HOW BROOKLYN'S MOST DIVERSE NEIGHBORHOOD IS GETTING A FACELIFT
Brooklyn has been in resurgence as of late, specifically, Sunset Park. The NY Times wrote an article about Sunset Park coming to grips with trendiness. Last year it was voted one of the top neighborhoods in the country. Ciaooo infiltrated the neighborhood to explore what makes this neighborhood, the "neighbahood" before it gets paved over.
(5 minute read)
Sunset Park is in flux right now.
On one side you've got the billion dollar waterfront facing complex "Industry City" home to a sprawling Japanese megamart reminiscent of "Eataly". On the other end you've got Anthony Bourdain's massive eatery in the Atlantic Yard in plans. Summer weekends are peppered with massive hipster day parties filled live DJs, craft beers and tatted chefs. Last year, the renovation of the NYC skyline facing Bush Terminal Park and a new Ferry stop have started culling more and more folks to the area. Headlines like these are like the conch call of young, hip, and predominantly wealthier class that makes up the gentrifying kind.
On the other end, you've got one of the most New York of neighborhoods - a series of immigrant enclaves from the Jews to the Puerto Ricans to the Chinese. It's places where the shops don't sell Cheerios, and walking down the street you'll hear three different languages at any given time. This is the real Sunset Park, and we're here to find the locals and discover what makes the place so New York before it gets dulled by the massive concrete corporations.
When I was growing up in Sunset Park between the years of 95-97 we lived in an apartment on the 4th floor, overlooking 4th avenue. It was a haven for a naive child, and a source of endless anxiety for an adult. Our neighbors had a knack for entrepreneurship, and every night, like clockwork, there’d be a holler at the window, and a mysterious package in the shape of a little white baggie thrown out the window.
The Sunset Park I knew then feels the same in some respects. The latino mom and pop shops on Fourth Avenue. Churros, mangos and elotes from a little lady on the corner of 45th and 4th avenue. The brownstone apartment buildings and public schools with chain link fences and a black, tar ground for a Soccer Field. Walk down to 8th avenue, and you’re haggling with fruit vendors in the middle of Brooklyn’s Chinatown. Head East and you’re in Boro Park, looking the best Rugelah in the windows in the densest Hasidic Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. A 30 minute walk and you’ve literally walked across three different worlds. No plane ticket or anything.
So with the conversation there's been a handful of people who can make it.
About two avenues from the 45th street stop on the R line, through the mix of industrial badlands and gentrifying multimillion complexes stands the BK Auto Complex. Most days a hodgepodge of smelted iron, dented fenders and if you’re lucky, a neon eggplant Lamborghini fresh off the car auction decorate the front of the auto repair shop.
I visit the shop to interview the owners, brothers Brian and Kenneth Lee and their two childhood best friends, Ricky Chou and Michael Lu to see what they're thoughts were on the changing neighborhood. They're car people. You know what I mean. When asked what their dream car is they'll casually mention "a 95 Maclaren Series V with 8 turbo engines, you know subtle but fancy".
They're also a bit of a rarity in NYC. They're locals. In a city most famous for it's transplants and immigrants, it seems the old school "New Yawker" has slowly been fading out to make way for the new generation of elite, millennial hipsters. They're still around though, you can hear their Brooklyn accents out the wazoo.
While the old school locals are shouting fury at the exorbitant rents, and the newbie hipsters are pushing for their organic, soy, lavender lattes (iced, obviously) the guys at BK Auto are simply going through their day to day, just like they did in this neighborhood for the past 20 something years. When asked what his thoughts were on gentrification, Michael laughs.
"It's good. I like gentrification. The value of your property goes up, and you get these little places popping up. Coffee costs $5.50 but at least I'm getting coffee that doesn't taste like shit."
Gentrification is shitty in most respects, but in defense of tattooed bartenders and anachronistic mustachioed baristas, I’ll rely on The Lion King, “It’s the Circle of Life”. If you wanna go ALL THE WAY BACK, Sunset Park was originally the land of the Canarsee Indians who sold (were tricked) it to the Dutch in 1640. Eventually the land shifted hands and became an enclave for Scandinavians from Finland and Norway and then, the Irish and Italians in the 1970’s. Following that it was the Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and finally, in the 80’s the Cantonese Chinese. Every neighborhood has it's cycles.
"If you walk around, there’s still remnants of the old neighborhood - there's still the Norwegian Club and old people sitting outside."
But back to our pals at BK Auto Complex. They’re still in the place that feels very much like Sunset Park, the industrial warehouses, the long avenues and the grey, forlorn look of weathered brick. This is the type of neighborhood you'd expect some back alley deal to take place, and yet, just one block away stands the new multi million dollar Bush Terminal Park and a newly installed ferry stop that cuts the commute for Brooklynites from 35 minutes to 14, for the same price as a Metrocard Swipe. It's insane.
Sunset Park is hitting puberty, everyone.
There's tangible shifts in the neighborhood, and it's worth exploring and going for a walk through the old neighborhood. From 7th - 8th avenues it'll be Chinese and 6th to 4th Latino. From 3rd and down, you'll see the gentrification hit. It's beautiful, and what NYC is about. The different languages and people and colors all living blocks from one another. Has Sunset Park found a happy medium yet? Nope. It feels like Cuba before they opened up all the tourism, and part of it is still safe from disneyfication. You'll still find the little elements and it's definitely worth a day trip for tacos, for dim sum or dinner, for walking, a lot and discovering an old, new neighborhood. For realizing that banh mi or noodles should never cost$12 for a bun. You know there's a place here that sells tacos for $1.75? Geez.