The Fall and Rise of Brooklyn
By BETH HARPAZ
Now that Brooklyn is a global brand symbolizing all things cool and trendy, it may be hard to remember an era when it was known mainly for its working-class culture and ethnic enclaves.
A book by two professors from CUNY’s New York City College of Technology, Benjamin Shepard and Mark J. Noonan, documents this transformation. In Brooklyn Tides: The Fall and Rise of a Global Borough, the authors explore what’s been gained in this story of urban revitalization, but also what’s been lost as gentrification prices out the poor, and mom-and-pop shops give way to Starbucks.
The title Brooklyn Tides offers an apt metaphor for these changes, but it also refers to a poem by Walt Whitman. Shepard said he was talking to his co-author “about the changing nature of the waterfront — what are the tides rolling through Brooklyn?” when Noonan mentioned Whitman’s famous poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” The poem describes the “flood-tide” and “ebb-tide” of waves on the East River, along with the flow of humanity over time.
Shepard said that as people move in and out, and cultural and economic changes unfold, “you have this constant sense of Brooklyn trying to become something, but also gradually losing something.” In some neighborhoods, community gardens thrive; in others they are bulldozed to make way for luxury condos. Shepard celebrated the defeat of a proposal to build a Walmart in Brooklyn. But he also notes that his students cannot afford to live near their school.
“Brooklyn is a really contested space,” he said. “These are the dilemmas one feels constantly.”
What’s the book’s takeaway? Trends like gentrification “aren’t just immovable forces out of our hands,” he said. “We can actually have an impact. You often think there’s nothing you can do. What we’re trying to say is, this history of Brooklyn suggests there’s a lot we can do.”
Shepard and Noonan will speak about the book Oct. 17 at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Explore This Work
Brooklyn Tides: The Fall and Rise of a Global Borough
Columbia University Press/Transcript-Verlag, 2018
Colleges and Schools
New York City College of Technology