The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York

By Suleiman Osman | Go to book overview
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Conclusion: Brownstone
Brooklyn Invented

In 1983, a young filmmaker released the first “anti-gentrification” documentary about Park Slope. Where Can I Live? described an emerging battle between low-income tenants and landlords on Thirteenth Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. In 1982, a developer converted the vacant Ansonia Clock Factory to luxury cooperatives on the corner of Seventh Avenue, setting off a wave of speculation in the area. The Slope South Realty Development Association soon bought eight low-rent buildings next to the factory with the hopes of warehousing them until they could convert them to cooperatives. As six apartment buildings sat boarded up, the largely Puerto Rican and African American tenants in two remaining tenements complained that landlords were pressuring them to leave with menacing threats, arson, reduced services, sabotage of facilities, and even occasional violence. An interracial coalition aided by two young brownstoners who recently moved to the block publicized their struggle in local newspapers, lobbied for help from South Brooklyn Legal Services, organized a march, and held a block party to unify tenants. “We see it like an invasion. Because that’s what it is,” complained community activist Ibon Muhammad. “They’ve come along like some invading army and just took over.”1

Park Slope activists were not the only activists mobilizing to fight gentrification in the late 1970s. The term was originally coined by a London sociologist in 1964, but American sociologists loosely adopted it at the end of the seventies to describe a growing back-to-the-city movement and beginnings of downtown revival in many American cities. Newspapers soon used the term in quotation marks to describe optimistically what seemed to be a surprising reversal of decades of white flight and economic decline for American cities. “Hard as it is to believe, however, New York and other cities in the American Northeast are beginning to enjoy a revival as they undergo a gradual process

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