Gentrification has become an increasingly prevalent and controversial aspect of Flatbush’s development. Anger over gentrification in largely black communities such as Flatbush was crystallized by film director Spike Lee, who expressed anger over the changes that swept through the Brooklyn neighborhoods of his boyhood, Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant. He described it as a racist process in which wealthy whites displace lower-income blacks by driving up rents, and then show disregard for the neighborhood’s culture. “Why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better?” “Why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better?” he asked. “Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now?”

“Why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better?” he asked. “Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now?”

There is much debate over gentrification but, given the pattern seen in neighborhoods north of Flatbush such as Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, it is clear that the process poses a threat to many of the current residents of Flatbush. More often than not, less economically privileged renters, who are perfectly happy living in their current residence, are forced out of their neighborhoods by rising prices. As gentrification spreads across Brooklyn, those displaced have often (but not always) been African American or Latino. Like Spike Lee, many see it in racial terms.

The people of Flatbush have responded to gentrification in a variety of ways. Anti-white gentrification graffiti can be seen on various Flatbush subway platforms. For example, messages such as  “Fight white gentrification of FBush” and “Keep Flatbush black” are written on pillars in subway stations along the B and Q line in Flatbush. A neighborhood anti-gentrification activist says he that he does not agree with the racial elements involved in these messages, but understands why people are writing such messages. “I think it’s where people are at because we have a history of racism,” said Imani Henry, a 12-year neighborhood resident and organizer of the group Equality for Flatbush. “We live in a society that is already divided by race.”[1]

Equality for Flatbush is undertaking a campaign called “Before it’s gone/Take it back.” This campaign seeks to document life in gentrifying neighborhoods in New York and elsewhere through selfie photos people post online. The group is also working to develop various resources for poor residents and agitating against the growing gentrification. In addition, there is a coalition of tenant associations working together to build tenant power in Flatbush, East Flatbush, and South Crown Heights called Flatbush Tenant Coalition. They are working collectively to build power in the tenant community. It is also noteworthy that social media has helped people in Flatbush–as well as other parts of Brooklyn–form support systems. Jed Lipinsky wrote in The New York Times:[2]:

New York City neighborhoods have always been in nonstop flux, but many are now being frozen in time on Facebook, where current and former residents have banded together to post photographs, documents and other memorabilia of their neighborhoods as they used to be. These virtual sections of the city have drawn thousands of contributors, particularly in parts of Brooklyn like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Flatbush and Carroll Gardens, where zoning laws, gentrification and shifting demographics have rapidly transformed the streets.

Gentrification can’t always be viewed in strictly racial terms. Interestingly enough, members of the black middle-class can also technically be gentrifiers as well. They move into lower-income neighborhoods because they want to live with their culture and history, with an aim to keep the ethnic culture strong.[3]

The question is, what are the parameters of gentrification and how can they be applied in determining the strength of the issue and how to deal with it? The issue is currently being discussed and debated so no conclusive solution is evident at the moment.

Flatbush is a place that is open to change and constantly changing. This quality allows for a diverse and influential immigrant population there; people feel comfortable in an environment where there is room for them to grow and express their unique backgrounds. However, the downside of an ever-changing setting is that transformations, such as the gentrification of neighborhoods, are sometimes detrimental to populations in the area. Overall, a balance must be maintained between keeping the cultural characteristics of the neighborhood and adapting to modern practices.

[1] Noah Hurowitz, “White Fight! Vandal Wages One-person Battle against Flatbush Gentrification,” The Brooklyn Paper, September 24, 2014.

[2] Jed Lipinski, “On Facebook, Neighborhoods as They Once Were,” New York Times, October 2, 2011.

[3] Rahel Gebreyes. “Grappling With Gentrification As A Middle Class Black American,” Huffington Post, January 20, 2015, accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/20/black-gentrification_n_6502104.html