At WNYC’s new Jerome L. Greene Performance Space today, on the ground level of their new headquarters on Varick Street, Rosie Perez moderated a panel called The Places that Bind: Examining Preservation and Culture in a Changing City.
The panel notably included Nelson George, author of City Kid: A Writer’s Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success and Bob Tierney, Landmark Preservation Commission Chair, as well as a few civic and community leaders. In case Mr. Tierney was worried, the famous Brooklynite assured him, “I don’t hate you.”
The discussion centered around which of the city’s diverse physical spaces should be preserved, and exactly for whom they are being preserved; and later on gentrification and the disappearing neighborhood spaces that bind communities together.
Clearly, the moderator had opinions of her own, so after the crowd was done throwing their two cents into the conversation, I asked Ms. Perez, a native Brooklynite who resides in Fort Greene, for her thoughts on the borough’s newest residents.
Do you have any advice for newcomers to New York City?
I don’t think they have to go to the extreme as in ‘When in Rome,’ but I think that it’s just [about] being respectful. If you’re going to the park with your baby stroller and you plop right down in the middle of the park where people have played soccer for years, and you don’t want to move; move. It’s rude. That’s a sense of entitlement that you’re expressing and it’s wrong.
You go like, ‘I can be in this park, I pay such and such amount’ that’s not the point – the point is being a polite and courteous human being. That’s the first step in being a good neighbor. The person in the park – they may not live on your block, but they live in that neighborhood and they are your neighbors.
And just saying hello – if you’re not in a good mood, give a nod. If you see someone more than three times in the span of a week, give a nod. Come on people, seriously.
Also, I think that for the new business owners – lower your prices, be accommodating to the people that you’re servicing. And also employ the color of the neighborhood. Brooklyn is very, very diverse; there should be everything there.
What’s been bothering me [is] everyone’s been making [this] into a black-white issue – there are Muslims in the neighborhood that come in various colors; there are Spanish people in the neighborhood that come in various colors; there are Asian people in the neighborhood that come in various colors. Employ them! The majority of the new waiters and waitresses and people working – they’re all white. That can rub a person the wrong way.
And you have to question why are home invasions up – murders are down, but home invasions are up. Why are rapes – the most horrific crime ever – up? Why? Because rape is an act of rage and anger – people are angry. And if you are nice, that anger will dissipate.
It’s plain simple math – just be nice and be respectful and just try to fit into the neighborhood. If you want to make your changes, make them slow – that’s all we’re saying. If that may sound arrogant on my part, as a Brooklynite, I’m sorry. You’re coming into my hood, I’m not going into yours.
Do you think there is a disconnect between new residents and the history of the neighborhoods in which they now live?
I think there is a disconnect – the disconnect is reflected in how defensive they get when you accuse them of being a gentrifier. When you accuse them of being a newcomer, when you accuse them of being inconsiderate.
It’s like, ‘Why are you getting so defensive? If these things don’t apply to you, why are you getting so offended?’ Ask yourself that question – why are you getting so angry? I’m not angry. I’m bothered, but I’m not angry.
(Photo by Scott Ellison Smith)