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For many New Yorkers who have lived here long enough to see their beloved neighborhoods being developed to accommodate luxury residences, the process of gentrification could be a concern. Because as is often the case in many such redevelopment, modern buildings begin to replace old historic ones, mom and pop stores are overwhelmed by larger chains, and residents and local businesses are eventually priced out and pushed out of neighborhoods.
We've seen it happen mostly in Manhattan where the fast pace of luxury development has all but wiped out the essence that made each neighborhood unique.
The spirit of these communities, you see, reside in the inhabitants that make them what they are-- whether they are the bohemian beatniks of the 70s in Greenwich Village, for instance, or the punk grunge rockers of the 80s and 90s East Village.
Many who have lived here for decades regard New York not a monolithic city but rather a collection of very distinct towns. For them gritty Hell's Kitchen, the laid back Upper West Side, the wistful Yorkville, the bustling Chinatown, the exuberant Wall Street, the Orphic Village and the artistry of SoHo and Tribeca define New York as much as the affluent families living on Fifth and Park Avenues and Central Park West.
In this city those who newly relocated live seamlessly alongside those who have been born and raised here, and the foreign owners who occasionally come to visit.
Since the late 1990s, Wiliamsburg has become associated with the "hipster." The new residents weren't always defined as such. First they were thought of as the artists who have been pushed out of SoHo and Tribeca. Then they were regarded as bohemian transplants of Greenwich Village. Then finally, they were thought of as grungy East Villagers.
But the "hipsters," as the new residents are now referred to en masse, are a little bit of all of these. They commonly possess the profundity of the West Village bohemians, the artistic sensibilities of SoHo and Tribeca , and the ardent desire for individual self-expression associated with East Village grunge and punk rockers.
They are also a moderated version of all of these in that their idealism is limited by the practicality of urban survival. For example, self-deprivation and simple lifestyles deeply regarded by the bohemians as integral to character formation are no longer absolute. Hipsters perceive the enjoyment of social events and fashionable venues as part and parcel of understanding and fully appreciating an ever evolving culture.
And while hipsters for the most part remain unshackled by rigid fashion rules and trends, unlike those who came before them, it isn't because they are unaware of what the rules are or that they simply don't care. A hipster's outfit may be unorthodox, but it is frequently fashionably unorthodox. That in itself is the hipster's style.
The development of "Billyburg", as it is affectionately called, has become a true reflection of the hipsters' lifestyle and philosophy.
Everywhere you look there is juxtaposition of grit and sophistication. Walls have graffiti, yes, but most are defined in the form of street art.
Conversations carry on not in diners or run down coffee shops, but in specialty cafes where they serve espresso or latte brewed from exotic coffee beans from around the globe--with, of course, fresh baked muffins croissants or scones to knosh.
Williamsburg doesn't just have neighborhood bars that are dives or pubs. It also has beer gardens and local breweries. Its wine stores, restaurants and galleries are not just that: they may also moonlight as venues for launching upcoming talented rock bands. Williamsburg in essence has become the haven of artists of all kinds: from musicians, to sculptors to furniture and interior designers to painters to photographers, architects and fashion designers.
It is a place not only where art is freely expressed, but where art is freely lived. It is the reunion of the artistic and independent spirit increasingly being extinguished by the suburbanization of the fringe neighborhoods of Manhattan. It is a place, we hope, where establishments like The Future Perfect, Whisk, The Rabbit Hole, Fette Sau, and Marlow & Sons will not soon give way to yet more national chain stores.
The developers in Williamsburg have to strike a balance between providing residences that will bring businesses and conveniences still needed in many parts of the neighborhood. The development of the waterfront facing the Manhattan skyline for example, while objectionable to some, is an integral part in such progress.
The Bedford Avenue "L" station is only one stop away from downtown Manhattan. And the water taxi can bring you across the East River to the Financial District or Midtown Manhattan within minutes. By car, you can zip across the Williamsburg Bridge into the Lower East Side and SoHo without much ado.
by Kenneth J. Moore, Real Estate Editor