Human Geographies of Bushwick, continued…

by Chiara Valli

Our two latest interviews are with Steve and Rosa. Steve moved to Bushwick eight years ago; Rosa was born here. They both have struggled with ´making Bushwick better´, but from very different perspectives.

You can read the original installment here.

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STEVE, male, 40 y.o., white, from Michigan, café owner

I moved here 8 years ago from Michigan, I worked in a restaurant back there and I came here hoping to open a small café.

What’s cool here in Bushwick is that all the new businesses coming out we all know each other, we have all met each other over the years so whenever anybody starts a business we are all pretty supportive of such things. The people here are really great. You tend to move here for a purpose: you have school or you want to do something artistic, and there is a great community for that, a lot of young folk, it’s getting younger and younger to me. And everyone I meet is so interesting and they are all from all over the place, so it’s a cool melting pot within the giant melting pot.

When I moved here I liked the idea to start something fresh, doing something that hasn’t been done for 20-30 years… really there wasn’t a coffee shop, there were bodega coffee, corner store coffee, but there was no coffee shop, so we were like “let’s just open a coffee shop, let’s do this”, I remember sitting down and say “we need a good restaurant, we need coffee shop, a nice bookstore”, and now, seven years later, these things are tripled, you know in the last six months six coffee shops opened up, I was the only one for a long time, and now there is a bunch of them, but they are all spread out, and we all get along and I know most of them too. I just like the idea of making things nicer, it used to be pretty scary around here, I wouldn’t hang out on Knickerbocker or I wouldn’t travel much towards the bigger part of Bushwick, you know we are in the north corner of Bushwick, Bushwick is bigger. But now it feels a lot safer, cleaner, the people who moved here found that people who lived here were amazing, so much culture. Unfortunately now there are higher rents, risks of being kicked out, greedy landlords… it’s really sad. Is that progress? I don’t know. It sure seems to be much nicer than before.

Honestly I love to eat brunch, that’s my thing. I sleep late and then I like to eat brunch and there wasn’t a place here for that. I wanted to do it; this neighborhood didn’t have that at the time. So I did it out of necessity I guess. There wasn’t a place to get good coffee, and we did that.

Am I a jerk for living here? Am I jerk for people moving because the rent went up? Am I a jerk for opening a coffee shop because it’s nicer than it was before, I mean, am I a jerk? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Am I opportunistic or do I just want to make things better? People here wanted some things. I mean, I could barely get lunch here three years ago, that’s why I opened my second café, so there was a place to get a good lunch. Now there are lots of places.

The topic of gentrification is sticky; it’s hard to talk about. And I think it’s always been this way in New York, you know before there were the Dutch, and then the Italians, then Germans, and now it’s like Hispanic and Black, and now it’s “whitey”. Things are always changing. You know the history of Bushwick, there was the fire and it was desolated and scary, so if people want to make it better, it’s cool, right?

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ROSA, female, 26 y.o., Dominican background, Bushwick native, student and employed in a NGO

What I struggle with is that when people talk about new people coming in and when they say it in a positive light it’s almost like as they are ‘cleaning it up’. Meanwhile it’s always been pretty good. Where I lived people worked hard to make their neighborhood great, and they did it. It wasn’t safe in certain areas, but wherever we called it ‘home’ we made a home out of it. So when I got to my block I always felt safe. People always watched out for each other, we always watched out for the kids, I offered tutoring the kids, as I got older I helped. We don’t live there anymore because we couldn’t afford it but, but if you go there during Christmas time all the houses were competing with each other to make the best Christmas decorations, during Halloween people would compete to each other to make the best Halloween decorations… those are the kind of things that make a community. When people want to make it prettier, they want to make it more fun.

And it makes me really angry when people say that the people who lived previously in now gentrified areas didn’t care about where they lived. If they didn’t care about where they lived, would they be living like animals? No. If you come on a morning on a Saturday or a Sunday you will see people sweeping the streets, it’s because they are taking care of their stuff. If you see their plants hanging up against the windows it’s because they are taking care of their stuff. If you live in a place you are not going to leave it go to shit, right? But if you don’t have the means to pay for remodel, you are not going to do it.

A lot of people have like ‘made Bushwick precious´ and fetishized it, and think of it as something really nice. This is just people’s home, this is fucking home, this is what it is. It’s not an art project. All of the people who have been moving in – I would love people moving here and stay here for a long period of time, so we could invest in the people who moved here. But if this is just a place for you to be while you are in graduate school, if you are just a transient audience and you don’t invest yourself in this community, then why the hell people are going to give you a chance to talk to you? While at the same time, let’s complicate that. If you were in a community that were more open to people, who would give this community more exposure in a meaningful way through research, through art, maybe people would try to make that gentrification more compassionate. I think in both parts there is an issue. It’s the distrust.

 

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