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Post-Industrial Brooklyn
January 26, 2012 4:26 AM   Subscribe

How Brooklyn Got Its Groove Back: New York’s biggest borough has reinvented itself as a postindustrial hot spot. In City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz walks us through a story of entrepreneurial "creative class gentrification" in NYC's most populous borough.

In addition to the usual concerns about gentrification in general, Hymowitz also asks us to consider the "limited economic impact" of these gentrifiers' boutique businesses on the borough, as contrasted with the greater impact that larger companies had had on Brooklyn during more industrial times, as well as the impact of these larger companies' absence during darker times.
posted by Sticherbeast (89 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Even Brooklyn Brewery has only about 50 employees, small potatoes when you consider that Schaefer Beer’s Brooklyn factory—now a luxury building called Schaefer Landing—once had 1,000.

Maybe it's just the selfish alcoholic in me talking, but I think it is a good thing that they no longer make beer like they used to.
posted by three blind mice at 4:42 AM on January 26, 2012


Sigh... back when Ft. Greene was, you know, a little dicey, crime-wise, I could afford it. Fabulous 2nd story of a brownstone-ish building on Fulton between So. Portland and So. Oxford. Three count 'em three bedrooms, large combination kitchen/living room, bath. My neighbors were virtually all black, working class. Some street-level crack dealers on the corner, a supplier (nice middle-aged lady) living two doors down. But mostly just, you know, ordinary people. Used to rehearse a four-piece band there (bass/drums/electric guitar/percussion) at least once a week. You could hear it all up and down the block. No one ever complained. Not once. The rent was 800 dollars a month. Used to go drink on occasion down at Frank's, a local bar that had been there forever. Yeah, I'd usually be the only white guy there. Cool, though, no problem. And coming back from gigs in Manhattan, late at night, with instruments? Sure, I'd take a cab. I wasn't an idiot. I knew I could get jumped and have my stuff stolen, it was of course a possibility. But, never got mugged, in the 8 years I lived there. Nothing even close.

So... um... "How Brooklyn Got Its Groove Back"? My Brooklyn had a groove just fine, thank you. Back when I could afford it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:59 AM on January 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't know how to feel about this. For the most part, the article is correct in that Brooklyn is much nicer now if you define nice in the way many of the people who have moved to Brooklyn do. It is important to remember that even when it was a shithole, there were still people and families there trying to make their way. It was a shithole, but it was our home. It doesn't matter to them how nice the area is, or how awesome the soy oatmeal at the adorable vegan place down the street is if they can't afford to live there.

The interesting thing is I grew up thinking Park Slope was in the top two or three safest places in Brooklyn in the mid 80s, the author depicts the Park Plope of the 80s as some sort of hell hole. I was wondering why we had such different impressions of the area. I think I have very different expectations about crime and city life due to being raised in Brooklyn, we always thought Park Slope was full of rich people. I guess they were just slightly richer than us.

I have had to make some sort of peace with how Brooklyn has changed. as more and more transplant friends moved into Brooklyn it got harder for me. I try to go to Brooklyn as infrequently as possible. I don't like seeing that everything I remember is gone, and so quickly too. An entire chunk of the landscape of my youth is now gutted, replaced with little brunch places and bars full of young people. It seems like only days between when Boat opened on smith street till now, when there is an American outfitters on smith and some sort of zombie themse burlesque bar ( actually don't know if that is still there) at the place I remember getting my first haircut from a barber. I'm sure there is a psychological component to it, but it just makes me sad. A borough of people, one of the only places in the US with its own mythos, has become an upscale college town.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:00 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


one of the only places in the US with its own mythos

Let's not go overboard on this.
posted by escabeche at 5:01 AM on January 26, 2012 [20 favorites]


The interesting thing is I grew up thinking Park Slope was in the top two or three safest places in Brooklyn in the mid 80s, the author depicts the Park Plope of the 80s as some sort of hell hole.

Had the same thoughts exactly, Ad hominem! I thought "What? Is she talking about the same Park Slope I knew in the 80s?"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:03 AM on January 26, 2012


I think the fact that she moved there as an "educated, middle-class" adult has colored her perception of Park Slope.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:06 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's not go overboard on this.

Ok ok, I suffer from an excess of civic pride. But it is kind of true isn't it? I was in a film class that examined movies,in part, set in Texas and Brooklyn, and there are an astonishing amount. Texas has the cowboy myth and Brooklyn has the gangster myth.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:07 AM on January 26, 2012


How about the New Orleans Myth or the Miami Myth or the Portland Myth? Your class was too short and narrow.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:09 AM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Now, for better or worse—in the end, mostly for better—Williamsburg is Condo City. "

WRONG. Death to the stroller-pushing yuppies!
posted by Decani at 5:15 AM on January 26, 2012


Portland is great, but it's not nearly as straight-up mythological as Texas, Brooklyn, or New Orleans.

That is, unless you are referring to Portland's central presence in the hit NBC show Grimm, in which a centuries-long battle between Grimms and Reapers plays out alongside the weekly battles of Detective Nick Burkhardt and the magical fey creatures who live secretly among us.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:20 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Brooklyn has the gangster myth.

"I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:21 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's Hoboken, not Brooklyn.
posted by octothorpe at 5:25 AM on January 26, 2012


"It’s extremely expensive and endlessly aggravating to transport raw materials into, and finished products out of, a borough strangled by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."

Another piece of Robert Moses' legacy.

Stitcherbeast, that's the second reference to that show I've seen in two days. Are you a fan? Any good?

memail me
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:29 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's Hoboken, not Brooklyn.

D'oh!

I'm getting old
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:33 AM on January 26, 2012


Portland is great, but it's not nearly as straight-up mythological as Texas, Brooklyn, or New Orleans.
Agreed. But while I'm not quite sure I understand what "mythological" means, I think you could argue that word applies to San Francisco, Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, Chicago (City of Big Shoulders, Hog Butcher to the World, the City that Works, etc., etc., etc.).... lots of places in America. What Brooklyn has is a lot of parochial people who think it's impossible that they could e parochial, because they must be sophisticated, because they live in the only place in the US that matters. And that means that they're prone to saying a lot of stupid shit about the rest of the country. (And yes, I know that they're mostly from somewhere else. But that somewhere else, in my experience, tends to be wealthy suburbs that don't have a lot of identity either.)

I don't know. Two of my closest friends live in Cobble Hill with their two kids, and I just got back from an extended visit to NYC where I spent a lot of time hanging out with them. Cobble Hill seems like a lovely place to live if you have lots of money and small children, but it also seems pretty cookie-cutter and extremely self-satisfied, and I think it would start to get on my nerves if I actually spent a lot of time there.
Maybe it's just the selfish alcoholic in me talking, but I think it is a good thing that they no longer make beer like they used to.
I think the point of that was that the hip entrepreneurs of Brooklyn aren't making many jobs for the blue-collar workers whom they displaced, and as a result Brooklyn is increasingly divided between moneyed creative-class types and desperately poor people who have very little access to jobs at all. Not to suggest that the quality of your beer isn't the single most important thing in the world or anything.
posted by craichead at 5:38 AM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well On The Waterfront was based on a series of articles about Brooklyn.
As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:39 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well On The Waterfront was based on a series of articles about Brooklyn.

Aha! I knew there was some connection, somewhere!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:44 AM on January 26, 2012


Speaking of other places that have their own mythos: Baltimore is the new Brooklyn.
posted by spaltavian at 5:47 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Aha! I knew there was some connection, somewhere
It was also mentioned in the article. The ILA was a big presence in Brooklyn for a long time, they had 2 rather ostentatious buildings on Court Street.

We can agree to disagree but having a slogan isn't a mythos. LA has well... Hollywood. Texas has The Cowboy and Brookyln has The Gangster. Ask anyone all over the world and they know those three things about America, nobody knows shit about Portland. I will retract my comment if you guys feel slighted though.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:48 AM on January 26, 2012


Baltimore is the new Brooklyn.

Love the Randy Newman song.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:49 AM on January 26, 2012


Reading articles like this depress me. They just serve to remind me, in their politely condescending tones, that I will never ever EVER be able to afford to live in New York, anywhere. I mean seriously, where do they expect the people of modest working-class wages, the people who do all the grunt work while the moneyed types are busy mythologizing everything, to live?
posted by KHAAAN! at 5:51 AM on January 26, 2012


I think the point of that was that the hip entrepreneurs of Brooklyn aren't making many jobs for the blue-collar workers whom they displaced, and as a result Brooklyn is increasingly divided between moneyed creative-class types and desperately poor people who have very little access to jobs at all.

The blue-collar industrial jobs had already left Brooklyn before the gentrification had started; most of the blue-collar workers had already lost their jobs before the creative class showed up. While it is true that there are many economic and cultural costs to gentrification, and it is true that the creative class isn't really helping anyone except themselves, it's important to note that the creative class is not responsible for the job destruction which preceded their arrival.

These small start-ups do not employ very many people, let alone any or many blue-collar Brooklynites, but it's not true that these start-ups are somehow depriving anyone of jobs, directly or indirectly; they're just not creating very many jobs for people not already in the educated, middle-class milieu.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:54 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you go beyond just film, I'd say Compton has a mythos.
posted by drezdn at 5:59 AM on January 26, 2012


Texas has The Cowboy and Brookyln has The Gangster. Ask anyone all over the world and they know those three things about America, nobody knows shit about Portland.
Chicago looms as large as Brooklyn in the gangster mythology, maybe larger. If you asked most people to name a legendary gangster, I think they'd go with Al Capone.
I mean seriously, where do they expect the people of modest working-class wages, the people who do all the grunt work while the moneyed types are busy mythologizing everything, to live?
Queens.

(I don't know if that's true anymore, fwiw. A bunch of friends and I sublet an apartment in Sunnyside ten years ago, and at that point Long Island City was already gentrifying. I don't know if Sunnyside is still relatively affordable. The people we sublet from were public school teachers.)
These small start-ups do not employ very many people, let alone any or many blue-collar Brooklynites, but it's not true that these start-ups are somehow depriving anyone of jobs, directly or indirectly
No, that's true. "Displaced" is probably the wrong word. But it's still true that Brooklyn's new prosperity isn't trickling down at all and that the kind of businesses springing up there aren't benefiting blue-collar residents. Brooklyn is a really good example of the increasing division in American cities between the rich and poor, with the disappearance of the true middle-class.
posted by craichead at 6:00 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean seriously, where do they expect the people of modest working-class wages, the people who do all the grunt work while the moneyed types are busy mythologizing everything, to live?

East New York. For the next, say, 10 years. After that, all bets are off, cause this gentrification, you know, it moves ever outward. Kinda like desertification.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:01 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


the author depicts the Park Plope of the 80s as some sort of hell hole.

OK--I lived in Park Slope at that time. First you need to understand that the borders of what is now Park Slope includes a lot of what was then, a hell hole. I lived on 2nd Street off of 5th Ave, and it was pretty hellholish. The buildings on either side of me were abandoned. %th avenue was a dangerous place, and people were regularly mugged on 6th avenue as well. 7th was the dividing line into gentrified civilization.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:08 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never even set foot in Brooklyn, but I am a middle class white person who is gentrifying a majority black community in another large American city. While I understand the disdain for gentrification in that it raises the cost of living and drives out long term residents, I don't understand why the focus of the anger is so often the new resident's attitudes about crime and children.

There is a problem with the fact that in many large American cities, it's becoming harder and harder for blue collar workers to find places to live. It's not a problem that anyone (white yuppies or not) would like to live in a neighborhood that is safe and where their kids are safe. Often on Metafilter there's this real need to romanticize places because they were kind of crummy, and that's nonsense. People should be able to live in safe clean neighborhoods and we shouldn't act like that's some kind of bourgeois extravagance.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:12 AM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


They just serve to remind me, in their politely condescending tones, that I will never ever EVER be able to afford to live in New York, anywhere. I mean seriously, where do they expect the people of modest working-class wages, the people who do all the grunt work while the moneyed types are busy mythologizing everything, to live?

The same thing happened to Manhattan first, which is why middle-class professionals started moving into Brooklyn in such large numbers - Manhattan became unaffordable to them. There's a waterfall effect - and then people of even lower incomes move out to more distant neighborhoods and near suburbs. I had a great conversation last year with a MeFite who worked in social services - he talked about how one of the big concerns of the near future in service delivery is that the very poor are no longer concentrated in urban centers, near jobs and well served by public transportation. They're now scattered in outlying near suburbs in housing that's older, where transportation is infrequent and the population is far less dense. Where do you put a job center in this situation? Where do you put a food bank?

Though the rehab of center cities for the middle and upper classes is IMO a good thing on many levels, there is this problem. the reason cities are convenient and good for the wealthier amongst us is also the reason that services to the urban poor worked and were affordable to give. Once the urban poor and lower-income people can no longer take advantage of proximity of services, you can see that their loss of time immediately rises and there are a ton of other logistical challenges.

I fully agree with Stitcherbeast that the story is about the restructuring of our economy post-manufacturing, not about invading hipsters or suburbanites on the rampage. That's an effect rather than a cause. New York is resilient because of its attractive atmosphere, good quality housing stock, and the convenience of living there. But you need only look at thousands of second and third-tier American cities whose economy has been gutted to see that it's not an inevitability - Brooklyn is lucky to have residents, lucky to have those positives on its side to attract a strong population. There are many cities where the employment and growth levels are so low that you could have yourself a beautiful finished 2000-square-foot loft with all stainless steel appliances, recessed lighting, eco-hardwood floors and whatever else people drool about for $1200 a month. There's just no particular reason why you'd need to compete to live there, and not enough of a creative class to make it interesting for you to do so. Rochester, Erie, Taunton, MA.
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't understand why the focus of the anger is so often the new resident's attitudes about crime and children.

In fact these are everyone's attitudes about crime and children. I think the focus of the outrage is that some have choices about that and some don't have as many choices - but it's true that anyone who raises children wants them safe and not vulnerable to crime.
posted by Miko at 6:16 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I lived on 2nd Street off of 5th Ave, and it was pretty hellholish

Yeah ok, closer you get to the canal the more shitholish it gets. Hadn't occured to me that that was included. 3rd avenue was pretty much a stretch of flats fixed places, I think it was too unsafe even for check cashing places.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:16 AM on January 26, 2012


The blue-collar industrial jobs had already left Brooklyn before the gentrification had started; most of the blue-collar workers had already lost their jobs before the creative class showed up. While it is true that there are many economic and cultural costs to gentrification, and it is true that the creative class isn't really helping anyone except themselves, it's important to note that the creative class is not responsible for the job destruction which preceded their arrival.

Quoted for BIBLICAL-SCALE TRUTH.

Most people in the "creative class" they're talking about are getting priced out of the Brooklyn neighborhoods as well, along with the blue-collar class. The people who DO live in a lot of these neighborhoods aren't "the creative class," they're the wannabes who fell in love with the neighborhood 5 years ago because 'ooh, it's so arty!' And the reason it was so arty was because it was the creative class who MADE it that way, and they made it that way becuase they were the ones broke enough and desperate enough to be willing to live there back when the wannabes were all too scared.

I saw it happen to the Lower East Side -- it was getting priced out of LES that sent me to Clinton Hill 6 years ago.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:18 AM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't understand why the focus of the anger is so often the new resident's attitudes about crime and children.

I think because the notion of safety is wrongly linked, in the new resident's mind, to a lot of non-crime-related things that make up the neighborhood for everybody else who lives there.

And that winds up driving a wedge between the old and the new, especially as the city gets wind of gentrification and is like "Oh well now the neighborhood is getting nicer we have to help clean it up" and then there are more cops hassling ordinary people because new residents don't like their kids walking past them on their way to the bus stop or whatever and then the condos go up and et cetera. /sameoldstory
posted by entropone at 6:19 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brooklyn is a really good example of the increasing division in American cities between the rich and poor, with the disappearance of the true middle-class.

This idea is more or less why I found the article interesting and why I posted it. Brooklyn could be the canary in the coal mine, telling us that this is how the economy could restructure itself, for better and for worse.

I had a great conversation last year with a MeFite who worked in social services - he talked about how one of the big concerns of the near future in service delivery is that the very poor are no longer concentrated in urban centers, near jobs and well served by public transportation. They're now scattered in outlying near suburbs in housing that's older, where transportation is infrequent and the population is far less dense. Where do you put a job center in this situation? Where do you put a food bank?

This reminds me of how, when I was growing up, my parents would talk about how America's so-called "inner cities" were equivalent to many European cities' outlying suburbs, e.g. Paris. It looks like New York may finally be moving in that direction, whether those suburbs are either literal suburbs outside of NYC or just further-flung parts of the city itself.

The people who DO live in a lot of these neighborhoods aren't "the creative class," they're the wannabes who fell in love with the neighborhood 5 years ago because 'ooh, it's so arty!' And the reason it was so arty was because it was the creative class who MADE it that way, and they made it that way becuase they were the ones broke enough and desperate enough to be willing to live there back when the wannabes were all too scared.

This is also interesting, especially since most people don't regard this as also being gentrification, even though it's really just a different form of the same or similar phenomenon.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:29 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think because the notion of safety is wrongly linked, in the new resident's mind, to a lot of non-crime-related things that make up the neighborhood for everybody else who lives there.

This is true. Things I consider part of the fabric of New York, like those raging black parties hispanic churches thow, and guys sitting on stoops drinking beer, and open fire hydrants in the summer are really .... crimes.

I once saw an AskMe by a recent transplant, the poster was concerned by an old black guy that that was sitting on their stoop. He made the poster feel unsafe. I couldn't help but think that guy had probably been sitting there every day for 20 years. Now a new tenant was going to call the cops on him.

and they made it that way becuase they were the ones broke enough and desperate enough to be willing to live there back when the wannabes were all too scared

When my parents moved here in the 60s, they lived in an illegal loft, they had to cover all the windows at night and had no garbage service, they had to sneak around to find places to throw out trash. This was in Tribeca. Think there is anything like that there now?
posted by Ad hominem at 6:32 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Coincidentally in today's Gothamist: Are Brooklyn and Portland the Same Place? (complete with Venn Diagram!)
posted by spitbull at 6:34 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The article had it all, from the 'I was into it before the rest of you were', to 'it's only because I paved the way that you're here now', to the litany of names dropped that are so cool you haven't even heard of them yet, to the blame disguised as sad longing for the more authentic times, before the rest of you showed up.

There's a good article in here, when the author steps back a bit. Is this article supposed to be about Brooklyn, or Kay S. Hymowitz?
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:38 AM on January 26, 2012


It's not a problem that anyone (white yuppies or not) would like to live in a neighborhood that is safe and where their kids are safe. Often on Metafilter there's this real need to romanticize places because they were kind of crummy, and that's nonsense. People should be able to live in safe clean neighborhoods and we shouldn't act like that's some kind of bourgeois extravagance.

It's a problem because people have different ideas about the things that signify safety. The gentrifiers' ideas are usually the product of growing up in suburbs with parents from the white-flight generation and very often they are just not really compatible with urban living. Everybody can agree that it's better if people aren't mugged, but when the gentrifiers start pushing, in the name of safety, for liquor license moratoriums and getting the old neighborhood bars (that are the working-class social centers of the area) shut down (somehow the fancy artisanal cocktail places always manage to get exemptions), or harass the homeless shelters to move out of the neighborhood—both things that are actually happening where I live right now—they're hurting the quality of life of the people who already lived there to satisfy their very narrow ideas about what a safe neighborhood should look like.

When I used to go to block club meetings, it was always the parents of young children complaining about how busing was bringing "them" into our neighborhood and arguing that racial profiling is completely justified if it's for the children and exhorting us to call the cops whenever we saw a few black teenagers hanging out together (all of us lived within blocks of a huge high school). There are a lot of things that people like to push for in the name of safety and many of them are very harmful to civic life in a city where different kinds of people live side-by-side.
posted by enn at 6:56 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Exactly, Ad Hominem.

And that phenomenon is a product of what I think is the real devil of gentrification, which is new transplants not knowing how to become part of the existing community. They don't know how to say hello to that guy drinking beer on the stoop, they don't know how to tell the difference between guys selling drugs and guys waiting for the bus, et cetera. And they wind up being bad neighbors and relying on the gentrifying forces that cater to them and to their fears rather than contributing to the existing economy, school system, and civic life.

I always thought that a pretty good way a white person in a gentrifying or pre-gentrifying (or whatever) neighborhood could, you know, mitigate their presence, is just to be a good neighbor.

It's a problem because people have different ideas about the things that signify safety.

Yes, yes, yes.

Especially in a city like Brooklyn where sidewalks and streets are an extension of people's living rooms... and in fact are communal living rooms, communal social spaces in a place where interior living spaces are cramped.
posted by entropone at 7:10 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I appreciate all the explanations of the larger forces at work here. It clarified a few things I might otherwise have overlooked. Anything smacking of class issues are always a hot-button for me. Special thanks for the head's up, Miko. I always like reading your posts.

I went to New York some years ago for my honeymoon. It was a brief visit, only a few days, and it may have just been the giddiness of being a newlywed, but it was the first place, the only place I can ever say I felt comfortable in. I felt like I belonged. I wish I could get that feeling back, is all.
posted by KHAAAN! at 7:18 AM on January 26, 2012


I misremembered that Ask question quite a bit, it was really not as clear cut as I remembered it being, I apologize for that. I think my point still stands though, there is always a culture clash. I think a prime example is the urban legend that sneakers thrown over a streetlight is a sign that it is a drug spot. I always thought that throwing sneakers over a streetlight was something people did just for the hell of it.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:23 AM on January 26, 2012


Sigh. This reminds me of the fact that the suburbanites are finally starting to realize that DC (and my neighborhood in particular) is actually a really nice place to live. I wish I was in a position to afford to buy a place right now, because, damn I'm going to miss my 10-minute bicycle commute when I'm priced out of the city.

On the other hand, that income percentile calculator posted a few days ago confirmed that I am, in fact, definitely not a gentrifier. Yay?
posted by schmod at 7:30 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that may have been a drug-spot sign like, forty years ago, before it became a thing to do just for the hell of it. Thing about code is that once everybody knows it and does it you gotta pick something else.

When I moved out of Brooklyn to a midwestern city I was amazed that people on the local bike messageboard got all feather-ruffled over some people sleeping under bridges on the bike greenway. "Are we safe? Should we call the police?" and that sort of thing. Drove me crazy. You live in a damn city.
posted by entropone at 7:30 AM on January 26, 2012


Dunno, If it was a sign for a drug spot then damn near every corner in Brooklyn must have been a drug spot. Point is, some people think nothing of it, some people think it means there are crack dealers everywhere.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:34 AM on January 26, 2012


I don't disagree that some gentrifiers can have a bad notion of what constitutes safety, but you're being disingenuous if you don't also acknowledge that there are plenty of people who express nostalgia for plenty of things that are legitimate safety/quality of life issues. Go into any thread about New York City of the 70s and 80s, and you'll get a ton of people complaining that they don't have to walk past drug dealers on their way to the subway anymore or that there aren't enough passed out addicts in the street.

There's a similar phenomena with businesses. Sure, gentrification brings in big chain stores and in some cases that can drive out local businesses, but it's not an evil in and of itself. I live in an area off Georgia Avenune in Washington DC that is just starting to gentrify; there's a new CVS a building that's either high end apartments or condos, I'm not sure which, a couple other things. It hasn't really gentrified yet, in the way that Columbia Heights or U street has, but it's starting.

Now, to some extent this trend is threatening local business, which is bad. I'd be as unhappy as anyone if rents skyrocketed and Fish in the Hood shut down, but the problem is that before there just wasn't very much commercial activity in that area. New business are coming in and occupying that space, and while they might cater to the newer residents, they're doing the community as a whole a good by taking up spaces that were previously empty.

It's easy to treat gentrification as this all encompassing evil, but it's not. It hurts communities in some ways, but it does in other tangible ways improve them. It's also not a trend that's likely to go away, given the fact that transportation costs are likely to rise in the future and make living in the suburbs a much less attractive proposition. The key would seem to find ways to harness the good things gentrification can bring, while also integrating long term residents into the new community.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:43 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of how, when I was growing up, my parents would talk about how America's so-called "inner cities" were equivalent to many European cities' outlying suburbs,

True, and that increasingly looks to be a postwar anomaly fueled by rise of suburbs and public investment in roadways and automobile manufacturing. With fuel prices rising and everything else going on with new urbanism, the trend is reversing somewhat to a more predictable state of affairs that's more common across history. The poor live outside the castle keep, not inside.

'I was into it before the rest of you were'

This is also so common, and it's part of that pattern too. I am involved in creative economy stuff, but sometimes I do think creative people take a little too much credit for rehabbing locations. There are enough small cells of creative people in cities and neighborhoods which never take off to more than balance out the cases in which a creative area eventually mushrooms into a full-blown upper-middle-class enclave. The correlation isn't direct causation all the time. Creative people take advantage of lower rents, and that often falls into a very small window of time between an old economy drying up and a new one, with its inevitabilities, being established. This was certainly the case for the region I grew up in, on the Jersey shore; working-class families had advantages in housing, education, and access to resources that seem unbelievably affordable now, only because we were in the eddy of a receding economic wave, and the next one hadn't hit yet. The time period was a postwar anomaly in the larger pattern of that region being an enclave for the wealthy and NYC not being as aggressively ascendant as it has become in the finance economy. So there can be a creative class inhabiting the next region the wealthy professionals are interested in, or not; and there can be creative classes where the wealthy are simply not interested in living; but it isn't always necessarily true that the creative class created, rather than just preceded, the boom. The truth is in between, I think - creative classes actually share many of the values of the wealthy in a place to live: more space (for art stuff, performance space, gatherings and meetings, what have you); neighborhood friendliness, places to eat and drink and be known; access to good public transportation; relative safety; nearness to audiences for art productions, etc. It's not as though the creative class, though they value a diverse community, really usually participates in the existing activities of lower-income neighborhoods when they move in. You don't so much see those folks at the pool hall and the church services and basketball courts as you do in their own start-up cafes. The biggest crossover points tend to be bars. So I think we do want to be careful about ascribing neighborhood renewal to creatives alone - it's part of a larger system of economic churn. Though it's important, IMO, for creative people to be accommodated everywhere.
posted by Miko at 8:12 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will never ever EVER be able to afford to live in New York, anywhere. --- My tivo captures new episodes of Selling New York, and I have to agree with you. The people depicted in that show do not seem to live in the same world I do.
posted by crunchland at 8:13 AM on January 26, 2012


No one of normal income buys or sells NY real estate. You don't even save money over renting.

NY is livable for some but it helps to be single and/or not a parent. And you will not have the same quality of life in terms of housing that you would in other parts of the country.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:19 AM on January 26, 2012


the young rope-rider: "And you will not have the same quality of life in terms of housing that you would in other parts of the country."

Like being in your late-30's and still having 3 roommates.
posted by wcfields at 9:43 AM on January 26, 2012


I'm in my late 30's and have 3 roommates. I just happen to be married to one and father to the other two. This means that I have to do all the dishes and take out the garbage every time and I don't ever get a chance to watch the TV in the common room.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:48 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I live in Midwood, the least interesting part of Brooklyn. Its boringness is more than made up for by being affordable and an easy commute into the city. I'm surprised more people aren't moving out here, to be honest. Aren't Park Slope/Williamsburg/et al. pretty much an extension of Manhattan now? They certainly aren't any more affordable.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2012


the author depicts the Park Slope of the 80s as some sort of hell hole.

Worth noting: the 1970 film The Landlord (a somewhat dated social satire starring Beau Bridges) depicts a brownstone and its neighborhood at 51 Prospect Place as an African-American ghetto where Bridges's car gets stripped when he isn't looking. He buys it to have an investment and a project, as he's a bored Connecticut heir living off a trust fund with nothing else to do. The story is about him learning to connect with his very different tenants, whom he originally envisioned evicting so that he could renovate/gentrify the building.

Today, Zillow tells me the building used in the film would cost Bridges at least a million, and there's one on the block for sale now for three.
I suspect when they filmed there it couldn't have been as bad as in the story, though.
posted by dhartung at 10:24 AM on January 26, 2012


Like being in your late-30's and still having 3 roommates.
posted by wcfields

I'm in my late 30's and have 3 roommates. I just happen to be married to one and father to the other two.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot


We're talking about the kind of roommates that you don't sleep with and/or don't have a hand in making from scratch.

* is 42, has 1 roommate still *
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on January 26, 2012


(I don't know if that's true anymore, fwiw. A bunch of friends and I sublet an apartment in Sunnyside ten years ago, and at that point Long Island City was already gentrifying. I don't know if Sunnyside is still relatively affordable. The people we sublet from were public school teachers.)

Nope, Sunnyside is as bad as parts of Brooklyn now. It's about in the range of Greenpoint (with similarly constantly out of commission trains, though when the 7 runs, it's a wonderful train). I loved the British-style rowhouses, food from all over the world, tremendous ethnic diversity, awesome Irish pubs (most per capita of any other place in the US I think), and reasonably-priced innovative restaurants. I also loved how it seemed like it never slept. I could get delicious tacos and do my grocery shopping at 1 AM and it's safe enough that people want to do that. But when I lived there I was paying $725 a month to share a very small apartment with two other people.

In short, I think Queens is awesome, but it's also becoming pretty expensive. Right before I got a job transfer and left, two gastropubs opened up in Sunnyside. Jackson Heights/Woodside has some good deals still though, but I wonder for how long?

I lived in Brooklyn too and honestly never really liked it that much. Some nice coffeeshops, some locavore restaurants, but a lot annoying pretentiousness and it felt a lot of like a bedroom community suburb sometimes. Ever been to Cobble Hill at 1 AM or 1 PM? Nobody is there at 1 PM (they are mostly working Manhattan) and little is open at 1 AM. Williamburg just felt like being in college again. Queens was more urban and lively to me.

I was lucky to live on the bottom edge of South Park Slope though at the twilight of its old vitality. There were still a lot of amazing Slovakian sausage shops, dive bars, and Mexican bakeries and it didn't feel quite a suburban at the rest of the Slope. I don't think South Slope will stay that way for very long, though the issues with the trains in that area and the local Superfund sites are keeping it a little more affordable for now.
posted by melissam at 10:52 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think is the real devil of gentrification, which is new transplants not knowing how to become part of the existing community,

I just totally disagree with this. Saying hi to the dude drinking beer on his stoop or getting involved in the community is nice and it's ideal but it's not what is ruining neighborhoods. There is no reason why someone shouldn't be allowed to move somewhere they feel they can afford and appeals to them.

The real devil of gentrification is a lack of mixed income housing and housing/rental price regulations.
posted by windbox at 11:31 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


NYC's most populous borough

Huh, I'm surprised Brooklyn is most populous; I would have assumed it was Queens. But looks like Brooklyn just beat.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:39 AM on January 26, 2012


I don't think that we need to argue about what the real devil of gentrification is, windbox, largely because i think your point about lack of mixed income housing is accurate. (and because trying to get at the center of an issue, or the "real" real devil, is kind of a red herring and just a way to have an argument among people who probably largely agree about stuff)

Gentrification involves stratification between pre-existing and incoming communities. It happens on policy and economic levels - lack of mixed income housing and the policies that contribute to that; Ikea rolling in to town to provide furnishings for the dwellers of the new condos - but it also happens on an interpersonal level. And the pain-in-the-ass effects of the interpersonal level was what I was getting at - as well as its link to other levels.
posted by entropone at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2012


You don't even save money over renting.

Does anyone? As far as I can tell housing prices and rental prices track each other such that when you add up all the additional costs of home ownership, you just slightly lose money over what you'd pay to rent an equivalent place. People seem to buy houses because they want to accumulate equity, not because it actually slims down their month-to-month budget.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:38 PM on January 26, 2012


You would have more money in the end by putting the difference in expense (owning is much more expensive and you throw a lot of money into non-equity stuff like "maintenance") into a basic low-risk investment vehicle and continuing to rent. That is not the case in many areas where renting and owning are similar in cost for similar quality housing, or owning is sometimes cheaper because there is low availability of rental stock.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:55 PM on January 26, 2012


Fells Point (Baltimore) gentrifier checking in! When's the next block party?
posted by fraxil at 4:00 PM on January 26, 2012


one of the only places in the US with its own mythos

PUBLICIZED mythos, thank you. Go to St. Cloud, Minnesota, and see if you don't find stories about black-painted drywall and racists who had their houses pelicaned and White Cloud deniers and a crowd of high school graduates (not college) who understand exactly what's up with Taco Johns downtown what with the homeless dudes and their Mexican connections (we all know all of them, and they all know the pastors at the church shelters, and those pastors, who preach to our neighbors, have some history). All I'm saying is, if you think Brooklyn is one of the last places in the United States of America with a mythos, y'all haven't been paying attention to where & how the rest of us live.
posted by saysthis at 1:48 PM on January 27, 2012


Every place has its own unique regional culture, but the difference is that if you're not from St. Cloud, the references to and about it are relatively meaningless. But references to and about Brooklyn, New Orleans, Texas, whatever, carry meaning to a lot of people who have never set foot in those locations and never will. The word "mythos" signifies that there aren't just some insider bits of local knowledge, but a body of widely known and widely circulated stories that agree on some central points of narrative and reach people who are far away from those places.
posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


But then I don't get it. What you're describing is how I feel about New Orleans, Texas, Hollywood, and, more than any of those, Manhattan. But Brooklyn? A tree grows there. What else are people from outside New York supposed to know about it?
posted by escabeche at 7:48 PM on January 27, 2012


What do you know about it? I'll wager it's more than "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," and if you know that book, you probably have some other impressions.
posted by Miko at 8:00 PM on January 27, 2012


Let's see. I think Walt Whitman used to live there? Yes, that's right, I just looked it up. But I don't know anything about his time there. And the Dodgers used to play there, and they have a kind of mythos, but not one that I think of as being very closely tied to Brooklyn the place. I guess I know a lot of Chasidim live there, maybe more than in other parts of NYC. I remember nothing about "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn," which we read in eighth grade, except that there was a flasher in it. And then... I don't know! I can't think of any kind of food I associate with Brooklyn, anyone I'd call a Brooklyn writer or a Brooklyn artist, any particularly Brooklyn style of music, any famous politician from Brooklyn (OK, Wikipedia tells me that Chuck Schumer is from Brooklyn, but I didn't know that and I'd guess most people don't.) And I've been to Brooklyn dozens of times, grew up on the East Coast, have family in New York City, etc. I just think it doesn't cut a big figure in the national consciousness.
posted by escabeche at 8:46 PM on January 27, 2012


escabeche!

Dude!

Ralph Kramden! Ed Norton! THE HONEYMOONERS!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:14 PM on January 27, 2012


I bet you've heard about a bridge someone would like to sell you. I bet you've heard of some of these writers or artists, seen a Woody Allen film or a Spike Lee film, maybe read a Paul Auster novel or something by one of these other guys, and you're right, the Brooklyn Dodgers are so legendary that even people who can't remember them are nostalgic for them. "A Tree Grows in Brookyln" documents the striving of heterogenous, classic American melting-pot immigrants in a tightly packed, struggling neighborhood. I think Brooklyn seems to stand for robust hardworking big-city hardscrabble getting-by kinds of people, in contrast to Manhattan's bright lights-big city, glitzy Broadway thing and also its arty downtown thing.
posted by Miko at 5:11 AM on January 28, 2012


That's true, Miko, but I imagine there are also a lot of people for whom Brooklyn doesn't really even enter their consciousness as a separate place at all. Sure, they know about the robust getting-by people in New York, but they just lump them together with the big-city-glitz people as "just another part of New York". You know -- "New York has both kinds of people, it's a big place." So you go to them and talk about Brooklyn and they're all, "uh....I don't get it, that's New York you're talking about."

At the risk of occupying everyone's free time, I've found a TV Tropes link having to do with "Brooklyn," as it seems that would answer the "what is the public stereotype about Brooklyn" question admirably:

Brooklyn Rage

Apparently that is the one link they got.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:44 AM on January 28, 2012


I'm intentionally choosing an inane example from advertising to illustrate Brooklyn's pop culture cachet, but please consider when Domino's rolled out their Brooklyn Style pizza.

For one thing, the commercial trafficked in a number of vivid, highly stereotypical images of Brooklyn life. Packed into 30 fast-moving seconds, you have immigrant cab drivers in yellow cabs, Brooklyn accents, brash demeanor, battle-axe older ladies, macho Italian-American men in gold chains and sleeveless shirts who love their mothers, hip-hoppers, etc.

For another, it's also interesting to note that, for Domino's marketing department, Brooklyn is shorthand for the rough-and-tumble, working-class version of New York City. There isn't really a Brooklyn style of pizza - what Domino's was selling was basically their version of New York pizza in general - but Domino's chose to market it as being Brooklyn Style because that conjures up a set of specific images for many Americans, as being distinct from Manhattan or NYC in general.

High culture it ain't, but that's a level of cultural recognition which you don't get with many other places in America. This is to no way imply that other places aren't better, cooler, more interesting, less overpriced, blah blah blah. It's not about places being better than other places. It's about which places bring up those concrete cultural recognitions.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:45 AM on January 28, 2012


That's true, Miko, but I imagine there are also a lot of people for whom Brooklyn doesn't really even enter their consciousness as a separate place at all.

Right, but it's not about individual people's reactions to Brooklyn, it's about general cultural currents.

I would bet that if we were to perform a study on people's recognition of and reaction to Brooklyn as compared with other specific places in America, in an attempt to gauge its borough-wide Q rating, it'd rank pretty highly. Not at the top of the list, but closer to the top than not.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:51 AM on January 28, 2012


Right, but it's not about individual people's reactions to Brooklyn, it's about general cultural currents.

And I'm saying there's more than one "cultural current". What some people see as "Brooklyn" others see as "New York."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 AM on January 28, 2012


And I'm saying there's more than one "cultural current". What some people see as "Brooklyn" others see as "New York."

Okay, but that does not at all rule out Brooklyn having its own cultural identity for millions of people.

It's like how Texas and the American West are both places with their own cultural cachet, even though there is significant overlap between the places and between their signifiers.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:56 AM on January 28, 2012


No, I know. But others in here are pointing out that there are people who DON'T see any kind of stereotype associated with Brooklyn as such, and I'm explaining why that may be as you sounded baffled how that was possible.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:21 AM on January 28, 2012


It's not baffling at all. General cultural currents aren't about individual reactions, or even certain group reactions. Abraham Lincoln conjures up many cultural images for Americans in general, even if other people may feel very differently about him, or don't care about him, or don't know him.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:28 AM on January 28, 2012


I would bet that if we were to perform a study on people's recognition of and reaction to Brooklyn as compared with other specific places in America, in an attempt to gauge its borough-wide Q rating, it'd rank pretty highly.
I think it would rank above Peoria, yes. Does that mean it's "one of the only places in the US that has its own mythos"? Only if you ignore a whole hell of a lot of other places.
posted by craichead at 6:35 AM on January 28, 2012


I'm not explaining myself well -- let me try again.

Miko sounded surprised that there were people who didn't have any kind of cultural association with Brooklyn. I suggested "that's because some of those people may take the cultural current associated with 'brooklyn' and apply it to 'New York' instead." Miko seemed to think I was saying there WAS no association with Brooklyn, or that those people were just outliers. I was saying no, that cultural current exists, people may just apply it to different things; and that explains why there are people who don't have a cultural association with Brooklyn.

Then you came in and said "cultural currents aren't baffling," and I got the idea you were misunderstanding me. Then I had to sneeze and stopped typing this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:37 AM on January 28, 2012


I'm pretty sure if I polled random people out here in the rustbelt about Brooklyn, they'd say something to the effect of "that like part of New York, right?" I grew up in North Jersey and my mom was from The Bronx so I can name all five boroughs but I don't think that they have much visibility to the rest of the country.
posted by octothorpe at 6:46 AM on January 28, 2012


I spend a lot of time in the midwest and they do know Brooklyn, young people especially think of it in terms of music/creativity/artists/lofts. And yeah, hipsters.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:49 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko sounded surprised

I did? Where do you get that? I'm not surprised that some people have no ideas about Brooklyn. Most Americans in general have extremely vague ideas about places they haven't lived. However, that doesn't prove Brookyln lacks a mythos or that no people have ideas about Brooklyn. That Domino's ad is a clincher - if there were no associations, the ad would be meaningless and confusing and the naming of the pizza would make no sense (my guess is that actually Brooklyn's authenticity feels higher, and by naming it after Brooklyn you can avoid the snarly "I hate NY, that place disgusts me" reaction which is pretty common outside the metro area. The marketing whizzes said "Brooklyn has such a big personality...It’s a little different than the Manhattan-style personality. We’re really having a lot of fun with the culture." The Brooklyn Borough President called out Domino's for its appropriation of "Brooklyn Attitude" and "obsolete ethnic stereotypes," two things which you could argue are part of a mythos. There are a hell of a lot of results for that phrase "Brooklyn attitude," and a lot of them are for businesses and events not in NYC.

I doubt there is a specific number of people who are required to determine whether a place has a mythos or not. What I am certain of is that when you consider the degree of awareness of various places in the US, Brooklyn is going to rate pretty darn high compared to, I dunno, maybe 85% of other municipalities or boroughs. Brooklyn is not a blank slate in all minds, though it may be in the minds of many. I could find you people who really don't know what Chicago or Las Vegas is all about, but does that mean they have no mythos? Absolutely not. "Big Midwestern City you have to fly through all the time" is about it for lots of people's perceptions of Chicago. That doesn't take away from any number of City of the Big Shoulders, Valentine's Day Massacre, Great Migration, Blues Capital, Meat-Packin,' Hot Dog and Deep Dish Eatin' mythos-building that's gone on for that city.

One aspect of my job has to do with community development and "placemaking," and sometimes place branding. Brooklyn definitely has a sense of place, and has associations in people's minds, far beyond oh, say, Armonk or Schenectady. If you want to create a personal definition of "mythos" which Brooklyn doesn't fit, you can, but there is certainly enough pop culture depth to Brooklyn, and strong enough associations in the public mind, to teach a nice meaty class on it and not be able to fit in all the potential course material in film, music, literature, politics, and more. That's good enough for me.
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, "Brooklyn as a baby name is at an all-time popularity peak and is currently ranked #47 among U.S. girls' names."
posted by Miko at 10:58 AM on January 28, 2012


I don't think the dispute is about whether Brooklyn has a mythos, miko. It's about whether it and Texas are among the only places in the US that do. And since I think most of us could pretty easily rattle off twenty other places that do, that claim seems silly and more than a bit provincial.
Also, "Brooklyn as a baby name is at an all-time popularity peak and is currently ranked #47 among U.S. girls' names."
Madison is in the top ten, and Savannah peaked at 28 in 2007. I'm not sure baby-name-popularity is correlated to much other than how much people like the sounds. In fact, I think it's safe to say that the people naming their daughters Brooklyn are probably not going for images of gritty urban realism.
posted by craichead at 11:18 AM on January 28, 2012


It's about whether it and Texas are among the only places in the US that do.

But this is factually true. If there's a set of places with a mythos, Brooklyn and Texas are in it. They are not alone in that set, but they are among the places in that set. Your 20 other places are also in that set. I'm arguing against people who are saying that Brookyln has no particular mythos, and is on par with something like Omaha or Jacksonville, or even Peoria, in American awareness. It seems kind of obvious that that's far from true.

people naming their daughters Brooklyn are probably not going for images of gritty urban realism.

Instead I think the attraction is the gentrified spirit of the name, the hipsterism. Like the young rope rider I spend a lot of time outside the coastal cities and people not only know Brooklyn, they actually know neighborhoods in Brooklyn, particularly Williamsburg.
posted by Miko at 11:37 AM on January 28, 2012




Having a poke around, it seems that yes, plenty of people just like the sound of Brooklyn as a name or the vaguest of associations, but lots of people picked it because of the place Brooklyn is, or represents in their minds.

"Everyone in the country has an emotional connection to what happened on 9/11, and Utah is a pretty patriotic state," said Josh Mills, 35, mayor of Herriman, Utah, whose daughter Brooklyn was born in 2002. "When we were picking out names, we wanted to commemorate the spirit of the city. It's not Manhattan, but it's close."

"I named my daughter Brooklyn. And I listen to the Notorious BIG and he's from Brooklyn.
And I have a shirt that says Brooklyn on it."


i named my daughter brooklyn, i love the name and of course it is where i am from it fits for me.

"I'm just surprised it didn't make the top 10," mused Borough President Marty Markowitz. "The name connotes edgy, innovative and brash. What parent wouldn't want to call their kid Brooklyn?"

Finally, here's a good short piece on the trendiness of Brooklyn as a brand name or signifier.
posted by Miko at 11:47 AM on January 28, 2012


The original claim was:
A borough of people, one of the only places in the US with its own mythos, has become an upscale college town.
And given that you could also claim there's a mythos about Chicago, Detroit, Hollywood, LA in general, San Francisco, South Boston, New Orleans, the Delta, the South in general, the Upper Midwest (hearty pioneers, Little House on the Prairie)... scads of places, then it seems to me that claim is stupid.
Instead I think the attraction is the gentrified spirit of the name, the hipsterism.
And I think the attraction is that there are already a lot of kids named Caitlyn, and Brooklyn is a new variation. It's kind of like how Jayden got huge after Aidan hit saturation point. (And incidentally, the Babyname Mapper suggests that Brooklyn is most popular in Utah, where it's the number 4 name, and also very popular in South Dakota, where it's number 10, Idaho, where it's the twelfth most popular name, and North Dakota, where it's number 14. Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa are also big states for the name Brooklyn. It's not in the top 100 in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, and it's barely in the top 100 in California. I'm thinking Utah, Idaho, and the Dakotas are not the places where people are really focused on Williamsburg's hip qualities.)
posted by craichead at 11:53 AM on January 28, 2012


So I guess it comes down to how you interpret "one of the only places." Since it looks like there are about 25,000 individual municipalities/boroughs in the US, then even if there were 300 places you could argue have a mythos, I think you still fairly use the term "one of the only." I'd choose a better term, it's sloppy, but if most places don't have a mythos and a small fraction of them do, it's defensible.

And more than arguing against the initial claim, I'm arguing against people in the thread who are saying "what are you talking about; Brooklyn has no mythos!" That's patently untrue.

I don't really have a lot at stake in why Brooklyn has gotten so common as a name - it's an interesting point anyway, and at least some people, as you can read in the links above, have chosen the name because of Brooklyn the place. That's all I wanted to show. It's just that the name, as a name, has been somewhat reborn in American consciousness. You have to hear it first before you think "Hm, I like the sound of that. Like Caitlyn but different." Of course, there are many other Brooklyns besides the one in New York, and that may play a role. However, they tend to not have a mythos, a notable and meaningful difference. When you say "Brooklyn," people don't tend to furrow their brow and say "The suburb of Cleveland, or the small town in Pennsylvania?" When you don't need additional referents, you have a pretty strongly established name recognition.
posted by Miko at 12:08 PM on January 28, 2012


> Miko sounded surprised

I did? Where do you get that?


Can't put my finger on it - a tone, perhaps. But I understand now that your argument was this:

I'm arguing against people in the thread who are saying "what are you talking about; Brooklyn has no mythos!" That's patently untrue.

I got the sense that you were saying "that's patently untrue, and EVERYONE KNOWS IT" for some reason; that was my mistake. But, as has been pointed out in here, not everyone knows it, is all. They lump "Brooklyn mythos" in with "New York mythos," and I was only making a guess as to why they are making claims that "Brooklyn has no mythos".

In short - I think we're having two different conversations.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on January 28, 2012


But this is factually true. If there's a set of places with a mythos, Brooklyn and Texas are in it. They are not alone in that set, but they are among the places in that set. Your 20 other places are also in that set.

This just comes down to how exclusive you want the words "mythos" and "one of the only" to be. What I had in mind was a set of places that included

New York City (as a whole), Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, LA, Texas (as a whole), San Francisco.

Maybe nothing else. And maybe not Boston -- I've lived there, so I might be overstating the extent to which people have a rich set of associations with Boston.

Then there is a substantially larger set of places which are not Omaha or Jacksonville -- e.g. most Americans can tell you a few people who are from there, maybe name one famous landmark, perhaps have a stereotype or two about people who live there. Brooklyn, Seattle, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Miami, St. Louis, maybe 15 or 20 more. I think this is your set of places.

So what I would say is "If there's a set of places with a mythos that includes Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Houston are in it." But then I wouldn't say "Brooklyn is one of the only places with a mythos" any more than I would say "Milwaukee is one of the only places with a major-league baseball team."

I would also say "sorry my random comment took this thread away from the linked article; was it interesting?"
posted by escabeche at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2012


most Americans can tell you a few people who are from there, maybe name one famous landmark, perhaps have a stereotype or two about people who live there.

I wouldn't say that qualifies as "mythos" in my personal book. My definition would hew pretty closely to this: "The pattern of basic values and attitudes of a people, characteristically transmitted through myths and the arts." To me this implies a certain density of cultural products either from that area or featuring that area, and it also implies to me a presence over time, so that it's not just 'the latest hot city' or 'the place that had that crazy scene in the 90s' or a city 'known for being [laid back|artsy|outdoorsy|hippieish|whatever),' but a place that has more consistently produced cultural material over time that's gained widespread attention and saturated American minds pretty thoroughly.

Some cities I'd say meet that definition of mythos would include New Orleans, Chicago, Las Vegas, LA/Hollywood, San Francisco, and Nashville, TN. Interestingly, I just walked into the kitchen and asked my partner, who spent his entire life on the west coast until the age of 37 while I spent mine in the east, and he gave that exact list with the exception of Nashville. Exact. Then he also nominated Boston, and when I disagreed that it had much of a mythos, he said "Dude! Birthplace of the nation, Paul Revere, Freedom Trail, Crispus Attucks, dirty water, busing, Red Sox, Good Will Hunting, baked beans, Harvard/MIT." Fair enough - a West Coast person has strong associations with the city's distinguishing events and values that cross various media and extend over time.

I think Miami/Orlando has a strong possibility of having mythos, mainly based on 20th century people and events of course. Key West might have some mythos. Maui I think. Perhaps Sedona or Santa Fe.

When you expand beyond cities to regions, I'd say the following regions share a mythos:the National Parks as a group, Texas as a whole, Alaska as a whole, Hawaii as a whole, The West including Texas, the Heartland as a region, New England as a region, the Southwest as a region. In these "region" cases the mythos attaches less to any single locale but suffuses the entirety of the region and calls up specific associations in the minds of people including those who have never been there.

It's a pretty short list, I think, the mythos list.
posted by Miko at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2012


I would say Memphis as much as Nashville. You seriously don't think the South as a region? There are at least three shows on TV right now (True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Hart of Dixie) that are playing with tropes about "the South," whatever that means. I think California as a whole, for sure. Detroit, for sure. You could make a case for DC, although it's complicated by the fact that the city's self-perception is so at odds with the way that most outsiders view it.

I think people's lists might actually vary a lot, fwiw. (I mean, there is no way that Sedona would be on mine. Baltimore would be on my list before Sedona would be. Wisconsin as a whole would be on my list before Sedona would be.) You take for granted that there's a universal list and that anyone who leaves off Brooklyn is just kind of out-of-touch with the culture. And I suspect that it's more that the culture isn't entirely unified. So I guess I'm with EmpressCallipygos.
posted by craichead at 5:54 PM on January 28, 2012


I almost included Memphis, so sure. And yes, the South as a region has mythos. Detroit, mmm, sure. Not so sure about California as a whole but I suppose. I thought about DC and rejected it - it's so closely associated with the single note of politics that it sort of starts and ends there once you're outside the city.

I think people's lists might actually vary a lot, fwiw.

I suggest you start asking around and see what comes to the surface most often. It's an interesting conversation. I was kind of amazed that my partner reeled off the same six or seven and then added a few and discounted a few of mine.

You take for granted that there's a universal list

I didn't ever say that there was a universal list on which every individual would agree.

Since you ask, what I would say is that mythos is established in the aggregate, by a pattern of shared perceptions. So if you polled a representative sampling of Americans or in fact people in the world, you'd likely get a ton of agreement about the top 75% or so of the list and then some debate about the bottom 25. I imagine that that more saturated with American media you are, the more you agree on the cities with mythos.

And because the other part of mythos is a body of stories or information which help to create the myths, if you survey cultural productions related to each of these areas, you'll find a lot of weight for the top two thirds or three-quarters, and much less representation for the bottom thirds. You will always have to expect individual idiosyncrasy, pockets of bias and pockets of ignorance, but in the aggregate I predict the pattern will remain remarkably consistent. When talking about mythos, it doesn't have to be someone everyone knows about. It simply has to be something which has accrued to it an unusually high degree of awareness and content and a widely known set of connotations.
posted by Miko at 8:43 AM on January 29, 2012


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