Monoculture, That's The Word I Was Looking For

The Gothamist ran this question and answer about gentrification and it's SO GOOD.

The Question:

Dear Native New Yorker,

I live in Hamilton Heights in West Harlem. Recently, a number of bars and restaurants have been opening that don't exactly cater toward the traditional residents of the area. They have that "hipster Williamsburg" or even "Village" vibe to them: Delicious craft beers, swanky cocktails and gourmet entrees. Near these places developers are snatching up properties and building barely-affordable door-man condos and chains such as Starbucks.

To be honest, I welcome these developments. I think it's good to have some economic vitality and choice in a neighborhood. I wonder, though, if as a white man from Minnesota if I'm not just another cog in the wheel of gentrification in Manhattan and elsewhere in the City? Is it wrong to celebrate gentrification, especially as a transplant?

Gerald G. Gentrifier

The answer is epic and thoughtful and makes me want to meet the author of the response, Jake Dobkin, and shake his hand. (Then do the native Park Slopers' secret handshake, which no, I'm not about to reveal the details of the Internet.)

I obviously recommend reading the whole thing, but here are a few bits that really resonated with me:

On countering that gentrification has made that house you bought back in the day super valuable:

Sure, grandma bought her house in 1960 and is sitting on a huge paper profit, but she knows that if she ever sells, she will have to move to a tiny apartment or to Florida. And even if she wanted to do that, she still worries about her kids, who can't afford to live in the old neighborhood anymore. So grandma also hates you.

On Jane Jacobs' thoughts about the nature of gentrification:

She was right to point out the essential restlessness of gentrification, and warn us about the monoculture that can result from uncontrolled redevelopment.

MONOCULTURE! That's the word I've been looking for! A few weeks ago I spent a Saturday afternoon in rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights and as I wandered I was struck by just how much it felt like two different neighborhoods living side by side but barely interacting. It looked like an old guard/new guard checkerboard: bodega, craft beer bar, storefront church, farm-to-table brunch spot. It was so fucking obvious what was "new" there and frankly, IT ALL LOOKED THE SAME.

Why? What is with this reluctance to do anything but dress up fetishized booze and food in reclaimed wood, letterpress, and other faux-authentic-old-shit? The beauty of cities is in their diversity and gentrification is becoming ONE THING. People are supposed to come to New York City because their small towns just couldn't support their think-outside-the-box wild creativity. They're supposed to blossom into visionary citizens that make NYC even nuttier, not monoculture zombies that feed on Bloody Mary brunches on Marais stools and Instagram.

Remember when Stuff White People Like came out in 2008 and it was funny? It still makes me laugh aloud, but then I'm left with this terrible feeling that it's becoming way too true. Yes, I like a lot of those things, and yes, I'm fine with being predictable in some ways because I'm not a teenager stomping around the world pretending that being unique/underground is the only thing worth trying to be. But I don't want my city to be predictable. I want it to INSPIRE me. To confuse and challenge me. To show me new things I didn't even know I would like. I want it to act like New York City goddamnit!

Which by the way, so much of the time it does. I'm just desperately afraid of coming home from a trip one day to find out that it's no longer true.