Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Gut Renovation

A new film about gentrification questions the story of modern Brooklyn.

Fri, Apr 5, 2013, 11:11


Check out the trailer for Su Friedrich’s film ‘Gut Renovation’ about the gentrification of Williamsburg – a neighbourhood that depending on who you’re talking to or what you’re reading is an aspiration, punch-line, totally over, or like, whatever.

Brooklyn, a place so vast that if it was officially a city would be America’s fourth largest, has of course been a place of massive upheaval in the past three decades, with original residents – particularly African-Americans – gradually being edged out by a richer, whiter, more upwardly mobile demographics settling down in the trendy and more relaxed alternative to Manhattan’s manic and overpriced properties.

I was staying in Williamsburg recently with my friend Paul, also a filmmaker who has lived in the neighbourhood for years and gave me the heads up on this doc, and he was pointing out that Friedrich was of course accidentally in the vanguard of gentrification having moved there in 1989. She talks about artists as a migrant community and the popularity of Bushwick here. She currently lives in Bed Stuy, another stop on the seemingly endless line of Brooklyn’s gentrification, and thus becoming the causation as well as the observer in this cycle.

Gentrification is something of an alien concept to Irish people given our small urban population. The lack of sophistication in city planning, the lust for new developments over retaining and restoring existing ones, and the formerly prohibitively high commercial rents making independent trading very difficult, means that Dublin is devoid of loft apartments and renovated warehouses as living spaces. While artists and collectives have taken over old factories and warehouses turning them into studio spaces, they’re utilised as professional resources and occasionally spaces of leisure, but never for living. The cottages and terraces of Dublin 8 have been gentrified, the social housing bought out. But that’s really the only area that has become a neighbourhood (or a gaybourhood, more accurately) in the way that we conceive modern gentrification to be, from Brooklyn to Hackney to Kreuzberg.

As urban living increases, however, and a generation balks at the idea of moving out to the suburbs like their parents did, it’s interesting to wonder if indigenous communities in cities around the world will continue to be replaced by those who want to live more centrally following the artist->hipster->condo-developer trajectory, and whether the cycles of gentrification will increase, with the time it takes for a neighbourhood to become edgy, then gentrified, then sanitised, then comericialised, compressing.