As in many parts of the city, in Greenpoint, it's in the industrial section where many condos are being built. The affluent are being drawn to the edge of the world, where the air smells like slaughterhouse and bricks tumble from crumbling walls. Viewed from Franklin, it is artful decrepitude (a boutique here even has the Terminal Warehouse printed on an American Apparel t-shirt). From the riverside, and up close, it's a bombed-out, dystopian setting where violence feels utterly possible.
Around the corner, a group of guys are drinking 40s, radios blaring from tricked-out cars. They watch a pair of artists spray-paint a memorial mural, an urban gravestone for two dead young men of color: Rest in Peace, it says, for D'Nice and Chunk. A grim reminder that not everyone here expects to survive to middle age.
The poor and the people of color exist on this edge--renters, unlike the Polish, they are being pushed out.
But can luxurification really happen in the shadow of burnt-out warehouses, in the deep hole of the New Depression? A hasty handwritten note replaces permits in a plexiglass box on the much-hyped Pencil Factory lofts: "Job site shut down 5/5/09."
There is a rat problem on gentrifying Franklin Street. Next to an outdoor cafe filled with baby strollers and lap dogs, flyers taped to lightpoles assert, "This is dangerous and unhealthy."
And, as anyone who's read New York Shitty knows, the place is dotted with dog shit.
But if you like the post-apocalyptic allure of the industrial landscape, where homeless men gather in dark corners down dead-end streets and pit bulls cavort off-leash, you'll enjoy this edge of Greenpoint. There is always interesting signage--Syrup of Figs refers to an ancient laxative. While you drink your latte, just close your eyes to the signs of despair.
What makes the three Greenpoints briefly touched on here (Manhattan Ave, Franklin St, and the industrial) so interesting is that, together, they illustrate a New York neighborhood in the midst of hyper-gentrification.
On Manhattan, you find the old neighborhood, a close community of Polish immigrants and small businesses. On Franklin, you find the pioneers of gentrification, the artists and intellectuals seeking affordable housing and a community of their own. You also find some of the neighborhood's poor, black, and Latino. Here, cropping up through the poverty, in the industrial despair, alongside those hipster pioneers, you find luxury condos that herald the future.
The drive of big development is to merge all three Greenpoints into one uniform culture--and it won't have spray-painted memorials, or quirky thrift shops, and it won't serve pierogis, unless they are "artisanal."
It happens so quickly now, that evolution to hyper-gentrification. It decimated the Meatpacking District and the Bowery in just five years. It has dramatically altered the sensibility of the East Village and made major inroads into Harlem. Williamsburg was gone in the blink of an eye.
If you want to see hyper-gentrification in action, go to Greenpoint. Get off the G train at Manhattan Ave, walk up the street, have a meal. Cross to Franklin and do the same. Then walk on West St. Don't talk on the cell phone or listen to your iPod. Really pay attention. You can't miss it.