Life in a bubble 4: Williamsburg

bedstuy-tag-flickrJust before Christmas last year, I moved from the Upper West Side (Manhattan) to the neighbourhood Williamsburg (Brooklyn). While I knew that Williamsburg is the quintessential gentrifying neighbourhood, I was astonished to find out that most of Williamsburg – and most of Brooklyn that was within a 45-minute commute to work – was pretty much off limits in terms of rent. And I’m not exactly poor.

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Life in a bubble 3: a quiz

PBS recently published a quiz ‘Do you live in a bubble?’, which American political scientist Charles Murray put together for his book Coming Apart (2012). For Murray, living in a bubble means ‘restriction to your exposure to average American life’ which results in being ‘clueless about mainstream white America.’ His book (which I haven’t read) is about the formation of ‘a high-IQ, highly educated new upper class’ over the last half century with ‘a culture of its own that is largely disconnected from the culture of mainstream white America.’

The 1st of the 25 questions (which are a bit difficult to answer if you didn’t spend many years of your life in the U.S.) is the following:

bubble quiz

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Box bikes, austerity and urban balance

gentrification in progress cupcakes (flickr mssarakelly)

The Rotterdam city council recently announced to invest 4 million Euros in so-called ‘box bike neighbourhoods.’ Box bikes have become synonymous with family gentrifiers (or yupps: young urban professional parents), as they are seen on these bikes taking their children to school and extracurricular activities – they are apparently the ultimate urban transportation solution. In the last years, box bikes have become more common in cities, especially in neighbourhoods that show other telltales of gentrification.

Through investing in ‘box bike neighbourhoods’ the city council hopes to attract 10 per cent more ‘privileged young families’ in the next four years. In addition to urban regeneration, the introduction of the Rotterdam Law in 2005, and do-it-yourself homes, this plan aims to spur the gentrification of urban neighbourhoods and the city more generally.

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Suddenly I realized she was not white

mural2 (gve)

I was having lunch in one of those coffee places that clearly signpost the gentrification process in my neighbourhood. The place has a large reading table made from scrap wood, the photos on the wall are for sale (pretty expensive) and you can buy gifts such as a starter’s kit for growing spices. I was sitting on a chair that had probably been in a classroom before. For lunch I had a sandwich with grilled veggies and hummus.

From where I was sitting I had a good overview of the square outside and my attention was constantly drawn to the people walking outside. It has become somewhat of a habit (not to say occupational psychosis) to observe the appearance of people and places, to figure out how the going together of certain kinds of people in certain kinds of places shapes how people think and feel about such people and places. I noticed that few people were ‘white’ – or, to put it differently, appeared to be ‘native Dutch’ – which is not surprising at all given the composition of the neighbourhood population in this part of Rotterdam.

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