There’s an amount of pleasure to be taken from a conversation between a real Brooklynite and a yuppie, especially when the yuppie is grasping for – and not finding – a degree of authority on the subject of Brooklyn. You know what I’m talking about. Think about the last time you read the New York Times, with its Metro desk completely staffed by Northern Brooklyn hipsters, and they were forced to write that bi-monthly article about Southern Brooklyn. They always end up jumbling neighborhoods, screwing up demographics and local legends. You roll your eyes, but really, you wish they had said that in front of a local just so you can see them blush when corrected.

That’s why when a Park Slope writer interviews Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks, for the Financial Times, there was a lot to be amused about. First, writer John Gapper provides us with this sweeping assessment of Canarsie as “a rugged district between Coney Island and John F Kennedy airport” (cue eye roll), then when he tries to find some common ground with Canarsie-born Schultz, he gets hilariously shut down. And, irony of ironies, it comes from a Brooklyn boy who moved to a hipster nest (Portland) to show them how to properly launch and manage a business.

We talk about Brooklyn for a while, a borough whose reputation as a rough melting pot has changed in the past few years towards becoming a symbol of gentrification. I live in Park Slope, the epicentre of the shift. “That’s not really Brooklyn,” Schultz says quickly. I mention another chief executive I’ve met who grew up in Bensonhurst. “That’s Brooklyn,” he says approvingly.

Apparently that has some brownstoners chafing. But not us, and certainly not Bensonhurst resident Arturo Tedesco, who blogs over at BKSouthie. Tedesco wrote a rather descriptive missive of what real Brooklyn means to him, and why Schultz hit the nail on the head with his Park Slope pimp slap.

This seemed to shock and offend many of brownstone Brooklyn’s more vocal residents. Their carefully cultivated idea of a “new” Brooklyn that’s sort of like Portland, or San Francisco, or hundreds of college towns all across the country, was under siege. To them, this may have been a sign of the Apocalypse. Fish from the docks of Sheepshead Bay would soon fall from the sky into Prospect Park’s lake. Proprietors in Fort Greene would start speaking in tongues of Haitian Creole and New Yorican. New brownstone owners would not be NYU grads from Wisconsin but Rhodes Scholars born in Ukraine. The sky was falling, dogs were sleeping with cats and, sick of Staten Island, their Archie Bunker landlords were moving back. Guidos and black people and stoop ball, oh my!

The thing that many of these critics, these supporters of a new narrative for Brooklyn are forgetting, is that history, even in an always-evolving New York City, is not forgotten that easily. A decade or two of gentrification in a handful of neighborhoods close to Manhattan does not a new borough make.

The dominant historical narrative of Brooklyn, that of a bedroom community of strivers and immigrants, proudly working and middle class, with pockets of the upper middle class and wealthy, also poor with a poverty that’s not hidden so much as it’s embraced, is over a hundred years old. It’s this Brooklyn that became world famous. It is also a Brooklyn far better represented by its relatively affordable southern half. A Brooklyn with artists, yes, but with far more families, both generations deep and straight off the boat. Young couples saving up for a down payment whose offspring  grow up to raise their children in the same houses they grew up in. The games those children will play: street hockey with a crushed beer can, wiffle ball bats stuffed with the Daily News, ‘Utah’ in basketball courts. A city of homes and churches, synagogues and mosques. That’s Brooklyn.

What do you think? What is the real Brooklyn?

 

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  • Faba

    HEY YOOOOO!
    I hate Starbucks and not a fan of coffee in general but I will have a cup on Schultz’s behalf!

    The interview would have perfect if Howard busted out some Biggie:
    “Motherfucking right, my pocket’s looking kind of tight
    and I’m stressed, yo Biggie let me get the vest
    No need for that, just grab the fucking gat
    The first pocket that’s fat the Tec is to his back”

  • Faba

    HEY YOOOOO!
    I hate Starbucks and not a fan of coffee in general but I will have a cup on Schultz’s behalf!

    The interview would have perfect if Howard busted out some Biggie:
    “Motherfucking right, my pocket’s looking kind of tight
    and I’m stressed, yo Biggie let me get the vest
    No need for that, just grab the fucking gat
    The first pocket that’s fat the Tec is to his back”

  • Old Sheepshead Hand

    Embracing vs. Hatred of “the new Brooklyn” has been a constant struggle for me. On the one hand, the Yuppie/Hipsters have opened Brooklyn to accepting new cuisines, new shopping and business dynamics that have been good for the borough (working class locals, generations old, are reluctant to try new things). Portland or San Francisco is better than a suburb. The lumberjack beardo cooking my organic raised greens from his rooftop may be a twit but at least he’s not a wal-mart. And when we think of the bad old days, for all the gritty poetic nostalgia we have for it now…those were still bad days.

    On the other hand – the pretentiousness of these new Brooklynites is off the charts. The mannerisms, the California valley-girl esque phrasing of everything in a question, the ridiculous copy cat fashion choices (as bad what goes in the street-flavored enclaves), their inability to communicate like normal people has gotten out of control. They are too in love with themselves and they have asserted themselves too strongly as the embodiment of Brooklyn – making the natives (of all stripes) feel like anthropological relics to be pointed at. And the bands they promote haven’t been good in years. Also, too many damn strollers everywhere.

    And where does it end? And what is it based on? We know about our neighborhood. Is it all the Real Brooklyn here? Is the Russoficiation of Sheepshead Bay another version of a new, fake Brooklyn? Or is it the Real Brooklyn now, the Sheepshead version. Blasting Club Music out of cafes in the middle of the day is our version of a vegan artisinal cheese shop. And the servers in each of these places are probably going to be mean or expect you to speak their language (“Da” or “I want…the soy-based fake brie?”)

    Basically – it’s like family. I can’t stand a low class local yokel but I’ll defend ‘em from the invading hipster. But then I’ll probably defend the invading hipster from the Middle American rube who “hates New York”. And so on.

    But I will take a firm stand on one thing:
    NO MORE CUPCAKES!!! (No offense to the cupcake guys on Vorhees, I’m just saying). Brooklyn is for COOKIES!

    • Qwerty

      The Russians are part and have always been part of the real Brooklyn no matter how much you dislike their ways.

      FYI, Russian immigrants arrived in Brooklyn over 100 years ago not just in the recent past when the Soviet Union started collapsing and then ceased to be (20 – 30 years ago).

      All these Ashkenazi American Jews you see around Brooklyn whose families have been here for generations (some ethnic Russians too), where do you think they came from? From the same former Soviet countries these “new” Russians came from.

  • The Great Arturo Bandini

    “Park Slope Bitch Slap”
    Hilarious!Great intro, Ned. Absolutely love it, thank you.

    wanderingbrooklyn.wordpress.com

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    I read about this originally in “Fucked IN Park Slope.” It’s hilarious to read hipster-yuppie rage. However, as a good citizen of southern Kings County I explained that “Bensonhurst isn’t Brooklyn, anyway. It’s New Utrecht”. Which totally perplexed these “Brooklynites” come lately. If you can’t learn the history, move back to Peoria!

    Kudos to Arturo! As usual, he hit the proverbial nail on the head.

  • Footface

    I once saw Brooklyn Decker (Andy Roddick’s wife, the model) being interviewed on Late Nite with Conan O’Brien. She and her husband live in “Brooklyn”, NY (bear with me for a sec, regarding the quotation marks), and she swears she was named after the borough. So Conan asks her to name 5 areas in Brooklyn to see if she’s a REAL Brooklynite. She says, and I kid you not “Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene and DUMBO”. I’d say a good dozen people booed when she did that…and I’m willing to bet that those guys booing (albeit good-naturedly) were booing for the right reasons- those are NOT areas in Brooklyn. They are annexes of Manhattan. Areas where hipsters are wearing ironic t-shirts and lens-less glasses, areas that have actress/models naming them giddily/casually and areas that need gentrifying are not REAL Brooklyn- REAL Brooklyn doesn’t need gentrifying, snickers at hipsters, and rolls its collective eyes derisively at birdbrained actresses/models.

  • Anonymous

    Love it. Great writing, Arturo Tedesco, from the heart. You too, Ned.

  • Beginablarp

    I have so many responses to this it’s hard to know where to start. I work in a part of Brooklyn that is colonized by gentrifiers but retains lots of what I guess you’d call native Brooklyn residents. The people who pay my salary have been running their business in that location for 50 years and the second generation is transitioning into leadership. Today, some yuppie jackass, called our cashier incompetent, to whoever he was talking to on his cell, because she took over 5 seconds to complete the transaction as she asked a co-worker to show her something so he could get his tax exempt sale run through properly. I guess her “authentic Brooklyn” accent, hairstyle and manner betrayed the fact that she’s got a master’s degree, and normally spends her days patiently educating special ed. kids in troubled schools. I guess this guy had no idea she grew up at the shop and was the owner’s daughter, and was just helping out because the family needed her to.
    I’d like to assume that guy was not a “real Brooklynite” but y’know rudeness, selfishness and self importance are qualities that are prevalent all over our fine borough. I don’t give a rat’s ass where anyone is from, as long as they put some thought into the way they treat each other, don’t throw their trash around and make a mess of the place, and drive somewhat sanely, they’re ok by me. If your mama taught you to give your seat to pregnant woman and your elders, we can hang. If she didn’t, it’s not to late to learn.

    • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

      “I don’t give a rat’s ass where anyone is from, as long as they put some thought into the way they treat each other, don’t throw their trash around and make a mess of the place, and drive somewhat sanely, they’re ok by me. If your mama taught you to give your seat to pregnant woman and your elders, we can hang. If she didn’t, it’s not to late to learn.”

      I’m breaking this out just so I can like it twice.

      Update: … and then I discovered I can’t like my own comments.

  • Beginablarp

    I guess I was really on a tear, I don’t usually make that many spelling and grammatical errors. Oh well, blame it on Brooklyn.

  • EndofDaze

    It’s really very simple, if you know the total history of Brooklyn, especially in the 20th century. Look at the individual alumni rolls of New Utrecht, Madison, Lafayette, Erasmus, or Lincoln. Then look at the alumni rolls of John Jay, no matter what decade or demographic. There’s a reason why Brooklyn is held in high esteem throughout the world, and it is precisely because of the character and contributions of those who grew up in the neighborhoods, not west or north of Prospect Park, but south of it!

  • Dive24

    Pretty cool comments. Now lets look at this from another perspective.
    Once upon a time Kings Plaza was THE detination for southern Brooklyn shoppers. Now those shoppers that haven’t moved to SI LI OR NJ shop on LI or SI. I wonder why?
    Would those southern brooklyn residents run out to SI or LI if Kings Plaza was filled with strollers, Park SLopers and other new Brooklynites? I don’t think so. Remember the Brownsville of the past? The Pitkin Theater and Fortunoff’s? How about East Flatbush, Canarsie and Flatlands? Do any bloggers here STILL have family or friends in these REAL Brooklyn communities? Hmmmm? Just asking?

    • Beginablarp

      Good point, Dive24. If I understand your inference, these neighborhoods are largely African American and have seen white residents flee for the locales you mentioned. I think it’s interesting that some of the most liveable, affordable and well cared for homes in Brooklyn, are in these neighborhoods. That’s why Caribbeans, and other non-white immigrants looking to own a home have moved there. There are blocks in East Flatbush that regularly compete for, and win Brooklyn Botanical Garden competitions for greenest block , and are otherwise neighborly and pleasant. The flight of the previous white immigrants just opened it up for the next influx of upwardly mobile immigrants.
      Of course, this isn’t true of much of Brownsville, and parts of all the neighborhoods you mentioned, which continue to be poor and suffer from lousy schools and so on. The only reason these places haven’t been gentrified is their distance from public transportation, and Manhattan. There’s plenty of good housing stock, and brownstones to boot. These neighborhoods are another example of how Brooklyn is about change.
      No matter how rich the history, how many generations of a family have lived in a neighborhood, it will change again. Sure, I think there are things and places that are “authentic Brooklyn”, but the most enduring part of our identity is the way we continually adapt to change, and new immigrants, from other countries or other parts of the US.

      • Dive24

        Great PC points, you can dress it up and try to put a positive spin on it but the fact of the matter is that former residents of those communities ran out of there for a reason. The children of those former residents wouldn’t live in those communities if they were given a house at no cost. There is a real reason why the face of Canarsie today is 180 degrees different than the way it was just 25 years ago.

        • Beginablarp

          Not “dressed up”, I just think the people who do work hard to keep up their neighborhood don’t deserve to be lumped in with the people who don’t. When people distrust the family that moved in next door because they’re a different race/culture/whatever and freak out and move, they’re responsible for the change of the community as much as anyone else. The alternative is greeting your new neighbor and inviting them to share the responsibility of making sure the community remains a pleasant place to live.
          Years ago, a group of neighbors paid a visit to my mom who was renting out an apartment in our 2 family house. They saw a black couple leaving, and wanted to make sure we understood we were not to rent to them. We didn’t. My mom was divorced and raising 2 daughters, on her own, too terrified for the sake of her kids to break the neighborhood rules. My aunt and uncle, across the street rented to a Hispanic family and had their tires slashed and got all manner of petty payback. This all happened in our beloved Sheepshead Bay. Would you rather have it that way again? I’m afraid I don’t want you to answer that.

          • Dive24

            whatever, lets not forget how this discussion started, bloggers were getting all over the yuppies,and hipsters. Funny thing they move in, the neighborhood “changes” , prices go up, new stores open, crime goes down and so on and so on…. yet when what I described above occurs, well I do not have to repeat it, the proof is there.

          • Beginablarp

            Whatever right back atcha. You brought it up. I won’t pretend to know more about Canarsie than I do, and you keep nursing that chip your shoulder.

          • Dive24

            LOL, how about the “White interloppers” in Harlem? The red carpet was rolled out for them. Don’t worry the summer will be here quickly enough and if you hurry you can reserve your seat on the Calipso Queen right here in Sheepshead Bay. Don’t forget to wear your bullet proof vest.

          • Dive24

            oh and by btw…
            Canarsie has excellent public transit, the Canarsie line is one of the best. There is a large municiple parking lot with all the 12 hour parking your heart desires adjacent to the station. THere are buses that actually pull into the station adjacent to the train! There is an express bus and several local busses. THere is direct access to the belt parkway, there are numerous parks, there is a pier and there are hundreds of beautiful one family homes. Many in Seaview village were build by the same developper that built in Mill Basin. 25 years ago, there was a beautiful HS, great restaurants and there was even a great restaurant on the pier.
            As time went on.. that great HS received metal detectors and ultimately closed, the restaurants closed, the restaurant on the pier closed, and so on and so on…
            Gee I wonder why?

          • levp

            I read this and hear “South’s gonna rise again”…

        • Beginablarp

          Not “dressed up”, I just think the people who do work hard to keep up their neighborhood don’t deserve to be lumped in with the people who don’t. When people distrust the family that moved in next door because they’re a different race/culture/whatever and freak out and move, they’re responsible for the change of the community as much as anyone else. The alternative is greeting your new neighbor and inviting them to share the responsibility of making sure the community remains a pleasant place to live.
          Years ago, a group of neighbors paid a visit to my mom who was renting out an apartment in our 2 family house. They saw a black couple leaving, and wanted to make sure we understood we were not to rent to them. We didn’t. My mom was divorced and raising 2 daughters, on her own, too terrified for the sake of her kids to break the neighborhood rules. My aunt and uncle, across the street rented to a Hispanic family and had their tires slashed and got all manner of petty payback. This all happened in our beloved Sheepshead Bay. Would you rather have it that way again? I’m afraid I don’t want you to answer that.

        • Beginablarp

          Not “dressed up”, I just think the people who do work hard to keep up their neighborhood don’t deserve to be lumped in with the people who don’t. When people distrust the family that moved in next door because they’re a different race/culture/whatever and freak out and move, they’re responsible for the change of the community as much as anyone else. The alternative is greeting your new neighbor and inviting them to share the responsibility of making sure the community remains a pleasant place to live.
          Years ago, a group of neighbors paid a visit to my mom who was renting out an apartment in our 2 family house. They saw a black couple leaving, and wanted to make sure we understood we were not to rent to them. We didn’t. My mom was divorced and raising 2 daughters, on her own, too terrified for the sake of her kids to break the neighborhood rules. My aunt and uncle, across the street rented to a Hispanic family and had their tires slashed and got all manner of petty payback. This all happened in our beloved Sheepshead Bay. Would you rather have it that way again? I’m afraid I don’t want you to answer that.

      • Dive24

        and there was Flight for a reason. Many lost thousands on their homes, The foreclosure rate is highest in tose communities and the favorite colors are blue or red i.e. bloods or crips

  • real brooklyn resident

    only part of brooklyn thats “real” brooklyn is south brooklyn. sheepshead bay is the capital!

  • http://www.chickenunderwear.com Chicken Underwear

    I was raised in Sheepshead Bay and now live in Park Slope. That said I don’t give a shit how any x-Brooklynite defines my neighborhood.

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