Featherstone: When the 'creatives' move in, must rents always jump?

Closeup of an artist hand drawing temporary tattoo

Closeup of an artist hand drawing temporary tattoo on someone leg. (Credit: Fotolia)

'It's not a tattoo kind of neighborhood," said the owner, explaining why Greene Tattoo parlor would be moving from Greene Avenue in Clinton Hill to somewhere in Williamsburg.

I don't have any tattoos. And I viewed with some amusement the parade of hipsters that used to crowd outside Greene Tattoo, smoking. But I'm sad to see that tattoo parlor leave our street -- priced out after just a couple years -- and to see our neighborhood's playful side recede so quickly. Gentrification makes life precarious for some of the city's most creative people, even as they also accelerate it. But without them, New York wouldn't be much of a city.

When we moved five years ago to the border of Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Grand Dakar, a Senegalese restaurant, was offering salmon cassava croquettes and crispy mint spring rolls.

The menu reflected the owner's origins in rural Senegal and in cosmopolitan Dakar. Chef-owner Pierre Thiam was a competitor on "Iron Chef." There was live music most nights, and even a film series. Next to Dakar was a kids' resale clothing shop, with dance classes in the backroom.

Those places are now gone, casualties of rising commercial rents and the uneven fortunes of local consumers. Meanwhile, high-priced apartment buildings are emerging faster than the springtime weeds blanketing the still-undeveloped lots.

Of course, our neighborhood was never just entrepreneurs and artists. It's still home to many working-class and poor people, most of whom were here long before the tattoo parlor. Social scientists have recently acknowledged that when a community attracts cultural "creatives," other struggling folks in the neighborhood don't benefit from all that coolness. In fact, by making a neighborhood hip (and helping the real estate industry to sell it as such), creatives can unintentionally hurt their lower-income neighbors by pricing them out.

Still, I'd like to think we could figure out how to meet everyone's basic economic needs, while nourishing the creative thinking that has made New York such a world-class city. But we won't do it by building more fancy apartment buildings and letting the real estate industry's needs trump those of everybody else.

Liza Featherstone and her family, by living there, have been part of the gentrification process in Clinton Hill.


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