This Week in Stupid Williamsburg

On a balmy Saturday evening in early July, an eclectic mix of partygoers gathered at the terrace bar atop the Wythe Hotel, a gleaming new resort in Williamsburg that anchors a summertime Eden for a fresh batch of night-crawling New Yorkers.

Craving live music with a side of smoked trout salad? Cross the street to Brooklyn Bowl, where Questlove spins music on Thursdays, Blue Ribbon serves cozy nibbles…

On the other side of the pool, a scrawny photographer…was chatting with anybody who would listen (Manhattan staycationers, condo residents, out-of-town guests) about a Ritalin binge he had indulged in at an amateur movie screening the previous night. He was a character so archetypically Williamsburg, he felt almost pre-”Girls” retro. “I’m a regular here,” he said.
– Seattle Times

In this, the genuine Brooklyn, crosswalks are for sissies, classic apartments are walk-ups, loud is the default sound level, and burly men of a certain vintage still wear sleeveless undershirts in public.

No more bargain $8 haircuts, not even for dogs, though the local canines may have noticed the revamped sidewalks feel a tad smoother beneath their paws: gentrification is smoothing out all those hard edges.

On the commercial side, he is installing a Sleepy’s franchise at Manhattan and Meserole because, thinking ahead, he figured, “Hey, when the residential thing blows up, everybody’s going to need mattresses.”

His clients, he said, are “young families and the ‘digerati.’ We’re going to build in a way that maintains the character of the neighborhood: eclectic, gritty and cutting edge. We’re going to keep things contextual.”

The patchouli oil of Gen Y gentrification is scenting the air.
– NYTimes

Move over Meatpacking District and get out of the way Lower East Side, because there is a new center of the nightlife universe, and it’s in a magical little place called Williamsburg.

The sort of gruff, rustic counter-culturalism that Tarlow seemed to channel at both his previous restaurants has been swapped for more gloss, and an air of edgy elegance. Perhaps he’s grown up, or maybe he envisions a Williamsburg that’s ready to push beyond adolescence.
– Eater NY

“It’s super hip,” said one resident. “And everyone’s just so cool out here.”

“It’s a great neighborhood,” said another. “It’s really happening.”

“I like the people,” said a third. “Everybody’s real laid back.”
– NY 1

One of the interesting things about running google alerts is discovering how many papers run versions of the same story. One paper runs a story on, say, the McCarren Pool, and ten other papers give their, slightly different, spin on it. There’s not much thought, and even less journalism.

Dirty Pool

On June 28th, a couple of teenagers started doing backflips into the newly reopened McCarren Pool in Williamsburg. The lifeguards took exception – in public pools these days, one lowers oneself gingerly into the water – and shoving ensued. A bloodied lifeguard ended up in the pool. The Daily News refers to a ‘crew of teens’ attacking the lifeguard. (Teenagers, it seems, gather in ‘crews’, but only those teens who don’t go to private school). Four days later, despite a heavy police presence, teenagers started flipping into the pool again. At that point, as one witness stated, ‘All hell broke loose.’ According to the Daily Mail: ‘The commotion brought police to the scene, and one of the offending youths allegedly punched an officer in the face. Another officer was seen with scratches on his arm.’ Pepper spray was deployed.

This fresh hell brought coverage from across the English-speaking world. The New York papers checked in as well as NBC, the Honolulu Star-Ledger, Newsweek and the Daily Mail from across the pond. The New York Post gave us ‘Confessions of a McCarren Lifeguard‘ and Gawker provided meta-analysis and a refreshing dose of Gawker snark.

A lifeguard gets shoved into the water and it becomes national news. This could indicate what a peaceful nation we’ve become (despite the two real wars, and the magical ones on drugs and terror) or a very, very slow news cycle but wait, this pool isn’t just any pool. It’s the newly opened McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, hipster central, a pool reopened after twenty-eight years and a lot of remodeling to make it safe for the babies. The fifty million dollar renovation did not begin, as the Mail states, in 1984. I was in Williamsburg for most of those years and trust me, no renovating was going on. Until about 2003 the pool quietly decayed and the only visitors were local thrill seekers who didn’t mind climbing fences.

So why the interest in a few fist fights and a spattering of other bad behavior? As Nadia said, ‘They were teenagers. It was hot. They were bored. They were teenagers. There were girls. It was hot.’ The photos from the arrests tells us exactly what kind of teenagers they were – muscular and brown. The reason why the story got picked up across the country – a reason mentioned in few of the articles – is that the teenagers were non-white ethnics. The conflict exposed the reality of Williamsburg for one glimmering moment, and the reality beneath the froth of luxury condos and fine dining is heavily polluted, mostly poor and mostly non-white, not matter how many trendy boutiques cram Bedford Avenue, or how many PhD’s have relocated there.

In a darker reflection on the culture clashes, two teenagers were attacked and one nearly stabbed to death as they walked through McCarren Park. This story didn’t get the same coverage, in fact, it only got mentioned at all because it happened in the wake of the pool follies. I spent fifteen years walking through the McCarren Park at all hours with only minor incidents (including a fistfight with a Yuppie and his aggressive pit bull). If the stabbing didn’t have a personal component, something the article doesn’t suggest, than it might have to do with the fact that the bright lights of gentrification draw even those who can’t afford dinner at Marlowe & Sons.

I hope for a peaceful summer at the pool. So far no one has been seriously hurt. The Daily Mail doesn’t tell us how deep the scratches on the cop are. They could be very deep. They could scar. They could provide a foothold for flesh-eating bacteria. Pool security has been raised to even higher levels and now includes pat-downs and frisks. In a bit of historical irony, the pool closed in 1984 because the Polish, Italian and Irish Northside patriarchs didn’t want to their water stained by Southside Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. IN 2012, no one is calling for the pool to close, at least not yet.