From the magazine: ISSUE 91, April/May 2014
When Michael Bloomberg concluded his 12 years as the mayor of New York City at the end of 2013, he left behind a metropolis with a new global reputation. After starting his administration on the heels of the most devastating moment in its recent history, 9/11, Bloomberg helped build the city into something that was, to many, palpably safer, visibly cleaner and, despite its reputation for gruffness, friendlier than it had ever been.
Is it possible that New York lost something in the process? At an economic conference in 2003, Bloomberg said, “If New York City is a business, it isn’t Walmart—it isn’t trying to be the lowest-priced product in the market. It’s a high-end product, maybe even a luxury product.” That luxury city is not yet realized, but it’s well on its way. The average rate of a rental apartment has increased to over $3,000 a month, while the cost of living in Manhattan for a family of four nears $93,000 a year. At the same time, New York now has its highest homeless population in modern times: over 60,000 people, including more than 22,000 children. As far as safety is concerned, Bloomberg credited a citywide decrease in crime to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, a controversial police tactic that covertly targeted young black and Latino men, with the mayor going so far as to say that the cops “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” The cost of this transformation was not lost on New Yorkers: Bill de Blasio, elected to succeed Bloomberg, ran on a platform of restoring the city to a more equal place, including ending stop-and-frisk, while also maintaining the aggressive economic development of his predecessor.
In the following pages, photographer Matthew Monteith captures four distinct New York neighborhoods in various states of flux: Willets Point in Queens, Hunts Point in The Bronx, The Upper West Side in Manhattan and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. On the Upper West Side, a condominium development now sits next to underfunded and crumbling public housing, while in Bed-Stuy, soaring property values are remaking a historic neighborhood block by block. In Willets Point, a group of immigrant businessmen are fighting a city plan to replace their auto shops with a mall, and, in Hunts Point, a resurgent low-income neighborhood has become a prime target for high-end development.
These are neighborhoods where New Yorkers hustle to make ends meet, make their communities better and simply live in a city that never stops transforming. They’re also places where creativity can thrive, if it’s supported. No one knows if New York will ever truly be unwelcome to the immigrants, artists, musicians and natives that make it the greatest city in the world; most likely, there will always be pockets of perseverance. De Blasio’s election makes one thing clear, though: the city is at a pivotal moment, where inequality can continue, or the administration can take the steps to make it a place everyone can call home.
It’s hard to decide whether to embrace or reject the so-called “Brooklynization” of Paris, especially as a New Yorker. In one sense, it’s annoying that the new wave of cool is often a bilingual carbon copy of restaurants and shops you’d find walking down Smith Street. In another, it’s profound. For a modern nation entrenched in tradition, it’s pretty amazing to see the French open up to the avant-garde (if you can even call it that) of another place. I mean, this is the country that banned the term “e-mail” to preserve its culture.
While for some it’s upsetting to see neighborhoods being stripped of their character because of the growing number of yuppie businesses that attract scene-hungry hipsters, it’s not all bad.
Despite the city’s reputation for café culture, the coffee itself was overlooked. It tasted really bad (so bad) until recently. Now, there are a handful of cafés that are serious about making good coffee. The only real difference between here and Brooklyn is that the barista will be some beautiful bilingual Aussie instead of the usual bearded Williamsburg denizen.
[This type of gentrification] is not specific to Paris, but it’s interesting to see the way the French captial is interpreting hipster (bobo) culture.
That said, it’s worth mentioning that there is a growing number of bearded French men these days, some of whom are even baristas themselves. Generally, this is a tailored country when it comes to personal appearance— even cooks in France are clean-shaven and without tattoos. But now that Brooklyn is trending, beards are à la mode.
The new wave of Brooklynized businesses has also created a welcome middle ground for dining in the city. Instead of deciding between Michelin-starred restaurants, take-away stands, or brasserie chains, there is an added option of reasonably priced restaurants that serve good food without the usual pomp-and-circumstance of French dining. They also happen to attract a hipster crowd (go figure), and they tend to look a lot like Brooklyn restaurants. Still, these restaurants seem to be addressing a need for high-quality casual dining that existed in Paris but was never met until recently.
In some respect, the Brooklynization of Paris seems no different than the gentrification that is happening throughout Western Europe. It’s not specific to Paris, but it’s interesting to see the way the French capital is interpreting hipster (bobo) culture, and what will come next as a result.
Maybe Brooklyn will be taking cues from Paris in a few years, just like it has in the past, and the cycle will begin again.
Eugena Ossi is a New Yorker living in Paris to get up close and personal with the language, culture, people, and food (so much food). Follow her on Instagram, and check out her portfolio at eugenaossi.com.