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Posts Tagged ‘gentrification’

Meet Your New Neighbors: An Interview with DW Gibson

May 21, 2015 | by


DW Gibson. Photo: Chiara Barzini

In cities, trends come, go, and come again; causes rise to prominence, fall by the wayside, and emerge repackaged; neighborhoods flourish or fall out of favor. Condos, cupcake shops, and bike lanes become signifiers; shady buyouts and racist landlords fuel arguments about whether communities are being renewed or decimated.

The word gentrification is in the subtitle of DW Gibson’s most recent oral history, but the author has trouble with it: it’s too broad, he writes, to adequately capture a wide variety of experiences, contexts, and meanings. Several interviewees in his book also seem at odds with the word. One says gentrification doesn’t describe anything in the real world. Another says he doesn’t need to be able to describe it because he knows what it feels like.

To mark the release of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, I spoke with Gibson, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, about bringing the human touch to the page, viewing a book as one long panning shot in a film, and the importance of using all the tools at one’s disposal, including cute daughters.

How do you make gentrification something people want to read about?

Most of the books out there are academic or have an academic feel to them. I think the way you get people to care about gentrification is to write about human beings. My goal was to show the human fabric of gentrification. People relate to people, to stories. Read More »

Staff Picks: Country Life, City Life, Future Life

January 23, 2015 | by


From the cover of The Edge Becomes the Center.

When we ran Sylvain Bourmeau’s interview with Michel Houellebecq earlier this month, a number of readers tweeted their distaste for Houellebecq’s new novel, as described by Bourmeau and by Houellebecq himself. They may want to think again. To American eyes (at least, to mine), Soumission is not a xenophobic screed, nor is it a dire prediction that Muslims will take over France. In the book, Muslims certainly do take over France and impose a form of Sharia. They also impose economic policies based on the theories of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and appoint a minister of education with links to the Belgian far right. This is, in other words, a fairy tale premise, played deadpan; Houellebecq uses it to make fun of, and to vent his scorn upon, the firmly secular France of today. Whether it is tactful (or prudent) to invent a Muslim Brotherhood party led by Chestertonians is a fair question, but Houellebecq has never been celebrated for his tact or, thank heavens, for his good sense. —Lorin Stein

Before I picked up DW Gibson’s The Edge Becomes the Center, I would’ve told you it was impossible to write a significant book about gentrification, as fraught and ubiquitous as it is. But Gibson’s oral history, out in May, is a generous, vigorous, and enlightening look at class and space in New York; it ought to be required reading for the next generation of transplants. In the stories of tenants, buyers, landlords, architects, real estate agents, contractors, and politicians, Gibson has found vibrant humanity in a subject that is, paradoxically, lacking in it. If it seems obvious that gentrification is about people, then why has a book like this been so long in coming? The Edge Becomes the Center raises critical questions about what we expect from our cities and how groups become communities. Mainly, though, it’s a joy to read, its chorus of voices a reminder of oral history’s power. Anyone who cares about the shape and gestalt of life in New York—and anyone who believes in cities as centers of culture—will come away moved. —Dan Piepenbring

There are a number of reasons to love Pitchfork’s new interview with Björk: the unabashed feeling with which she discusses her new album; the way she describes trying to unite (sometimes unsuccessfully) motherhood, family, and work; and the glimpse into her extraordinary mind. It’s most important, though, for the candor with which she admits to finding it difficult to be a working woman, that despite her fame and success and obvious talent, she has felt the need to have her ideas annexed by men in order to have them heard. After at least a decade of seeing her own creative efforts passed off in the press as belonging to men, she exhorted herself to speak out: “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.” Her experiences—for instance, that “everything a guy says once, you have to say five times”—are now a refrain among women. (How did we cope before we’d coined mansplaining?) But the elephant turd on the carpet, as Rebecca Solnit once called it, should be pointed out at every opportunity. —Nicole Rudick

I first heard about Ben Metcalf’s Against the Country from The Paris Review’s Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan. Set in poor, rural Virginia, Against the Country is narrated by an unnamed farm boy who was “worked like a jackass for the worst part of my childhood, and offered up to climate and predator and vice, and introduced to solitude, braced against hope, and dangled before the Lord our God, and schooled in the subtle truths and blatant lies of a half life in the American countryside.” The narrator’s father wants to flee town for a simpler life, so the family moves from suburban Indiana to Goochland, Virginia, where the narrator spends his later days ruminating over the evil they found in the country soil. Against the Country doesn’t preach against rural America’s perceived moral superiority—it holds it up, allowing readers to examine its farcical nature. Hilarious and dark, like most of Metcalf’s writing, the novel and its thick, rambling sentences had control of me from beginning to end. —Jeffery Gleaves
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December 18, 2014 | by


Photo: Ken Hawkins

I was told not long ago that a certain prominent New York publication has put a moratorium on features about the death of local institutions; otherwise, they’d be running such features constantly. And the sad truth is, there is a sameness to the narrative. Neighborhoods change, rents rise, developers swoop, venerable places close. It’s a story so familiar that it tends, nowadays, to inspire sadness rather than outrage.

These stories also pose certain questions. What makes something "iconic”? Just because a place is old, does that automatically make it an institution? What if standards have slipped, and a restaurant or bar is a pale shadow of its former self? And, of course, the ultimate test: sentiment aside, how often do you actually go there? In the end, the arguments are moot. Good or bad, beloved or forgotten, everything is going. The Metro section reads like an obit page. 

You could spend your life going only to sepia-toned places for purely charitable reasons. What kind of a life this would be, I can’t say—probably a melancholy one, filled with pricks of secret, guilty relief when some of the spots are put out of their misery and the civic-minded patron is let off the hook. Read More »

Goodnight House?

July 29, 2014 | by

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121 Charles Street, in Greenwich Village.

The optimists among us may think we’re okay: the world will sort itself out, the climate will stabilize, young people will always read and dream and give us hope for the future. And yet, sometimes you see something so objectively depressing that it’s hard not to feel we’re doomed. Case in point: 121 Charles Street, in Manhattan, also known as Cobble Court.

The property, an eighteenth-century farmhouse, is noteworthy for its charm—it’s surrounded by a pretty yard on a picturesque Greenwich Village street. Peep through the fence and you can see the little white birdhouse made in the larger house’s image. Not original to the neighborhood, in 1967, it was moved from York Ave. and 71st Street to avoid demolition.

Horribly enough, it is imperiled again: a broker recently listed it as a “development site” for $20 million. Quoth they,

ERG Property Advisors is pleased to exclusively offer for sale a West Village development site located at 121 Charles Street on the corner of Charles and Greenwich. The property is directly situated in arguably the most desirable enclave in all of Manhattan, the West Village. The property’s corner location benefits from significant frontage along both Charles and Greenwich Street … creating tremendous street presence. The property consists of a 4,868 square foot corner lot in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The offering would allow a developer or user to execute a wide variety of potential visions, from boutique condominiums, apartments or a one-of-a-kind townhouse.

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The Disappearing Face of New York

April 8, 2014 | by


What was once Optimo Cigars is now a boutique cupcake shoppe. Photo: James and Karla Murray, via Facebook

Smithsonian Magazine, Beautiful Decay, and others have recently featured photographs from Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, published in 2008 by James and Karla Murray. In 2004, the couple “began a project to capture New York City’s iconic storefronts—the city’s unique, mom-and-pop restaurants, shops, and bars—before they disappeared.” Now, ten years later, they’ve revisited the storefronts to find that most of shops have, in fact, disappeared:


Many traditional “mom and pop” neighborhood storefronts that had prevailed in some cases for over a century were disappearing in the face of modernization and conformity, and the once unique appearance and character of New York's colorful streets were suffering in the process … We noticed very early on while photographing the original stores that if the owner did not own the entire building, their business was already in jeopardy of closing. The owners themselves frequently acknowledged that they were at the mercy of their landlords and the ever-increasing rents they charged … When the original 2nd Avenue Deli location in the East Village closed in 2006 after the rent was increased from $24,000 a month to $33,000 a month, and a Chase Bank took over the space, we knew the contrast of before and after was severe.

More of the photos can be seen on James and Karla’s Facebook page. They’re especially sobering given the sad fate of Rizzoli Bookstore, which will shutter its beautiful, historic Fifty-Seventh Street location on April 11.



314 Bedford

March 12, 2012 | by

“Love amid apocalyptic urban debris, love amid pimps and drug pushers, love on staircases scattered with used needles … can barely pay the rent.” This was not an atypical note to find myself jotting down in my early twenties, part of a scribbled, half-legible foray into a novel I would never write. I wrote this in 2002, three years into my very first no-lease, single-occupant New York apartment and one year before I would eventually leave it, fleeing on grounds of emotional distress for a nondescript studio in Gramercy across from the Thirteenth Precinct (note my subconscious need for police protection). The cloying repetition of the word love suggests a rather flagrant tendency toward romanticizing crime and poverty, the ellipses symptomatic of someone too undisciplined to develop a thought. The only real character of this imaginary novel is the building. At least it was for me during the years that I called 314 Bedford Avenue, between South First and South Second streets on the grimy, sun-bleached south side of Williamsburg, my home.

To pass by the six-floor tenement now is not to see the building I lived in a decade ago. DuMont Burger has replaced the Puerto Rican dry cleaners in the street-level store front, where I never recall a single person entering or exiting with pressed shirts or anything approximating a claim ticket. Green metal café tables have taken the place of the wheelchair-bound homeless man with no legs who lived and slept seated for nine months of the year outside the entryway, his single mode of communication being “don’t touch me!” whenever anyone asked if he needed help. The building’s facade, still the color of a sick tongue, seems to have been water blasted, and the fire escape has been skinned and painted. As New Yorkers, we all live in a peculiar state of location upgrade, a kind of reverse Manderlay, where places we had once known have outpaced our own internal soft-focus (as an exercise, I recommend replacing the word nature with real estate developers in the opening page of Rebecca). Memory must do the decay work of time, and it is here at 314 that I remember the black, rusted iron gates of the front door, the hallway swabbed in yellow plaster, the chipped linoleum floor tiles attempting a marble mosaic, the five flights up to my apartment where, even drunk at 2 A.M., I had to be careful not to step on syringes, used condoms, sleeping prostitutes, and take-out ketchup packets. Read More »