These hipsters who want to save Williamsburg and Greenpoint from the city’s rezoning plan–I have to say, they remind me of the cool kids in high school who loved U2 and R.E.M., but only until top-40 radio started playing them. Jen and I like hanging out in W-burg, but the attitudes often seem cliquish and patronizing. Consider three quotes from recent publications.
First, the Village Voice. Paul Moses wrote a good piece about the working-class folks who are being priced out of riverfront-Brooklyn, as rents climb. But he mentions something interesting. He talked to an area priest who fights for fair housing:
Reverend Jim O’Shea…said he is rankled when news accounts refer to the neighborhood as a “frontier” and the newcomers as “pioneers.” It’s “like Columbus,” he said.
I hadn’t thought of it that way before: This is the language of colonial oppression.
Jonathan Van Meter, writing in New York magazine, echoes this:
When I hear modern-day yuppies talk of being “pioneers” in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods–so smug in their 718 T-shirts–I want to poke my finger in their eyes. Brooklyn is not a clean slate. People who live there have a history, one that, more often than not, is of grit and forbearance. It’s a history that I imagine the shabby Gentiles of Park Slope and the midwestern hipsters of Williamsburg–colonists, all!–don’t want to think about too much.
Gotham Gazette published a piece by Deborah Apsel about the New York City Teaching Fellows program, in which professionals and recent grads can earn a master’s degree in education, while teaching in the public schools and earning a salary and benefits. Apsel interviewed the principal of a school in Williamsburg. This principal says that although he’s hired excellent fellows to teach in his schools…
“I’ve met some fellows who are going to go back after two years and write a book about ‘my time in the urban jungle,'” he says. “Don’t come in here to do a social experiment. It’s a slap in the face.”
Pioneers and colonists in the urban jungle. They’ve hacked out their spot in the wilderness, and they won’t let it go for anyone.