[UPDATE: Please read editor’s note regarding the use of 2000 Census Data in this article and an attached apology.]
Since mid-summer I started noticing tags like the one on the above photo popping up in Bushwick and on trains. The notion that Bushwick is gentrifying is so ubiquitous that it’s mentioned on the first line of its Wikipedia page. As a fairly new resident to Bushwick, I can’t help but wonder if I am also contributing to gentrification, simply by residing here.
The common consensus seems to be that Bushwick is in fact gentrifying, but what does that really mean? Is it simply a matter of “White Bodies” moving into Bushwick causing minorities to be pushed out? While the collective voices seem to answer back with a resounding “YES,” I believe I would be doing my community, my neighbors, my new home, a disservice if I didn’t take a closer look at this pressing issue from a more objective perspective. I decided to undertake this task by examining U.S. and local census data that show the population trends over the past decades.
But first, a personal experience on gentrification.
“I’m not new to gentrification.”
Less than a year ago I left San Francisco, as many have in the past few years, as rent inflation reached its historical high. Those of us who could stay afloat a while longer, watched our friends and those who fell on the lower end of the economic scale being pushed out, and quickly replaced with new businesses and condo developments.
With the exodus of the bohèmes, hipsters, weekend warriors, the establishments they frequented began disappearing with them. Within a couple of years, the cultural landscape had changed– vastly–it was no longer my San Francisco. So while I am new to Bushwick, I’m not new to gentrification.
After pressure from my landlord, coupled with dissatisfaction for the new culture taking form, I decided to make a jump to Brooklyn, NY – specifically, Bushwick.
A few months later, a friend sent me a Craigslist post for the unit below the one I had left in San Francisco with the same floor layout. The unit had been “remodeled” with a coat of paint and the rent raised nearly 33% since the previous year.
Point is, I’m sensitive to the grievances caused by gentrification. In San Francisco, we liked to blame the Googelites and Techies herding in from Silicon Valley, but the fact was, and still is, that gentrification is a complex social and economic dynamic with no single cause.
Just like we did, the individual(s) whose tags now brandish public, private and federal property with hashtags and fiery accusations has placed the blame on a single demographic as the cause of gentrification to our community.
During such a volatile national atmosphere in the face of race and ethnic relations, my biggest worry is blame being placed on a single demographic for the woes caused by gentrification in Bushwick. It’s much easier to demonize a single ambiguous “them” as the perpetrators, rather than criticizing the multifaceted dynamics that surround gentrification.
But like any good skeptic, I decided to give the notion its day and did some of my own research into the changing demographic landscape in Bushwick.
What are the numbers saying?
Above graph shows the top five ethnic groups populating Community District 4 (Bushwick) according to 2012 Brooklyn Neighborhood Report released by the American Community Survey in 2012 for 2000 to 2009, showing mostly an increase to the top ethnic group populations.
The above graph shows percentages for the top three races in Bushwick from 2000 to 2007/09. (Source: 2012 Brooklyn Neighborhood Report )
Similarly, the graph above reflects the data from the U.S. Census Bureau report for 2000 – 2010 available on the NYC Department of City Planning website. The graph indicates a rising trend in the number of Hispanic residents; a descending trend in the number of Black/African American Nonhispanic resident, and an inconsistent trend for White Nonhispanic residents.
This graph seems to point towards a conclusion that the larger race groups are unaffected by whether more or less White Nonhispanics move to Bushwick and the trends for both Hispanic and Black/African American Nonhispanics have remained consistent throughout the 20-year period.
However, today, Bushwick has more residents in total than it has ever before. Throughout the period from 2000 to 2010, the population has increased by 7.9% to a total of 112,634 residents.
The above graph is important because it illustrates how the population has changed with the change in the number of total residents in Bushwick.
The near consistent percentage of Hispanic residents indicates that the Hispanic demographic has grown nearly at the same rate as the total population growth of Bushwick. As the entire pie becomes larger every year, the percentage of the pie that the Hispanic group has dibs on stays the same, but their portion of the pie nonetheless is bigger in terms of physical size.
Similarly, as the population of Bushwick increases, the population of Black/African American Nonhispanics seems to not be keeping up with the population increase. Less than 3,000 residents in this group have left Bushwick during the 20-year period even though it would appear that by percentage this population group has dropped by almost one fifth.
In conclusion, the Hispanic and the White Nonhispanic groups seem to be outpacing the Black/African American Nonhipanic community in keeping up with population growth, with White Nonhispanics having the largest shifts in terms of population percentage.
For me, this shakes up the argument that ‘White Bodies’ seem to be replacing minorities, specifically the Black community; but instead, something else is driving out the Black community and the other groups are quick to take up the new vacancies.
So who is leaving Bushwick?
The economic crisis during the late 2000s likely displaced mostly those who fell at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder; which, unfortunately, due to institutional practices, are more often the minorities. Therefore, minorities are generally the first ones to be displaced during economic downturns.
It was interesting to find that the Hispanic community in Bushwick didn’t experience a decrease in their numbers during the economic crisis, even though a report by the Pew Research Center on Hispanic Trends shows that the Great Recession hit the U.S. Latin/Hispanic population hardest. From 2006 to 2010, the poverty rate of Hispanics rose “six percentage points – more than any other group – from 20.6% to 26.6%. By contrast, poverty rates among whites increased from 8.2% to 9.9%. And among blacks, poverty rates increased by 24.3% to 27.4%,” states the report.
So who is leaving Bushwick? My first thought was that the demographic that had decreased the most (Black/African-American Nonhispanic) probably had a large elderly population who were moving out of Bushwick to the homes of relatives, to facilities for the elderly outside of Bushwick, or may have passed away during the ten years after 2000.
But instead, the U.S. Census report showed the opposite–there had actually been an increase in Black/African American Nonhispanic, but exclusively for 18+ year olds by 623 new Bushwick residents (3.8%). But astoundingly, the Black/African American Nonhispanic population under 18 years old saw a decrease by 2,773 (-33.45%)!
The obvious question is where all of our Black/African American children are? I can only speculate, but the evidence seems to suggest that on a state and national scale, Black and African Americans are having fewer children, even though the reasons seem unclear as to why.
So if it’s not the invasion of the “White Bodies” displacing minorities from renting in Bushwick, then what is happening to Bushwick? With the influx of young professionals moving into our neck of the woods, many of which are coming from Manhattan to find a less economically oppressive living situation, maybe we should start looking a little bit closer at the landlords and the rent regulations they have to follow.
This may be news to many, but in the final months of this year, it will be the first time in Bushwick’s history that landlords are ordered to not raise rent for new 1-year leases on rent stabilized units. This is especially important during a time of accelerated housing development, some of which are being scrutinized for dubious practices and promises, such as the developers for the new Rheingold Luxury Condos. Sadly, this relief may come too little too late to our neighbors whose housing has to accommodate for their families during a time of extreme wealth inequality.
Where do we go from here?
For many of us who live in Bushwick, we know why we love living here. And word of mouth is only going to lure more people to Bushwick. Is Bushwick gentrifying because of this? Yes, let’s not kid ourselves. But how it is gentrifying doesn’t have to be up to one group or the other. Maybe we need to redefine what gentrification is. But most importantly, we need to understand that gentrification can’t be blamed on the people who occupy a community, because they are the community. But what we can blame are laws and regulations that force groups to conform, comply, and ultimately marginalize any group over another.