I’ve watched the construction of 111 Montgomery in my Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights since it was nothing more than a large empty lot.
There was a playground nearby where my brother and I always played competitive 2v2s basketball with the neighborhood kids. They were strangers at first, but after the first or second interaction they became people I dapped up daily on the way home from school.
The block had big broken concrete chunks that I would jump over when I wanted to feel like a child again.
Then, during construction, traffic guards directing cars and constant jack hammers replaced the calm quiet.
When that side of the block was newly repaved in what seemed like a night’s time, it caught me off guard. Then came a Citi Bike station, and then eventually the green scaffolding signaling a new building. Three years later, by my junior year, 111 Montgomery was finished.
People started moving in two years ago and I’ve started noticing that the new residents are mostly White or non-Black Latinx. That wasn’t surprising to me once I read that 111 Montgomery was the newest luxury apartment building in my area.
A Dap Up Versus a Gentleman’s Handshake
At some point, I noticed that the familiar faces at the basketball court had disappeared. And although my neighborhood is still predominantly Black, now I run into a lot more White, Asian or Latinx neighbors to play with.
The differences may seem small, but they are important to me. There was a familiarity playing with a dark face like my own, and the dap up came so naturally after a game. Those boys became neighborhood friends not just because of the basketball, but because there was an unspoken, mutual understanding of who we are and where we come from that I felt while playing. I don’t get the same vibe when I’m offered a “gentleman’s handshake” by my White counterparts after the game.
I can’t blame other people for moving into 111 Montgomery because they have the means to do so. But I wonder what happened to my original friends at the courts. Where are they now and how have their lives changed?
I Miss the Crammed Aisles and Dim Lights
The first time I had an inkling of what these changes meant was when AriZona Teas went from costing a dollar to $1.25 last year. There had been rumors about the price increase on the internet but I didn’t believe it. In the same way I can rely on air to inhale with each breath, I rely on my dollar AriZona Tea.
At first it was one store experimenting with $1.25 Mucho Mango bottled AriZona, which I would simply walk out of and go to the deli across the street. But then that store adopted the $1.25 pricing, and then every store within a three-block radius did. Soon I had no choice but to settle for paying the extra quarter, or resort to buying the canned Mucho Mango AriZona. The cans are inconvenient though, as they have no cap and the straw is never long enough. So, I got used to carrying the extra change in my pocket.
Maybe it’s inflation, but I noticed other staple snacks, such as the 50 cent Little Debbie honey bun, were also raised in price. And sometimes, these snacks are gone altogether and replaced with “healthier options” like a $2 dollar croissant or $6 dollar Tate’s cookie pack.
My staple meal has always been a raisin bagel with cream cheese and jelly and two boxes of Mike and Ikes for $3. Now that’s $6 minimum. What’s more, it’s a rarity to even find all three of these “classics” in one store. I’ve adopted the cheaper route of a plain toasted buttered bagel and a Capri Sun. It comes up to the same $3 but I get a lot less for the money.
Now, I look around at where most of the corner stories used to be, with their crammed aisles and dim lights. Most of them have been closed down, replaced by fancier markets and coffee shops. The layouts are more modern with a lot more space for both workers and customers, who mostly no longer look like me. For me, these shops will never replace the original corner stores despite having more money poured into them.
They Had to Displace People
This isn’t just happening in my neighborhood. Jeremiah, a fellow Brooklyn Latin student and friend of mine, would constantly remark about a new luxury apartment building being built in Bushwick, when we passed it on the way to school.
“It’s so crazy how they’re making such an expensive building when they could be reinvesting into the projects right next to it,” he observed. “It’s so corrupt the society we live in. The audacity of some people to casually build a multi-million dollar apartment when there are residents in the area who can barely afford public housing.”
“Do you know what it was before?” I asked.
“I think it was a broken-down apartment building, but I do know that there had to be people displaced for this building to be here now,” Jeremiah said. “Then you wonder why there’s so many citizen app reports in the area recently. What did they expect to happen?”
I couldn’t agree more. I see more homeless people on the streets now. It feels like a sick cycle: innocent people are kicked out of their homes, but then are demonized for resorting to crime because of a lack of resources.
What’s happening in my neighborhood is what’s called gentrification, “a process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents,” according to the dictionary definition.
While there are some pros to gentrification, such as more diversity and job opportunities in the affected communities, I think it’s mostly negative because it creates displacement. What bothers me most about it is no one ever hears about where these displaced residents have gone and what happened to their lives as a result.
I think it could be good if the money was invested with some of the desires, needs, and input of the current residents in mind. I’d love to see more money going toward safety and maintenance of the neighborhood aesthetic. That way, the value of our community goes up, not because of the decrease in minority groups, but because the neighborhood’s beauty is better preserved.
I watched a “Daily Show” podcast about gentrification with Ronald Shiffman, a Brooklyn-based city planner. “People didn’t want to see the parks improved,” he said, referring to Bushwick residents he’d spoken with several years ago. “They were afraid that if they got a better park, if they got safer streets, and better schools, that they wouldn’t [be able to] live there anymore, that it would be for somebody else.”
This resonated with me. We shouldn’t be expected to just accept the eradication of our culture and neighborhood. You can’t just accept that places that made your home home are no longer there, replaced by people and places that don’t represent you.