I’m standing at 3rd Avenue and 8th Street in Brooklyn, NY. Some would call this neighborhood Park Slope, but it’s really a hike from the beautiful Prospect Park, and it’s where things don’t really “slope” anymore. The neighborhood is actually called Gowanus and it’s very close to the infamous Gowanus Canal, which is recognized as one of the most polluted bodies of water in America. I lived here for a long time in the ’80s and ’90s.
Back then, it was a rough part of town. My block was a mixture of row homes and industrial warehouses. We had a crack house on our street — about three doors down. One morning, I remember stepping out on my stoop, on my way to work, and saw a man sprawled out among our garbage cans. He was sticking a needle in his arm. In the years when I lived there, they found a decapitated head in an empty lot near my place.
Looking at the neighborhood today, it’s hard to imagine any of that going on. The place still has a dingy industrial look, but there’s an upbeat vitality that’s unavoidable. It seems hipper, wealthier. The streets are a lot cleaner. There are more upscale businesses. There are cool art spaces and burgeoning underground entertainment scene. You used to have to walk several blocks to find a place to eat. Now there are tony little al fresco restaurants. There seem to be a lot of young, single folks and hipsters. Overall, it seems a lot… whiter than it was back then.
And I can see how this change might create a divide. On one side, you have the newcomers— people who came here to open new businesses and live in this trendy neighborhood. On the other side you have the old guard — the people who grew up here, before it was trendy, and have been watching the place they call home rapidly dissolve all around them.
On this week’s episode of the “Us and Them” podcast, we learn about the evolution of a neighborhood and how it’s anything but simple.
From West Virginia Public Broadcasting and PRX, this is “Us & Them” the podcast where we tell the stories about America’s cultural divides.
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