Discussion of Issues

Solomon, J. (2013). Music Scene Gentrification in the Lower East Side and Williamsburg.

At first glance I overlooked this journal article because I didn’t understand how music could possibly gentrify an area, especially Williamsburg. But in reading this 60 some odd article by Joshua Solomon, I found myself in agreement with his thesis of the linkage between the emergence of a new music scene in a neighborhood such as Williamsburg and the eventual gentrification their. Referred to as the “Creative Class” by Solomon, this group of people are the gentrifiers who move into the neighborhood and desire to raise the standard of living there with there alternative desires. These new residents then build new “expensive units” which increases the rent and raises the neighborhood to new standards that are reflected in the music, art, and restaurants seen throughout. As a “driving force behind gentrification, this music scene fits in with the new and improved urban environment that the gentrifiers have created and it is only logical that the art of this area would mold with the new personalities seen in the area. My project focuses on how graffiti art changed as the neighborhood gentrified and the starving artists that once tagged up all of Williamsburg’s former abandoned buildings and lofts have now been replaced by the “24 year-old graphic designers” that Solomon describes who prefer murals as the new form of graffiti art.


Kramer, R. (2010). Moral panics and urban growth machines: Official reactions to graffiti in New York City, 1990–2005. Qualitative Sociology, 33(3), 297-311.

The first thing that usually comes to mind when you think of graffiti is the unsightly sprawling that can be seen on subways, buildings, alongside highways, on freight trains, and basically “on any other publicly visible surface within reach.” These writings were met with displeasure by city officials and started a “war” against graffiti. Author Ronald Kramer has come to understand the city’s opposition and the way they dealt with graffiti as means of a moral panic. He defines a moral panic as “the reaction to a pattern of behavior that is seen as violating accepted norms or laws is disproportional to the threat posed by the behavior in question.” Or in other words, an “over-reaction.” This moral panic about graffiti rests mainly on the idea of disportionality and the “broken windows” theory. Before its gentrification, Williamsburg was a city plagued by gang rivalry, as there was tension between racial groups such as the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans who resided in the area. And in addition because neither business nor any kind of tourism was flourishing in the area, crime took it place and what was left in the city was the starving artists who were grateful for the dirt cheap rent in lofts and the freedom to tag up all the abandon factory buildings that made up Williamsburg. The presence of graffiti art was a symbol of an unsuitable place to live so as the city’s standard of living skyrocketed and it became beautified by its newest residents, so did its art evolving from the indecipherable sprawling of graffiti tagups to mural-esque pieces funded by city art projects.

Alonso, A. (1998). Urban graffiti on the city landscape. San Diego State University.

As a form of public art, graffiti says a lot about the people of the area, its ethnic groups, age, etc. and overall it is “a reflection of culture at work.” In his article the “Urban Graffiti on the City Landscape,” Alex Alonso explains how graffiti in urban cities, specifically New York and Los Angeles can conceptualize its function and how it expresses the thoughts and emotions that these subcultures cannot otherwise communicate. A form of self-expression, graffiti has no social restraints and is why it is very often a forum of reactions and thoughts to politics and conflict. The tagging that first defined hip-hop culture and exploded in New York City has since then evolved as a result of gentrification. While the original purpose of tagging was to simply get as much recognition by being in as many places as possible, this newfound existential and piecing graffiti is about representing the ideas and culture of the area. Alonso associates 8 categories of existential graffiti: sexual, racial, love, religious, philosophical, humorous, non-sexual, and self. As Williamsburg found itself with a demand for newer upper class residents, restaurants, and music, the graffiti art commonly seen in the area was now in demand for a new type that situated around artistic skill. My particular focus, the change in graffiti art as a result of gentrification fits right in to Alonso’s findings. Pieces like the Dunkin Donuts graffiti art as a business advertisement on Bedford Avenue is an example of existential graffiti, which draws on the particular experiences of coffee drinkers in the neighborhood and their custom of chatting with other members of the community over coffee.

Anasi, R. (2012). The last bohemia: Scenes from the life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

This book offers a firsthand account about the ways in which Williamsburg has changed over time. The author talks about how Williamsburg has been divided into 3 general areas, the North, South, and the East. North Williamsburg, which is where our project focuses on, is where the hipsters, shops, condos, and restaurants have opened up. It talks about how the area has become gentrified over time and how the old Williamsburg has been forgotten. Although there are still large parts of the area that are filled with abandoned factories, people don’t really think about that when they think of Williamsburg today. They think about the cool hipster culture that has taken over and how high prices have accompanied this hipster culture. This book is relevant to our project because it discusses how Williamsburg has become gentrified. Although not entirely focused on graffiti art, it still focuses on how much change the area has gone through due to gentrification.


DeSena, J. (2012). “Williamsburg Walks” In The world in Brooklyn: Gentrification, immigration, and ethnic politics in a global city. Lanham: Lexington Books.

The book is a collection of many studies done in Brooklyn relating to things such as gentrification, immigration, and more. In Chapter 5 however, a study touched upon how public spaces and events have been affected as a result of gentrification. The study mentions how businesses have adapted to the changes seen in the neighborhood. Older stores covered in graffiti were painted over and replaced with a mural by Brooklyn Industries. The area has seen attempts to eliminate the marks made by the older residents of the area, only to be replaced by things that represent the new residents; the hipsters and gentrifiers. This can relate to the change in graffiti in Williamsburg. The old gritty style of graffiti has been slowly been replaced with graffiti that is more commercial and mainstream.


Snyder, G. (2009). Graffiti lives: Beyond the tag in New York’s urban underground. New York: New York University Press.

In this book, Snyder talks about how graffiti can be seen as just more than a criminal activity. He spent time observing areas in the city, including Williamsburg, and observed just how complex graffiti is as an art form. In part of his book he talks about how certain types of graffiti have become accepted, but others have not. Graffiti that is mainstream focuses on advertising, and the pieces that do not fit this criteria, is seen as illegal and carries a negative connotation. This relates to our project because we are focusing on how the purpose behind graffiti is shifting from art that is about expression, and is now more about marketing. Graffiti in the area of Williamsburg is slowly starting to show up on new buildings and stores for the purposes of advertisement, while others are being covered up.

Lombard, K. (2013). Art Crimes: The Governance of Hip Hop Graffiti. Journal For Cultural Research17(3), 255-278. 

The article explores the various aspects of graffiti, especially graffiti ‘art’ and graffiti vandalism in context of neoliberal government. The attitude of governing bodies toward graffiti has changed but total acceptance is yet to come.The writer of the article concentrates on the alternative approach of the government towards the handling of graffiti in relation to crime, crime control and citizenship. Hip Hop graffiti has come out of darkness and negativity to become a part of mainstream life like advertising product label, art and museum exhibitions, political campaigns, heritage tours and is also being taught in government sponsored youth programs, even at some schools and universities. This all has been possible due to the liberal political-economic governance that has launched several programs and strategies to deal with this long existing issue with resistance at its center. New York faced a major onslaught of graffiti artists calling themselves writers, between 1971 and 1974 . Writers splurged their art on subway cars, playing a cat and mouse game with authorities. Their focus evolved from “hitting “ to “getting up” to “bombing”, in their urge to seek public fame and peer respect. The first attempt to initiate graffiti into mainstream came from graffiti writers when a group called The United Graffiti Artists participated in the first formal show of graffiti at the Razer Gallery in SoHo , New York. This was an effort to display graffiti as an art and exhibit it in legitimate places . This did not go down well with the US government and they denied to accept it as an art form because for them tolerance to graffiti meant tolerance to crime. Government invested majorly in schemes that failed to counter or remove graffiti. Vandal squads were formed and arrests of artists were common. However , where New York tried to control graffiti with an iron fist , American West Coast tried to deal with it in an alternate manner like legal aerosol art. But the underline criminal nature that shadowed New York graffiti did not exist in the short history of west coast, thus writers here readily participated in legal government initiatives. These alternative strategies formulated by the American west coast came to be adopted by many other countries like Britain , France, Canada and Australia in the 1980s. These policies acknowledge positivity in graffiti namely- art, talent, discipline and dedication. These policies have encouraged more quality art too. On the other hand writers have their own issues for these policies, according to them curb their artistic expression and they loose respect among peers. At the end of the day these programs do try to sculpt the artist according to government rules so that they can meet their objectives. But these strategies have been helpful in assisting artists to cope with realities of life and find a meaningful role in society. The governing bodies have tried to earn the trust of the graffiti writers but they are looked upon with suspicion and these artists continue to modulate ways to resist governance; for graffiti after all is about illegal writing on the surface.

Gross, D. D., & Gross, T. D. (1993). TAGGING: Changing Visual Patterns and the Rhetorical Implications of a New Form of Graffiti. ETC: A Review Of General Semantics50(3), 250-264.

The writer in this article charts the journey of graffiti overtime. Graffiti, an Italian word, refers to simplistic drawings on walls or any other surface to capture public attention . Its an informal form of writing hat has evolved in style and purpose . The analysis of data gathered revealed three phases in the historical development of graffiti. The first being the imitative phase, where written symbols reflect the spoken words, as Plato too believed that written language is an imitative response. Drawings by early humans too, are an imitative response to the world as they saw it. The transition phase involved the addition of letters or words to the drawings, the symbols reflecting sounds too. The graffiti in this era was dominated by visual symbols in the former years and words in the latter. Over the transition period transcending 2500 years graffiti changed in 3 major strokes. The first stroke marked the graffiti with social expression, where the major characters were accompanied by words. The drawings emphasized social feelings. This was accompanied by another form of drawings where the emphasis was on expression of individual feeling, that still exist in present times across common places in various towns. The third stroke of transition phase was ruled by words alone. Words are the messengers of this stroke and not drawings. Spanning the last 25 years , graffiti stepped into a new mode- the Apocryphal phase . This style designated as tagging’ involves use of words but the word visuals are drawn in a way as to be deciphered by individuals who already belong to these realms. These people being, graffiti artists or grafittists scribing for a gang. To a casual onlooker they hold no meaning. This type of tagging be it individual or “gang writing”, adorns walls all over the world. The writer displays examples of these drawings, revealing this unique form of graffiti with words that only holds meaning for a particular set of beholders. The writer of the article hints that eventually the drawings might replace words or letters in correspondence to a growing illiteracy in America. He initiates a thought process by asking if such a phenomenon occurs then what will these drawings reflect or convey? Perhaps a new form of picture writing might come up however, these visual artistic creations decorating walls across the world with hidden meanings forces one to ask as to why the artists have to guise their words.


Ashby, M. (2012). Williamsburg 2000: Reflections on the Colonial Artist. Massachusetts Review53(1), 146-162.

The writer explores the hipster artistic attitude of Williamsburg in context of self-assumed preciousness. Williamsburg with the dominant population inclined to is plagues by internal barriers and denial of the concept of death. Superficially these residents adopt a certain lifestyle of freedom, righteousness, rebellion, edgy fashion which they believe to be reflection of artists, as they want to be identified as one. At the same time justifying being in their neighborhood like Williamsburg, which they believe, is part of their identity. These Williamsburgians, as the writer calls them, are uncertain individuals with no values trying hard to assume an identity. This phenomenon being more insidious than gentrification or sense of authenticity for it has lead to indifference, loss of connection, rejection of authority. There is loss of true self in desire to seek attention and fulfill ambition. There is total denial of search for one’s true identity or purpose in life. What kind of person are you going to be? They lack maturity and presume their identities, instead of growing into them with every passing experience. Some believe that their sexual escapades or drug indulgences are a fear way of escaping terrorizing realities of life and love. Their denial to face responsibility or themselves. However, the writer reflects that these people and their thought process could be the result of underlying discriminations and barriers that exist in the system since EONS. Passing time has not been able to radicate the basic social, color, cultural differences rather they have been enhanced after experience of 9/11. People have cocooned themselves further against their ‘different’ neighbors ignoring them as basic humans like themselves. Yet, they are not to be blamed totally for they are brought up thinking that they are special or above the rest. This thought process detrimental to their basic human existence and values . They forget that they are humans, not invincible and will be embraced by death one day and so, should work to towards being better people with better humanistic actions. The writer believes that hipsters of Williamsburg totally reflect this concept of self-deception, as they believe themselves to be perfect, pure-hearted and free people who have been denied love. In their romantic existence they forget death , which is inevitable , and they surround themselves with other people like them in Williamsburg. Yet, they are entangled in the same web from which they tried to escape as they continued to live in a barricaded environment. They deal with the fear of their unknown neighbors by believing that they do not exist. Thus, caught in a quagmire they rejected in the first place. So to put an end to all this “ hipster, white-professionals and self proclaimed artists” have to attain soulful maturity and step out of their comfort zone to face their fears, pains and uncertainties. As one relieves themselves of these cumbersome shackles , one goes on to embrace others around them as humans ; who they can love and be loved in return. Finally being free of hopelessness and betrayal.

My part of the project is a mural by Mr. Brainwash, near Roebling Street,on a new apartment building at 250N 10th St which gives tribute to John Augustus Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, and also his son Charles Roebling. The mural has “Life Is Beautiful” signed on it which is Mr. Brainwash’s signature. The real estate company wanted to make their building fit into the local area , also to give themselves an upper edge than the rest of the thousand other apartment buildings in Williamsburg. Mr. Brainwash usually focuses of celebrities in his work, but the real estate company wanted their mural to be more fitting to the local neighborhood and environment. It is a perfect example of how gentrification and graffiti both have an impact on the neighborhood. The huge apartment building itself is an example of gentrification whereas the real estate company using the mural to promote their company and also to fit in more into the neighborhood proves the point stated in Art Crimes:The Governance of Hip Hop Graffiti that graffiti is no longer related to dark and negative and is actually being accepted more widely. Graffiti has also seen a lot of change in its themes and styles over time. The Contrast between the mural painted by the artist Kobra ‘ Fight For Street Art’ and the mural by Mr. Brainwash used by the real estate company to promote their apartment building and also to fit into the neighborhood more are perfect example of what the article TAGGING: Changing Visual Patterns and the Rhetorical Implications of a New Form of Graffiti talks about. The article tells us about the how graffiti style, drawings and text have changed over time and can be divided into three phases. Similarly the difference between the themes for the two murals by Kobra and Mr. Brainwash are very evident. While Kobras mural about fighting for the freedom of expression and street art represents what most of the older graffiti and street art was about, Mr. Brainwash’s mural shows how graffiti is more acceptable now and being used for more then just fighting for the cause of freedom of expression. Now artists can actually make graffiti about things they want to talk about, promote or just a personal experience.


Grodach, C., Foster, N., & Murdoch, J. (2014). Gentrification and the Artistic Dividend: The Role of the Arts in Neighborhood Change. Journal Of The American Planning Association, 80(1), 21-35.

This article, featured in the Journal of the American Planning Association, provides statistical evidence on the relationship between the arts and gentrification in several different cities nationwide. Using various indicators of gentrification and neighborhood revitalization, the study analyzes how these forms of art influence neighborhood development and uoscaling. The researchers reference Zukin in their discussion, noting the use of an “artistic mode of production” in which artist’s symbolic appropriation of space is seized by investors for capital gain. Upon studying these variables, the conclusion was made that the commercial arts cluster exhibits the strongest association with the gentrification factor as well as the neighborhood-upscaling factor. This article supports our project by underlining the close relationship between art and gentrification in a neighborhood, specifically art of a commercial nature.

Zukin, S., Trujillo, V., Frase, P., Jackson, D., Recuber, T., & Walker, A. (2009). New Retail Capital and Neighborhood Change: Boutiques and Gentrification in New York City. City & Community, 8(1), 47-64.

This article discusses the emergence of upscale restaurants, boutiques, and commercial spaces as an agent of change and gentrification in New York City, specifically in Harlem and Williamsburg. As these more upmarket spaces populate the neighborhoods, a process of revitalization becomes evident and indigenous businesses are threatened with displacement. The expansion of chains like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and Starbucks are changing the corporate views of the commercial viability of Williamsburg amongst others. Also noted in the article is the fact that the increase in boutiques reflects a shift towards consumer industries and urban revitalization. As luxury, waterfront housing continues to characterize the gentrifying neighborhood, signs of commercial strategy will be found, as my group and I are looking at in our analysis of street art and gentrification.

Gogarty, L. A. (2014). Art & Gentrification. Art Monthly, (373), 7-10.

As neighborhoods begin to gentrify and more educated, MFA accredited artists flock to impose their own expressions on the art scene, indigenous pieces reflecting preexisting social engagements and protests soon fade. This article discusses the disappearance of original anti-market and often anti-state street art displays that once characterized now gentrifying neighborhoods. With the new population of white upper-middle class residents comes a corporate professionalism that is at odds with the history of community art. A comparison is draw between two modern artists, Rick Lowe-founder of a low-income series of ‘shotgun houses’ in Houston so called Project Row Houses, and Theaster Gates-who refurbishes buildings on Chicago’s South Side. While Lowe stands for the issues of social equality and uses his platform to truly attempt to solve the housing crisis in Houston, Gates utilizes a lucrative studio practice and manipulates the same issues of equality for financial gain. Artists have now become something of property speculators in gentrifying neighborhoods and the commercial mindset now trumps the indigenous one of social movements and aesthetics. This article is perhaps the most important to our project for we are using the changes in street art to analyze the increasing commercialization of the gentrified Williamsburg.

Gonos, George, Virginia Mulkern, and Nicholas Poushinsky. “Anonymous Expression: A Structural View of Grafitti.” Journal of American Folklore 89.351 (1976): 40-48. Print.

This article shows the mindset behind public graffiti. The authors hypothesize that graffiti has a direct relationship to the societal views of that population. Also, they suspect that homosexual graffiti increases as a society condemns it more. Lastly they state that male and female graffiti differs because of the social background. Through their data, which was collected in mostly New York and New Jersey, they proved the first two hypotheses wrong. They actually saw an indirect relationship between graffiti and societal views, and a direct relationship between homosexual graffiti and societies acceptance. Through these studies they found a lot of information on why people create graffiti and the thoughts behind the works. This article contradicts the information found in the 2006 studies. This shows the change in graffiti over time. Graffiti is a good aspect to look at when analyzing the changing culture of a population.

Kramer, Ronald. “Painting with Permission: Legal Graffiti in New York City.” Ethnography 11.2 (2010): 235-53. Print.

The author begins by describing the categories of graffiti. (Name based, amorous, intellectual, political, territorial, gang and latrinalia.) The purpose of the article is to further understand the culture of graffiti. The author accomplishes this by interviewing 20 different street artists in the fall and summer months of 2006. Since 1990, the percentage of painting with permission has increased. Graffiti was usually accompanied by crimes like stealing spray paint and breaking into closed off areas. Though these are crimes under law, street artists say they follow their own code of ethics. In the New York City subway system the MTA went through a moral panic because of the appearance of the subway stations and spent a lot of money on wiping the subway clean. The subway system was never completely graffiti free though, just graffiti has been out of sight. The author finds that the majority of street art has become political statements abount race and class tensions. The views really tell alot about the neighborhood it is in. This article is helpful in analyzing the opinions of graffiti culture of neighborhood residents and how it has changed.

Salopek, Paul. “Conflict Graffiti: The Art of War.” Washington Post Newsweek Interactive Nov. 2011: 94-95.

Print. This article is about a new trend of conflict graffiti around the war and a new concept of “the art of war”. Paul Salopek writes of some examples of this throughout the article. He starts off by explaining the action taken by white extremist and afrikaners in South Africa. They painted the apartheid flag of blue white and orange stripes on boulders and no matter how much government workers tried, they could not cover it up. These actions brought attention to the racial neuroses in South Africa and exposed it more than any news article or TV show. This shows the effect that street art can have on a population. Other examples are stated in the article such as the street cartoon of Col. Muammar which Paul Salopek describes as “the finest political and wartime graffiti”. In all, this article captures the importance of political and social graffiti and the effect it can have on the population. These examples are great at explaining the change in purpose of graffiti. Graffiti began as a statement advoating for the freedom of expression. Now graffiti reflects personal views of the artist

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