002, after Kathy Kirkpatrick, who founded the original Life Café in the 80's, moved to Bushwick, taking the first apartment she saw for rent. "Then I looked out my window," she says, "and I kept seeing hipsters. And then I thought, This looks just like the people who were living in the East Village." In August 2002, she opened up a restaurant, small, with just a steam table, as well as newspapers and essentials, like onions and toilet paper. "I didn't realize the desperate desire of the community here to have a place — the musicians and artists and the writers who needed to get out and hang," she says.

    A few months later, Kevin Lindamood, who had come to Bushwick a few years earlier from western Virginia, renovated an industrial building and opened a nonprofit arts-oriented space called OfficeOps. There's a movie screening room and a big kitchen for parties, as well as a new thrift shop. Sometimes Lindamood rents out the roof for weddings and other events. Sometimes those events are even attended by Williamsburgers.

    At the end of 2002, Herschenfeld built a small grocery store, Brooklyn's Natural, right near the Morgan Avenue L stop exit on Bogart Street, and one of the people working with him opened a bar around the corner, called Kings County. (Today, a rock-climbing wall decorates the spire of Herschenfeld's remodeled warehouse.)

    Since Life Café and Brooklyn's Natural opened, all kinds of artists and performers have come to make Bushwick home. In 2003, Jonah Bokaer, a dancer with Merce Cunningham, started Chez Bushwick, a salon for artists and performers in Herschenfeld's loft building on Boerum. "It's a very catalytic place," Bokaer says.

    For his part, L.D. Beghtol says a kind of artistic critical mass may have been reached that year. Beghtol had been living in the Baierlein family's apartments since 2000, moving there after five years in downtown Manhattan. A Village Voice art director, he is also a member of several bands and band collectives, like L.D. & the New Criticism, and sang on the Magnetic Fields' three-CD song cycle, "69 Love Songs." One night in 2002, Beghtol was in Life Café, having a drink, when a D.J. played the song "Lions" by Tones on Tail, what might be called a next-next-neighborhood band. "I thought, I can't believe I'm hearing this in my neighborhood bar," Beghtol said. The D.J. turned out to be the girlfriend of Jim Bentley, who had just moved to Bushwick from Chicago (seeing a likeness to the Ukranian Village in Chicago, where all the musicians hang out). Bentley runs the Fort, a neighborhood recording studio, and now labels the projects he produces with Beghtol and others with the stamp "Made in Bushwick." "There's a lot going on here that hasn't hit the airwaves, but it will," Beghtol says.

    Next-neighborhood development has now reached a pivotal juncture in Bushwick. The area still won't be mistaken for the Upper West Side or even Williamsburg. There is no giant luxury supermarket; there are no dry cleaners in the warehouse district, and not many anyplace else. Crime is still bad, or really bad (the rates of violent crime are still among the highest in the city) — last year, the local precinct reported 15 murders, 40 rapes, 467 robberies and 399 felonious assaults. And while there may not be as many cars burning in the warehouse district as there used to be, the streets still feel desolate.

    But Bushwick is now definitely in the next stage. In May 2004, the neighborhood got its first video store-cafe, the Archive. Northeast Kingdom, the latest artist-affiliated restaurant, opened in October 2005, started by two Vermont natives currently living in Williamsburg proper. In the past year, luxury condos started showing up for $400,000. And there is even a festival — a festival that uses an acronym, acronyms seeming to be the linchpin of the real-estate business. Late last summer, Ruth Garon, who coordinates arts events, arrived in Bushwick for the very first time, after moving from Tel Aviv to Manhattan. "I was having a crisis with New York," she says. "And it was the first time I felt a sort of community." Four months later, she was inspired to organize the Bushwick Art Project, or BAP, a neighborhood happening of video V.J.'s and D.J.'s and film and dance and live music. Each time Garon held a meeting in her Cook Street loft, she noticed that more and more artists came. She also noticed that local residents began to resist an art festival. "Some people were suspicious, and they said the people from Manhattan will come and everything will be expensive," she recalls. "But after a while, they saw that we were working from a pure place."

    Perhaps those most affected by a neighborhood's nextness are the people who are already living there, the people who have been living there for years and are not necessarily looking for a place to install a video-dance piece but are trying to live, maybe even raise children. In this case, these are the people living in what a real-estate agent might at this moment be calling Deep Bushwick, that place with tired but well-swept row houses along Knickerbocker Avenue or in and around Wyckoff Avenue, another old commercial strip. If you follow Tom Le as he tours around Bushwick in his car, he will stop you on a street of two-family row houses and get out and point around and say how great they are, as investment opportunities. "One of the most wonderful things about Bushwick is that it is a wonderful established family neighborhood," he says. "You can drive up and down the streets in Bushwick and you see families out there."

    This neighborhood of families survives on some of the lowest incomes in the city; Bushwick's median household income is about $22,000. One-fifth of the neighborhood is on public assistance. Bushwick also has foreclosure rates four times higher than the city average. Meanwhile, almost 40 percent of the neighborhood pay more than 60 percent of their incomes on housing, according to a report by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University. A neighborhood survey found that 69 percent live with cockroaches, 47 percent with rats or mice, 30 percent with mold; the rate of hospital visits for asthma is four times the city average. Sometimes — for people who are not on public assistance and live in a city where the highest-earning families have nine times the income of the lowest — the rising rents are pushing tenants to buy homes they can't afford.

    Angel Vera has lived in Bushwick for 14 years. Originally from Ecuador, he is an organizer with a community group called Make the Road by Walking, on Grove Street, near the intersection of Myrtle and Broadway — an area that was nearly destroyed during the rioting and looting of the citywide blackout in 1977. Last year, Make the Road organized the workers at discount-sneaker and apparel stores to get them the minimum wage and benefits. Still, the neighborhood feels on the verge: a little Latin American music store is closed, and the local credit union almost got priced out of an affordable office. Construction workers carry new Sheetrock into recently emptied apartments. "There are a lot of landlords who are evicting whole buildings lately," Vera says. "People move here because somewhere else is more expensive. That's the system. This automatically puts low-income people in danger."

    But it's not just the low-income people. Maybe it's because the next-neighborhood cycle turns so quickly now or maybe it was always the case, but in the Bushwick that is about to happen, artists are already being kicked out, before more than even a handful of new home buyers get to live alongside them. "It begs the question, Is New York just going to consume itself?" says John Jasperse, who was kicked out of his loft space last year when his landlord began to convert his studio space into condos. "Because the identity of it as a place of cultural expression seems less and less possible. I've really seen the ecology of the place change. And, yes, it's safer and it's cleaner, and, yeah, there are some individual artists who are really fighting the fight. But they're also getting slammed, and you can't expect that the fight is going to constantly repeat itself. It's going to take some kind of responsible developer or some action by the government, because we can't just be making money, money, money. If it's just left to market economics, then everywhere is just going to be brokers on Wall Street."

    Back at lunch, Tom Le works to keep things positive. "There's that horrible word, gentrification, but it's not all bad," he says. And he talks about his own plan to assuage the harshness of the market, which is mostly a plan for assuaging the hardships on artists. He dreams of helping artists invest in real estate, of opening an artists' studio in Bushwick himself, with an upstate affiliate perhaps. He speaks of the trends in terms of unstoppable natural forces. "The machine keeps going," he says, "and it's not the developers, it's not the Realtors. It's the demand that keeps the machine going, and you have to invest so that you are ready when the next transformation occurs. We can ride the wave or get kicked out."

    But mostly Le talks about how things are really happening in the neighborhood, pricewise. On the weekend, he will run an ad: "Vacant 6-family in Bushwick, brownstone 26 x 70, 1 block from train and shopping in the next hot neighborhood, ideal development or condo conversion. $849K."

    "Three or six people can come in there, renovate it and have a wonderful community there," he says. "It's on Bushwick, right off Broadway, which is great."

    Even in the past few weeks, housing prices in the neighborhood have increased. Buildings are even flipping. Le sold a building on Chauncey Street, off beat-up Bushwick Avenue, for $500,000, which the owner bought for just over $300,000 a year or so ago. And then there are the condo conversions — a 16-unit condo conversion off Central Avenue, a few subway stops from Williamsburg and just a few minutes from Manhattan, with private parking and outdoor space at $400 a square foot — a real deal, even if prospective buyers might be a little nervous when they first see it, at least until they see the video store and the place to buy organic yogurt.

    After he finished his soup, Le set off to see a client. But he e-mailed later to check in, because since he left dance, real estate is, as he says, "my life seven days a week."

    "As you can see, Bushwick is very dynamic," he wrote. "Should you need any more assistance or you are ever in need to chat about exciting new neighborhoods or to discuss new places to hang out, please don't hesitate to give me a shout."

    Robert Sullivan is the author of "Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" and "How Not to Get Rich: Why Being Bad Off Isn't So Bad."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  3. #3
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    Bit of a hard sell by the NYT co., no?

  4. #4
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    Bushwick, as it is, is a dump. No amount of real estate articles trying to sell the neighborhood can convince me otherwise. I was betweeen apartments several years ago and stayed temporarily with a friend in Bushwick. During the 2 months that I was there, I saw two shootings, ambulances with blood soaked bodies and the whole shebang. The parking lot I walked across to get to the horrible J/Z line was strewn with needles and empty crack packets. I would not give you $2 to live in that bombed out warzone. Whoever moves there, at least for some time to come, is basically playing the lottery with their personal safety. You want to buy something from the store at night? good luck. You will stand OUTSIDE of a store, put your money through a plexi-glass box, and wait in line with the project thugs until the proprieter brings what you wanted.
    One of the articles mentioned being 10 minutes from Manhattan. I just love those optimistic estimates which don't take into account that you will wait forever in an unsafe area until a train finally arrives, dirty and full of characters.
    You will see giant cockroaches running from one apartment building to another.
    If the area can be rough - "not a neighborhood I would recommend walking around too late, if you're a single girl," he said
    Ha! that's an understatement. Boys (if you don't look like you "belong") better watch their backs too.

    Up and Coming! It has a Looooong way to go! Holy Jesus! If you don't mind being a locked-in "pioneer" for the next 5 years go ahead. Some things matter more to me than dollars per sq. ft.- like actually feeling comfortable when I walk home at night. Oh- and you can be sure the attitude of locals as they see Whitey moving in on their neighborhood will often be less than welcoming. I don't picture all those project boys bringing cake on a welcome wagon, especially as they see their neighbors being pushed out.

  5. #5


    MidtownGuy, I have a relative who wants to move into Bushwick, attracted by the low rents. I'll show him your comments, and hopefully he'll be dissuaded.

    That said, the miracle of satellite photography via Windows Live Local tells me that though it's badly damaged, the underlying urban fabric of Bushwick is dynamite --much better than Williamsburg. When fully gentrified it could resemble the West Village if properly done.

    A quarter-century from now.

  6. #6


    Nowhere in Brooklyn has the ability to become "like the West Village," if only because it's locationally too marginal. The Village benefits substantially from its location between Midtown and Downtown, as well as its centralised location on the subway system (which, generally speaking, courses through Manhattan between Brooklyn and Queens and/or the Bronx. For that reason, even Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope aren't that busy/successful.

  7. #7


    I'm just talking about a pretty place to live.

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    Um, I think Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights are doing just fine. I'm not sure what standards for success they aren't reaching...

    As much as I don't want to live in Bushwick, I do see that it's changed in the past two years (I'm much happier visiting people around the Montrose L stop now). The apartments are beautiful - and cheap - but there's a gated community vibe at times (like razor wire around the Opera House lofts) that I personally don't like. Plenty of other people do like it though, and I've heard that Williamsburg was described much the same way 10-15 years ago...

    I don't think it will ever become a West Village (or Park Slope) because of the massive projects. There are areas that will become quite nice though - the momentum of gentrification along the L is hard to underestimate. I know a lot of people who wouldn't live along any other line, no matter what the condition of the neighborhood.

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    I go out at night at least once a week in Washington Heights and take the A-train home alone well after two in the morning. I visit a friend in East Harlem regularly. I go to parties occasionally all over Williamsburgh and in Bed-Stuy. I hang out on the Lower East Side at times. I've been to block parties in the South Bronx. I went to Bushwick once, in 2004, and it's the only neighborhood in New York I've been to where I've truly felt unsafe — not just a slight buzz of paranoia that you get in a slightly edgy or unfamiliar neighborhood, but a serious, tingly oh-God-this-place-is-bad sense that I couldn't shake. I wasn't by myself that night, either. I'm glad to hear there's some improvement, but it's going to take several years of that before I ever consider going back there. At least the friend that I went to visit that night has since moved to Bay Ridge.

  10. #10


    Um, I think Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights are doing just fine. I'm not sure what standards for success they aren't reaching...
    They're wealthy, they're pleasant, they're prosperous, of course. I meant as destination places, bustling round the clock.

  11. #11
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    East Midtown


    there's a gated community vibe at times (like razor wire around the Opera House lofts) that I personally don't like.

    Crime is still bad, or really bad (the rates of violent crime are still among the highest in the city) — last year, the local precinct reported 15 murders, 40 rapes, 467 robberies and 399 felonious assaults. And while there may not be as many cars burning in the warehouse district as there used to be, the streets still feel desolate.
    As for the Opera House's residents, when they come to Bushwick, "they just come to sleep," said Mr. Echavarria, a thin Dominican with an easy smile who has lived on Myrtle Avenue for a decade. "They bring everything from the city. They don't spend. And they don't talk to anybody.
    He sees them every afternoon around five, young and mostly white, getting off the subway from their jobs in Manhattan and rushing past his store, their heads down, to the Opera House and smaller buildings like it
    the crime rate there last year showed a slightly smaller decline than the citywide rate.
    40 rapes and 15 murders last year. Sounds like a great place to live. I hope they don't have to enjoy their increased square footage from a hospital bed or a coffin.

    I personally wouldn't want to live on a razor-wire surrounded compound, with resentful people all around, pissed because their rent went up, and seing me as the reason.

  12. #12
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    You're pretty much saying the same things my out of state family says about me living in Brooklyn... a bit provincial.

  13. #13


    You're probably living in a safer part of Brooklyn, ryan; that may make your relatives' comments provincial but not MidtownGuy's. There is such a thing as a dangerous neighborhood, and it seems likely that Bushwick is an example.

  14. #14


    I feel fine in the South Bronx, but Bushwick scares me.

  15. #15
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    I'm not rah rah Bushwick - I just call bs on the coffin hype meme.

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