One day, I hope, Brooklyn will no longer stand for anything other than a large urbanized area in the southwestern corner of Long Island, hopefully still with the funny accent. But until that day, I give you Bushwick, 2015.
Brooklyn? Like I tell people, I’m from Fort Lee, New Jersey. Now, what’s the name of the junior high in that town?
SEMI-SERIOUS POSTSCRIPT: I mentioned Fort Lee to someone here in Washington who had lived in New York, and they responded, “I hope you’re familiar with Korean.” (The person is of Korean descent.) What they meant was that Fort Lee is a very Korean town, and so you need to be familiar with all things Korean if you want to fake growing up there.
Only you don’t! In the 1980s, there was a big Japanese market in the town. (Actually, I think it was in Edgewater, a little south, but when you were visiting your aunt from the city it was all the same.) And that was it. The Japanese market served corporate expats and the occasional Asian food aficionados, like my aunt. (And her kids, who by then lived in Miami.) Of the 15,236 housing units in the town, only 718 (4.7%) were occupied by Koreans or Korean-Americans. The Japanese population was significantly larger — 1014 units — but overwhelmingly consisted of expats, not immigrants. The total Asian population came to 20.3% of the town, but the growth had been so rapid since 1980 (up from 9.0%) that they were close to invisible. (The link goes to detailed demographic data about New Jersey over 1980-2000. More information about New Jersey in 1990 is here.)
Fort Lee was an Italian town.
The Japanese expat presence, however, made the place attractive for Korean immigrants, especially those moving out to the suburbs in search of better schools. Today the borough is 38% Asian. Moreover, neighboring towns have moved from overwhelmingly what we used to call “white ethnic” to highly Korean. In other words, in 1990 there was a small Korean neighborhood in Fort Lee. In 2015, though, Fort Lee is the center of a large multigenerational Korean-American community.
And that is the kind of change I love! Jewish neighborhoods becoming West Indian becoming Mexican, that sort of thing, with older people still around from previous waves.
And that is exactly the kind of change that is not happening in gentrifying Brooklyn. Instead, the dominant group is ... young arty twee hipsters doing weird hipster things. Worse yet, they have managed to make the word “Brooklyn” into shorthand for arty twee hipsters doing weird hipster things.
Screw “Brooklyn.” Gimme Fort Lee, New Jersey, any day.