Witnessing Revolution and Renaissance.

I was asked to write about a revolution or social change that I was a part of (and maybe didn’t know at the time) as a prompt for a writing group I’ve joined. I thought this was a fascinating question to ask, because haven’t we all been a part of a major change in some way or another? As Annie (the woman who was running the group) put it: “I was alive at a time when the president of the United States was black and the number one rap artist was white.”

Annie gave us ten minutes to write after showing us another example of what she meant: A hand written account of a gay man who wrote about going to the Stonewall inn back in the early 80’s. What an account! This was someone who was writing about what life was like for the LGBT community which was finding a home and community at the Stonewall Inn in a society that unabashedly hated them for who they were. He was at the Stonewall right as the riots began.

I got to thinking of the revolutions and changes I’m living through that give my voice and eyewitness account meaning in years to come…. As pictures flood the media and Facebook and twitter keep up to date reactions to life’s top stories, it seems that the only unique thing is to be as honestly me as I can be. What did I think? Where was I when it happened? What was I doing?

I looked around at the group of women in my writing circle when we were given the prompt. Annie said we had ten minutes and we needed to start: now. Every woman scratched her head and began to write. My mind went immediately to the uniqueness of being a native New Yorker witnessing the change in the city I grew up in first hand.

I remember I was walking out of the G train station (not too long ago) and into the heart of Bed-Sty. “Bed Sty Do Or Die” was the name my friends and I called the neighborhood growing up. I never went on the G train as a kid. My dad always said that subway line was the harbinger of the last throws of the New York City that would make Batman gulp (the city from the big bad 80’s and 90’s). Why would I ever get on the G? I was a middle class, Upper West Side Manhattan white girl and my whole life growing up was the red 1 train or the occasional trips of the yellow line to Coney Island.

Rappers were born in Bed Sty. Murders happened in Bed Sty. It was said that you passed through Hart and Throop streets if you were a bullet. Race riots and gang wars and cop sirens happened in Bed Sty: not white girls.

So, coming out of the G train I felt all of this weight on my shoulders. Like, I knew with every step I took up to the street, that I was the wave of gentrification. I was there to meet my black friend, Cheryl, at her newly renovated apartment to smoke some weed and then walk around Brooklyn. Had someone told me they were going to do that ten years ago I would have gotten very worried about their potential future as a functional human being. Bed Sty was the murder capital of the United States when I was a kid. Yet, here I was years later walking into a neighborhood where an apartment recently sold for a million dollars (one of the highest purchases the area has ever seen). There are cafes moving in, white people on their iPhones walking through the neighborhood with an artisan wrap clutched in their left hand. And I was no different. I was there visiting a friend. I was the Upper West Side deciding it was totally cool to go and take a romp through the heart of Brooklyn.

My city is now completely different than it was when I was growing up. Its bigger, cleaner, richer, louder, more crowded, more expensive, and more of a place full of opportunity than ever before. Witnessing the revitalization of it has been a wonder. Yet, I read about where the people who used to live in these places go. It seems that the shelters are seeing wave after wave of families who can’t afford their rent. Large swaths of the city are becoming too expensive for poorer communities. Even the rents I was looking at when I got back to the city a few years ago are laughable now. “$750 a month for a bedroom?! Get fucked! I’m not paying more than 650!” Now it’s more like 850/mo and you’re lucky to find that. I cannot believe the prices of rent here!

Given the fact that I lived here at a time when you couldn’t pay someone to live in certain areas that are now charging upwards of 1300 bucks a month for a room in an apartment there, I feel blown away at the change. I am witness to the renaissance of New York City: and what a thing to see.

July 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm by Natalie Allen