Observations of a non-American visiting Boston – New York, rythm and gentrification

I was going to New York to pay a visit to my daughter who lives there. First things first though: I had to do a load of laundry. This is a very exerting job in my father-in-law’s appartement. It requires me going up and down the elevator four  times. Down, to the laundry room in the basement of the building to put my load into the machines. Up, to wait for 25 minutes and read the paper. Down again, to stick the same load into the dryer for 30 minutes. Up again, 16 floors and read while waiting and yes, down again, to fold the laundry. Such an effort! I was exhausted after all that work (note: irony! Husband said, after reading this: really? Were you tired?)

Well, I took the Megabus of four o’clock pm to NYC. A great way to travel! I reserved tickets a couple of days in advance and paid $13! Because I wanted an aisle seat, I reserved a chair for $6 extra. Total for one way ticket: $19,00! Return ticket the same. For a 4,5 hour trip not bad. (Prices depend on type of days and how much in advance you book!).

feetbus
I have a terrific view
columbus av NYC
Coming into New York City – Columbus Ave

Seats are reasonably comfy. I ended up on the top deck, in the very first front seat. Great view, but with the fast driving and the potholes in the road, a little bumpy and scary! Could take some good pictures, though.

On my way to the bus in Boston, I walked among the many commuters, well dressed, well groomed. And passed the chique restaurants with tables on their sidewalk patio’s. They  have opened since the Greenway was established. So pleasant, so beautiful. Above the Greenway a gorgeous piece of art by Janet Echelman was installed. A gauzy looking, hammock like, enormous (ruim 2000 m2) netting/cloth in mainly orange, blue/green, oily colours. It  moves and softly changes color in the wind (always blowing in this part of Boston) Very impressive. I was told it weighs more than a ton and is carefully anchored unto the buildings around the area. Title: As If It Were Already Here.

greenway

crown heights
Crown Heights

After my 4,5 hour trip on the bus plus an 1,5 hour by subway to daughters place in Crown Heights, I got off the train in a different world, it seemed. Litter everywhere on the streets. Whereas in Boston (my neighborhood) black people are an exception, here I am the stranger. I feel very white and Dutch. Millions of little shops, colorful people with rasta hats or other custumes,  cars with boom boxes playing rap or reggea driving around. Many of the black people come from Jamaica, originally. And many of the women I see have ‘rythm’. Meaning: big wiggly buts. This was said to daughters’ black friend by somebody in the street: Sista’, you got rythm!’ It is a compliment!

Hassidic Jews are also quite a sight around Crown Heights. There is a large community here. The high hats, the women wearing wigs, the teenagers dressed not for fashion but only, it seems, to cover themselves completely. Long sleeves, long skirts, stockings, nothing really attractive is allowed.

How colorful though, how noisy, how wonderfully messy. I feel I’ve come back to reality. The affluence and the many tourists of my Boston neighborhood creates a kind of distance and isolation.

Crown Heights

Here people more easily engage in a conversation, they live outside and comment on what’s going on (like the Rythm comment, :)) Daughter tells some of the shopowners I’m her mom and from that moment on I’m ‘Momma‘. ‘How you’re doin’, Momma?’, they will call to me in the next coming days. It feels homey and warm. It reminds me of Korea where my tall, blond, whiteness also made me stand out. Sometimes annoyingly so, but also a privilege! I was always greeted in stores and at the market. At first, standing anonymously in line at supermarkets in Holland took getting used to. It felt cold and lonely. Of course, it takes missing something before you really come to appreciate it! I was probably more irritated at the time in Korea…longing to be anonymous. Anyhow, now I feel at home in this sloppy, colorful. multicultural neighborhood, even when it means being adressed as Momma.

But the noíse…! At night I have a hard time sleeping, to put it mildly. People yell, play music, party and to top it off there is a firestation in daughters street, with huge trucks taking off once an hour or so, with loud sirens. When I finally dose off, I’m woken again by the screams, spouting from a church below the appartement. Doors wide open, people sing and dance and clap their hands. And the pastor gets going. This is no yelling. No screaming, This is what I call, having a fit! How can they stand it? The man has screamed his voice all hoarse and hardly has a voice left, and still he continues. It is a sign of the presence of the Spirit, is what they believe, I guess. An organ plays chords in an ever increasing crescendo.

churchsign

This church is not the only one. On our way to our own church later we walk by several, small but loud gatherings of the saints. Many peope in the streets are in their sunday best, literally! Beautiful to see.

After church (Trinity Grace, Crown Heights) we walk around for a long time. We have a bite at Franklin Park, also called Dutch Boy Burger. Dutch Boy turns out to be an old paint brand. Next day we go to Park Slope, another area in Brooklyn. Much gentrified since the ’70s.

map park slope mapcrownheights

 

This happens to many neighborhoods in New York. Because rent is so extremely high, young people, students, artists, will move into cheap, poor neighborhoods because of affordable rents. But after a while these places become interesting to landlords who buy up whole blocks, renovate them minimally and then will rent them for double the price. Poor people are forced in the end to move away, out of these neighborhoods. The ‘hood  will look increasingly beautiful, more green, with the old brownstones and historic places. By than it is an easy guess, rents are once again unaffordable for the original inhabitants and for young people. It is an ongoing cycle.

This process is just beginning to happen  in the part of Crown Heights where daughter lives.

St. John's Place
St. John’s Place
5th_avebird
View of the Bird shop daughter works now. 5th ave, but in Brooklyn!

2 gedachtes over “Observations of a non-American visiting Boston – New York, rythm and gentrification

  1. Janke Elliott

    Loved reading this.
    Makes me want to go visit Crown Heights.
    And yes that gentrifying is happening everywhere, very much also in DC
    Sad really..

  2. I know, it is sad on the one hand because the original occupants have no better place to go to. It is nice on the other hand to see neighborhoods improve the way they have. Don’t know a solution..:(
    In Holland we have the policy that every neighborhood should have at least 20 % affordable living for low-income people. That’s ‘sociale woningbouw’.

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