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Having a History in the Neighborhood

April 22, 2010

My uncles back in the day horsing around on Lafayette ave

I have noticed in the blogsphere that whenever a long-term resident in the neighborhood refers to having an attachment or history in the hood, people are very dismissive.

“You don’t own the neighborhood, it’s as much my neighborhood, as it yours…”

“Did black people build the brownstones here?”

“If you want to get into talking about an attachment to a neighborhood or a history to a land, I’m sure a lot of Native American people would have a much stronger point to make than you”

People are also very indifferent when it comes to displacement of long-time residents…

“What’s the big deal, if you can’t afford to live somewhere, just move…”

Even when it comes to respected journalists/writers like Pete and Denis Hamill, flippant remarks are on the offensive, for merely writing in a nostalgic tone, about what they miss and loved about “their” Brooklyn.

Whether in the city or out of town, it doesn’t take much prompting for a native New Yorker to let you know where they are from. When out of town it’s usually looked at as New York arrogance, but this impulse to “represent” where we are from, is usually derived from a canine type love and loyalty to “our” neighborhood. While there are a lot of people who can’t wait to leave their hometowns, many natives of the city, while aspiring for progression choose or hope to remain in the community where they grew up. This is why it is not uncommon to find families who have remained in the same hood for generations. The neighborhood is a location of personal and family histories.

There’s something to be said about growing up somewhere, then in adulthood remaining in the community where you grew up, where you remember you first bike ride, first kiss, first day of school, life long lessons, etc., then being able to share it w/ your kids while you pass a location filled w/ memories. Not to mention the memories from Grandma, Pop and other relatives. There’s something to be said about having people around who cared more about building organic relationships with their neighbors than organic grocery stores being built or opened.

Ask a long-time resident about their neighborhood. You will probably hear things like proximity to family, close bonds with friends and neighbors, communal interactions and places of worship. Ask a newer resident and you’ll likely to hear about “amenities” like restaurants, organic markets, wine stores, coffee shoppes w/ WiFi, Korean convenient store, etc. or lack thereof, in which case they will note that the “nabe” is “up and coming”, then point out a few restaurants or a place where they get good expresso and check facebook work on their writing (Does everyone now get writing inspiration in coffee shops? Hmm).  Next they might let you know about a vacant storefront with a speculative wish list (like restaurants, organic markets, wine stores, coffee shoppes w/ WiFi, Korean convenient store, etc. Please NO BODEGAS! Bodegas spell doom to some folks). Here in CH for example, a place like Choice on Lafayette, was looked at like a godsend to the hood if you let newer residents tell it. For us oldtimers the place was just a new spot to get something to eat.

Although discussions about this in the blogsphere in regards to CH/FG often get polarized by race, as we can see here in this post about a Windsor Terrace bar named Farell’s, a neighborhood staple, it doesn’t always come down to race. Although I do think there is a racial component involved in the divide here in CH/FG.

It’s not about ownership of a neighborhood, it’s not about being non-inclusive, it’s about acknowledgment, respect and somewhat assimilating to things that preceded your existence in an area. Trust me, post 2000 is not the first time an influx of new residents have come to the hood and it’s under stood some changes will come with said influx. However, with previous arrivals along w/ the changes they brought, there was not only an effort made to be in and part of the hood, there was an appreciation for the communal vibe and history already in place. They didn’t complain about choir rehearsals, calls to prayer, pre-teens playing in the park, bbq’s, park concerts or block parties. In fact they showed up to block parties, which for new residents are some of the best times to get to know older residents and their personal and/or family history in the neighborhood. It’s a day where usually there are literally generations of various families on the block at the SAME time. If the make up of the people in the new restaurants, or at the farmers market are a reflection of the new people in CH/FG, then where are those people, on the days their fellow neighbors are celebrating their block? Walking through the St.James place annual block party, you’d swear the make up of the hood hasn’t changed at all, same thing for the Cambridge place block reunion. You’d be hard pressed to see more than 8 white people there at a time ( Yes, I went there!), if not all day. It’s hard for me to believe that if the make up was different, you wouldn’t see more of the newer residents on the block w/ their families and friends to enjoy a day of face painting, bbq, taking advantage of riding bikes on a closed street, jumping rope, hopscotch and other games.

For ALL of us living here, this is “our” neighborhood but for those of us with ties here, there is an attachment that cannot-at least not yet, be felt by our new neighbors. Our time here may not be historical but it’s still OUR history where even an inanimate object can evoke nostalgia and emotion.

Here’s a great video short by Adele Pham with other long time residents speaking on their history in the neighborhood:

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