Urban originals

It Istanbul Spice Marketwould have been great to visit the Egyptian Spice Market in Istanbul with my old friend Stephen Lewis, whose knowledge that city runs deep and long. But I was just passing through the Old City by chance, waylaid en route from Sydney to Tel Aviv, and Stephen was still in Sofia, which he also knows deeply and well.

But I still enjoyed his company vicariously, though his remarkable photography, such as the shot on the right, explained in his blog post, Exuberance or Desperation? Street Vendor, Rear Wall of Egyptian Spice Market, Eminönü, Istanbul, Anno 2000. Stephen’s tags — Film-based Photography, Infrastructure, Istanbul, Public Space, Rolleiflex 6x6cm, Street Commerce, Turkey, Urban Dynamics — expose the depth and range of his knowledge and expertise on all those matters, about which he blogs at Bubkes.org.

His two prior posts, also featuring Istanbul, are Unkapani Before the Construction of the Golden Horn Metro Bridge: A Declining Neighborhood Perched Atop a Major Infrastructural Improvement and Urban Back Streets: End of Day, Samatya Quarter, Istanbul.

Before that, is Brooklyn, Late Spring: Blossoms in the Midst of a Cold Spell. There he writes,

The photos above, below, and linked to via the Read More button at the bottom of this entry, were taken during a late-day stroll in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights and a mid-day walk from Park Slope to Boerum Hill, a couple of miles to the west.  On most grounds, economic and social, I oppose the rampant gentrification that has pushed out non-white, lower-income, and gray-haired New Yorkers from swaths of northern Brooklyn.  However, when I see the revived and manicured beauty of such neighborhoods my opposition momentarily softens … that is, until I remember that, given the pace and expanse of gentrification, ordinary New Yorkers will soon be forced to live so far from the city’s lovely historic neighborhoods that they will rarely have the opportunity, time, or means to visit them.

This hits home in a literal way for me. My ancestors on the Searls side (half of which originated via German and Irish immigration) lived in New York for generations. And I am currently domiciled, at least part of the time, in a district of far-northern Manhattan that remains, as @ChrisAnnade, puts it, “Starbucks-free.” It is a high-character neighborhood of Orthodox Jews and Spanish-speaking immigrants, mostly from the Dominican Republic. It’s an inexpensive part of the city, where commercial establishments are mostly of the non-chain type and sky-bound rents are not yet the norm. But it’s nice enough that I suspect things will change as the neighborhood gets “discovered” by people with more money or fame than those who already live there.

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2 Responses to Urban originals

  1. Many thanks for the re-posting of my photograph and the kind reference to my recent blog entries. Starbucks openings might not be keeping apace with the process, but gentrification of the upper reaches of Harlem and the lower reaches of Washington Heights is well underway. The Dominican population of the neighborhood is less dense than it was one and two decades ago. As it peaked, landlords began to “warehouse” vacant apartments in expectation of future windfalls through “co-oping.” Now in face of the shortage of rental dwellings in New York City, landlords are pouring warehoused apartments back into the rental market. Signs announcing apartments for rent abound in the neighborhood and, in buildings where long-term tenants pay $500.00 to $1,000.00 per month for large apartments, new offerings go for $2,000.00 to $3,000.00 and even far more per month. That the neighborhood is gentrifying is no surprise: prime housing stock along excellent subway connections and close to river views. Gentrification has progressed in a pincer movement from Harlem to the south and the reaches of Washington Heights adjacent to Fort Tryon Park in the North. Starbucks, by the way, is an outdated indicator of gentrification in New York, individually owned coffee shops have taken their place, one of the few positive sides of present-day gentrification. My own measure of gentrification is the seeming sudden appearance on the streets of overwhelming numbers of loud nasal-speaking young white girls dressed in jogging shorts and halters and oblivious to the presence longer-term residents, of young white couples pushing baby carriages (whose newly bought apartments or brownstone townhouses are paid for out of the pockets of well-heeled “moms” and “dads” in whatever suburbs or mid-western town they come from), of new stores selling “artisinal” this and “craft” that, and of restaurants where customers who have sufficient disposable cash can dine rather than eat.

  2. Bradley says:

    Hey Doc, the link to bubkes website actually links to bubkes.com and it should be .org.

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