Notes from the Street That Gentrification Forgot – Pt I

Back in  Bed-Stuy. Me, an airbed, one table and one chair. Some flowers to catch the wonderful light in the morning. 

    Fourteen years ago, in a period when I used to walk all through New York checking out different areas for the hell of it, I was swarmed by six kids – ages six to fifteen – with an X-acto knife just up the street. They knew they were doing – they had me surrounded in a matter of seconds, pulling my trench coat tight so I couldn’t move my arms and moving in on watch, necklace, pockets, flashing the knife and all them smiling like we were sharing a joke. 

   They would have robbed me and possibly worse if a guy hadn’t come out with a gun and chased them off. He was one of the toughest looking guys I’ve ever seen and while he walked me to the bus stop he told me he never left his house without his gun, that two weeks before a couple of crackheads had tried to rob him and he’d shot one of them dead “and if I catch the other motherfucker I’ll shoot him dead too!” 

   it was that kind of neighborhood. That fall there’d been a whole spate of such cases – maybe a half-dozen – guys in tough neighborhoods who’d gotten sick of being robbed by crackheads and started pulling guns. On the bus the people looked weary, and extraordinarily hardened, like people must look who live in a war zone. Further on, past the subway, we passed block after block of vacant lots where crack dealers leaned against stacks of cinderblocks or shuttered storefronts of empty buildings, and crackheads with dead insect eyes wandered amidst the rubble. It was the most desolate landscape I’d ever seen. 

   Fourteen years on, Bed-stuy, like everywhere else in New York, is re-inventing itself. One condo tower is going up one street over, another at the end of the block, yet another up on Greene past Franklin. Three blocks away by Grand, where the French coffee shop with real French baguettes and pastries and home-made quick fills from morning to evening with the same yummy mummies that clutter such neighborhoods from here to Park Slope, Clapham to East Dulwich, a new tower of condos, with private elevators, start at a cool half million. 

   Yet this section remains impervious. Even if the crackhouse across the street is being redone, the empty building down the street already renovated and filled with tenants and a new apartment building – with balconies yet – is going up next door, the street is still dominated by semis coming in to load up at the bottling plant across the way and deserted at night. 

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