Nomadic Tales V.1: Hipster Enclaves

Posted on May 7, 2007. Filed under: bushwick tales, hipsters, moving, My Musings, washington heights |

via flickr

This past weekend I moved to the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, for the second time. Like many non native New Yorkers, I have lived all over the place and find myself coming full circle. The first thing I’ve noticed is that the area has taken on a very hipster vibe, similar to the one slowly spreading in my former home, Washington Heights. Neither dissing or considering myself a hipster, my reasons for moving to Bushwick were not motivated by the fact that I can’t afford Williamsburg – Simple fate brought me back to Bushwick, or what now appears to be referred to as *snicker* East East Williamsburg.

Many people move to an area because they feel it reflects their personality. There is also a huge chunk of the NYC population who move to places based on what they can afford, and hope that both factors can intersect in their favor. I suppose that explains why so many young people (Hipster and Non) are migrating to Bushwick with increasing fervor – it’s close to the L/J/M/Z trains, it’s still somewhat affordable, it has a lot of artist resources/spaces and still hasn’t completely “sold out”/gentrified the way of SoHo, the Village (East & West), Chelsea, and Williamsburg. Bushwick has become one of the many affordable Hipster enclaves where someone could (if they chose to) pay $400 a month to rent a spacious three bedroom with friends, go to the artist space/warehouse gallery around the corner, take the subway to work/nearby show within 10-15 min, and save up to buy a loft in the newly developing high rise a few blocks away.

You could, if you really wanted to, even make video about how great it is to live in Bushwick.

My reasons for moving back to Bushwick were pretty simple and anti-social: My rent used to be $1,125 – It is now $400, to sublet an entire two bedroom for the next 3-4 months while I save up, travel and find something else more permanent. Like many in this strange and beautiful city, I live quite the nomadic life. Besides being pleased and grateful to score this deal, it was a very surreal experience to end up back in the place that I began my new life in NYC.

The first time I moved to Bushwick was when I relocated from Cali to NYC about three years ago. A few weeks before the grand move, I (with zero knowledge of the NYC area) found a roommate situation on Craigslist that was within my budget, that also happened to be in Bushwick. It was during the Republican Convention protests which meant all of my roommates had been arrested, and the apartment was covered in cat piss. That experience lasted a grand total of a week because my roommates who were also dirty hippies* had even dirtier hippie friends who broke into my room and robbed me of video equipment while I was out looking for work. I packed up and headed for Manhattan – specifically, Washington Heights. Thanks Mom, for visiting and later on helping me to negotiate rent issues in more sophisticated levels of Spanish.

I am sure for some, Washington Heights might still seem pretty frightening which is why it’s evolution into a Hipster enclave is happening at a slower rate than Bushwick. But it is transforming. It’s already happening now (people are calling it WaHI???), also evident in this recent mixed-response thread on Brooklyn Vegan (do a find in the comments area of the thread for Washington Heights).

Being fairly broke, and with my limited knowledge of the area, I luckily ended up in Washington Heights without any preconceived notions regarding my quality of life. After a micro-move with a nice Dominican family, there was finally a happy ending by discovering a three bedroom apartment on 173rd & St. Nicholas with my current/former roommate who was coincidentally also from CA. We each had our own bedroom and used the third as an office. The rent was $1530 a month (rent controlled), and we lived there for two interesting years.

By interesting, I mean it wasn’t paradise at first. Although my roommate and I are both Latina, that doesn’t mean we instantly acclimated to the neighborhood. We had to adjust to loud music at all hours of the day and night, shop clerks who refused to speak English (when we knew they could), parades that seem to take place out of nowhere, drug deals negotiated on our stoop, and the constant barrage of insults pointed at the immigrant Mexicans who worked in the Dominican owned restaurants and clothing stores. There was definite tension between the two groups now sharing the same neighborhood, and my roommate and I not looking “typically” Mexican made for some interesting (sometimes insulting) conversations.

Washington Heights used to be considered by many (including those who live there) an unsafe neighborhood. After two years of living there, I would like to briefly contribute some details of my own experience:

– It never felt unsafe, even when walking home at any hour of the day or night (I worked every shift imaginable as a freelance Assistant Editor in ’05-’06)

– The food is cheap and delicious

– Everything you need is close by: hospitals, grocery stores, laundromats, post office, library, parks, movie theater, bodegas on every corner, A/C/E/1/9, etc.

– Yes, there are drug dealers (there are in every neighborhood) however every one that I met ended up being a friend (without drugs being involved). I played chess with them, they helped us move heavy objects into the apartment, and gave unique/interesting insight on a lot of topics.

When I first moved to Washington Heights, it was clear that the neighborhood was primarily Dominican. But by the time my roommate and I relocated to the house we were (up until yesterday) sharing in Jersey City, the neighborhood had drastically changed. More students had moved into the area (Columbia University is nearby), Asians of the hipster variety, and many gay men and women. The area was becoming more diverse, which was nice (I suppose) for people who like to interact with neighbors. I don’t, so that didn’t really effect me. More businesses were sprouting up and rent was going up too. By the time we moved out in December of 2006, there were studios around the corner of our place going for $1,200, and they were quickly being filled up. Check out the flowery description of this rental.

Meanwhile, back in my hometown of Sacramento, CA, a shared rental in downtown will now cost you almost $600. I once had a one bedroom in the same area for $350!

I don’t know how to end this entry other than to say, I am pretty sick of moving.

* I can call someone a dirty hippie if they refuse to bath on a regular basis and also rob me

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