Ocasi Benji Levi
In recent times, let’s say 2010 to 2012, the demographic of the once nationally renowned “do or die Bed-Stuy” has shifted. There has been a noticeable and unavoidable change in the people, the businesses and an increase in the price of a candy bar to laundry detergent: “almost everything”. The metamorphosis of the neighborhoods of Brooklyn is a result of the influx of residents since the early 2000s that earn more and have greater spending income. I am not one of them but this is my home.
I lived in Brooklyn for a good chunk of my life (from the early 80s until now). As a matter of fact, I used to refer to it as “lil West Indies” when I was younger, because of the different amounts of Caribbean accents I’d encounter, whether it was at school, in the Park, or in the stores. Vanderveer Projects or “Veer” (not Vander veer Estates), located in Flatbush, Brooklyn is where I grew up and some of my family stayed out in Bedford-Stuyvesant or the “Stuy.” During my visits I noticed nothing special or particular about the place. It was the same thing as the rest of” black” Brooklyn: homes and apartments were neglected by their tenants and owners, teens and bums hugged the block and trash ran the streets. Don’t misinterpret, that was by no means the good ol’ days; it sucked, but that was all we had and knew.
Before “the gents” infiltrated or gentrification was widespread there was a constructed neighborhood division in the communities of Brooklyn (a “stay on your side of the fence” setup). You could cross the street and feel like you fell down the rabbit hole. Houses and apartment buildings were clean (they sometimes had plants in front of them), no one loitered unless they were hailing a cab, and the streets were so clean you’d swear the wind stopped blowing because not even a derelict plastic bag could be seen. Those were the “exclusive” areas of Crown Heights, Brighton, Midwood, Sheepshead and many, more. As of the 2010 Census, the neighborhoods of New York still are divided by racial segregation.
However, since 2002, there has been a collision or merger (depending on your perspective) of race and class in the once minority dominated residential area of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Some of the remnants of the past still linger today as one young lady that I interviewed for this blog points out. I asked her what she would identify as the most pressing community problem; she responded, “we struggle in developing our male use… You see a lot of them on the corner, a lot of them hanging out.” She goes on to ask if the problems stems from the education system or family orientation. Her statement leads to an examination of whether the discriminatory system or the exploited people are the cause.
Another resident describes the issue as “drug activity, violence, gangs because the same thing is going on every day. Everybody is always arguing over the same crack-heads, they beefing over money that they all sharing and there’s just a lot of gangs. People want to be gang related, to have a team. They can’t walk by themselves nowadays, I guess.”
A longtime resident stated, “Different people they just know what they want. What other people don’t want they want. That’s it just different people.” Her answer was to my question regarding what changes has she seen in the community over time. The answer that she gave begs not just me but everyone to ask, “Is someone else making better use of what I didn’t want?” The idiom goes, “one man’s trash is the next man’s treasure,” “or come up,” as a white rapper Macklemore says.
So have the previous residents given up on the Stuy? Don’t know, but there are some people who still claim the area and not just in name either. The Westbrook Memorial Garden may not receive a second look by typical passers by (photo 2), but the community garden is run by members of the community. The Brooklyn Queen Land Trust preserves enhance and manage the space. Local residents new and old grow vegetables and flower and use it to relax and socialize. Different members of the community have shared responsibility for the basic upkeep (it’s had more than its fair share of ups and down), however, you can find families enjoying a warm a day together and signs of new growth among the thicket. (photo 1).
On my errands that take me pass the Garden, I envision that it should be maintain better, less trash and over growth of the bushes. I wonder how much effort goes into keeping it adequate for enjoyment and relaxation. But, is Westbrook Gardens a testament to the neighborhood? A place that, even though it seems disregarded, can still provide and support growth?