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Talking Gentrification with Ridgewood Native and BuzzFeed Copy Chief Emmy Favilla

BuzzFeed's Emmy Favilla recently published a powerful essay on her experiences as a forever Ridgewood resident and why her background makes putting down roots in the neighborhood as an adult a complicated thing to do

Photo via Flickr user Chris Ford

BuzzFeed's Emmy Favilla recently published a powerful essay on her experiences as a forever Ridgewood resident and why her background makes putting down roots in the neighborhood as an adult a complicated thing to do. At the heart of the piece are Favilla’s fascinating thoughts assessing the gentrification of her home and an explanation of why choosing to remain in this city as a New York native is a more complicated thing than many transplants may imagine.

Bushwick Daily reached out to Favilla to discuss the piece, because the BD newsroom loved this read: it's topical, but it's also moving. Favilla's beautifully crafted prose and sentence structure make into a stunning meditation on the notion of home. Because of its courage, its honesty, and its relevance to the neighborhood, we want to share some of its great parts with BD readers and invite you to check it out in its entirety.

The essay is a part of BuzzFeed’s The Home Series, and Favilla tells Bushwick Daily that she “hadn’t written a story in a while, and I’ve never published an essay on such a serious subject like this - I tend to lean toward the lighthearted and humorous when I do - so this was a bit of a leap for me.”

The piece starts with a description of an important moment in Favilla’s life: closing the deal on a home of her own in the neighborhood. Favilla’s great-grandparents emigrated from Italy and she comes from a working class, white family. And on her father's side, Emmy is a first generation American.

Importantly, though the crux of the piece deals with Favilla’s personal experiences with gentrification, it doesn’t ignore the fact that people of color are at a greater risk for having to move. “The displacement that comes with gentrification often disproportionately affects lower-income people of color,” emphasizes Favilla.

Favilla currently lives a few blocks from her childhood home, where her parents still reside. In one of the more conflicted paragraphs, Favilla writes that she hopes that the property value on her new apartment goes up so that when she trades it in for a house with a yard, she’ll make money.

“I want the neighborhood I've invested in to flourish, but I also don't want Ridgewood or Bushwick to become almost unrecognizable, the way much of Williamsburg has over the past 20 years...Additionally, as a white woman from a working-class, home-owning family in New York City, I realize that I am in a position of privilege, and I was lucky enough to get a great education and build a career all while saving on living expenses because I lived with my family for many of my adult years,” Favilla tells Bushwick Daily.

Wanting property value to rise is a healthy way to think as a person who owns property, but that rising property values often result in the displacement of other long time residents is unsettling to Favilla. We feel this. Talk about a thorny dichotomy at the heart of the American dream.

Photo courtesy of Celebra Bushwick Facebook page, taken by Lindsay Cornelio

Favilla describes how she announced her new status as a homeowner by doing what we all would do in moments of celebration: telling Facebook. When her post was commented upon with lots of “How?”s and virtual jaws on the ground, it’s not only the medium that the news was told, but the news itself that needs defending. Favilla worked hard and made many financial sacrifices throughout her twenties to be able to afford her home, which many New York City residents who moved here on a dollar and a dream would regard as an unusual strategy. “I started putting my savings in an account I labeled ‘Emmy’s House Fund’ when I was 20; in my LiveJournal (lol) at the time, I wrote, ‘I WILL be a homeowner by 30,’” she writes.

Her commitment to her long term goal of homeownership sets Favilla apart from gentrifiers who live off of trust funs that critics might try to liken her to. Indeed, who among us hasn't at some point made the generalization that people who own New York City property before the age of 40 must be independently wealthy? This essay debunks that notion—and reminds us that even in a city like New York, home ownership shouldn't be inaccessible for those who work hard.

Favilla takes issue with the stereotype of the cold and uncaring New Yorker by describing the familiar scenario being asked for directions. “A real New Yorker,” she writes, “wouldn’t ignore you if you asked for directions. We’d ask you to repeat the directions back to us so we were certain you knew where you were going.” It raised this question for one Bushwick Daily reporter: does the stereotype regarding New Yorkers being cold hearted originate with long time residents anxieties about displacement—or does it maybe also come from anxiety about displacing on the part of newer residents?

Favilla describes an experience that she had more than a decade ago in 2003 when she was pegged as a newcomer by a lady at a bodega. “I knew she was just trying to make friendly conversation, and to her credit, in pink tights and blue legwarmers and carrying a band tote bag, I imagined neon arrows reading ‘hipster’ flashing wildly above me as I walked through the door,” she elaborated. But the context for that situation was that she was taking a break from visiting her grandmother at a nearby hospital—the same one she was born at, which she found herself compelled to tell the woman who had mistaken her for a recent transplant.

She explains how being proud of being a native New Yorker is a complicated by describing what it feels like to drop references to one's cred thus: “I would pepper friendly conversation with comments about what it used to be like in the ‘old days,’ just to make sure you couldn’t forget that I’d been part of this wonderful, awful city long before you got here to experience the sanitized version,” Favilla writes.

“I'd initially decided to pitch this story since the sentiments I describe are ones that I find myself unable to escape on pretty much a daily basis....I often think about how growing up in the city, my instinct was to resent newcomers and resist the cultural shift that came along with them, as I first saw Williamsburg begin to change,“ Emmy tells Bushwick Daily (The essay reads “I began to recognize it for what a lot of it really is: nostalgia, not for the grittiness of outer-borough neighborhoods in decades past, but for experiencing the city as someone young and carefree,” she writes. Indeed, what’s not to miss about being carefree?)

Favilla is ultimately okay with the change in the neighborhood: she tells Bushwick Daily that “it's a stance I don't often see native New Yorkers take, and I realize it may be because many New Yorkers may not feel the same way I do, or at least not to the same extent — or maybe they're not comfortable admitting they feel this way as well, who knows — and of course that's all OK too.”

In her essay, she reminds us all that “It’s futile to resent people who pack up everything in pursuit of their dreams in this city; they don’t want to see longtime residents displaced, either.” Any transplant should be able to relate to this. It's universally horrible to think about gentrification in terms of the negative affects it has on long time residents who bear the brunt of its negative affects.

Finally, Favilla offers this important reminder: "This is no one's story but my own; every New Yorker is entitled to their opinion on Brooklyn's evolution and how it's affected them.”

Readers, if you enjoy Favilla’s piece, check out WNYC and The Nation’s new podcast collaboration, There Goes The Neighborhood. Bushwick Daily recently previewed it earlier this week. There's a lot to be said about this subject, and these are some people who are saying it well!

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