Former “shock trooper of gentrification” reflects on nine years as a white chick in Bed-Stuy, rehabbing a crack house, and the sweeping changes overtaking the neighborhood.

Helping with demo.

For an artsy white girl from the Midwest who spent years on pastoral college campuses, then went to Columbia for grad school, Bed-Stuy was a bit of a culture shock. I’m shy and like anonymity. Being a white trust fund baby in the middle of a black ghetto can be many things: absurd, alienating, humbling, eye-opening– but it’s rarely anonymous. You’re in a place, but never of it.  Here I chronicle life as outside observer, a space alien trying to find her bearing among Earthlings, marveling at things the humans take for granted. I try to share the beauty, the vitality, and the contradictions of this community.

I came to Brooklyn from the Upper West Side in 2000, when Bed-Stuy was already poised on the brink of gentrification. Initially, I stayed with my then-boyfriend D. (whose alley I’m helping clear out in the photo above.) D was a real urban homesteader, living in a former garment warehouse on a desolate industrial block strewn with used condoms and crack vials.  Luckily, he was also a genius designer-builder. I myself was a comparative latecomer to the neighborhood.  In February 2001, I bought a beautiful but derelict brownstone two blocks away and we began a years-long labor of love– first making it habitable, then restoring it to its full Victorian glory. Along the way, I saw my block and the surrounding neighborhood change… almost, but not quite, beyond recognition. For the first time, I’m anonymous. an unobserved observer.

In addition to erstwhile Urban Homesteader, I’m a librarian-in-training, an opera librettist, a quiet provocateur, and a cat-lover.


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