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

By Suleiman Osman | Go to book overview

Introduction

On November 22, 1966, a small group of city construction workers arrived at the corner of State and Nevins streets in Brooklyn with orders to raze an abandoned brownstone. Having recently gained possession of the dilapidated four-story building through nonpayment of taxes, the city had become concerned that the empty townhouse was a gathering place for homeless men and drug users and decided to demolish it. For local residents, the sight of helmeted workers and bulldozers was a common one. Although only a few blocks away from the borough’s downtown, North Gowanus, as some locals called it, was a struggling inner-city district hit hard by the same trends affecting most American cities in the 1960s. A once thriving industrial economy centered around the Gowanus Canal and waterfront was fading as firms left for the suburbs or the South. Working-class white residents anxious about the changing racial composition of the area and declining work opportunities fled for Staten Island, New Jersey, or Long Island. African American and Puerto Rican migrants arrived on the heels of departing white ethnics in search for work, but soon found themselves trapped in decaying tenements surrounded by abandoned townhouses. To stem the spread of blight and urban decay, ambitious city planners hoped to raze and rebuild, replacing outdated Victorian housing with modern high-rises, open space, and green parks. A few blocks away, the city had recently blasted several square blocks of brownstones and would soon complete the enormous Wyckoff Gardens lowincome housing project.1

On this morning, however, workers were confronted with the unexpected: a group of thirty members of the Boerum Hill Association stood in front of the building protesting with placards, bullhorns, and pamphlets. An organization of young homeowners who recently moved to the area, the BHA demanded that the city halt demolition of the building. An abandoned lot would scar the

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • 1- Urban Wilderness 17
  • 2- Concord Village 52
  • 3- The Middle Cityscape of Brooklyn Heights 82
  • 4- The Two Machines in the Garden 119
  • 5- The Highway in the Garden and the Literature of Gentrification 164
  • 6- Inventing Brownstone Brooklyn 189
  • 7- The Neighborhood Movement 233
  • Conclusion- Brownstone Brooklyn Invented 270
  • Abbreviations 281
  • Notes 283
  • Index 327
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