"The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification, Renovation and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar Brooklyn"
Lecture by Suleiman Osman, PhD, George Washington University
The National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
6:30 P.M. – light refreshments, 7:00 P.M. – lecture
Reservations are not required. $10.00 for Latrobe Chapter members, student members (full time) free with ID, $18.00 for non-members.
The gentrification of Brooklyn has been one of the most striking developments in recent urban history. Considered a “blighted” slum by city planners in the 1940s and 1950s, Brownstone Brooklyn by the 1980s had become a landscape of hip bars, yoga studios, and expensively renovated townhouses in new neighborhoods with creative names like “Boerum Hill” and “Carroll Gardens.” In his recently published work The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, Suleiman Osman locates the origins of gentrification in the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. Starting in Brooklyn Heights in the 1940s, a new urban middle class (or “brownstoners” as they referred to themselves) began to migrate into Brooklyn’s brownstone areas, purchasing and renovating aging townhouses. Where postwar city leaders championed slum clearance and modern architecture, "brownstoners" sought a new romantic urban ideal that celebrated historic buildings, industrial lofts and traditional ethnic neighborhoods as source of authenticity they felt was lacking in new suburbs and downtown skyscrapers. They started new reform democratic organizations, founded block associations and joined forces with long-time residents to battle urban renewal. But as brownstoners migrated into poorer areas, race and class tensions emerged, and by the 1980s, as newspapers parodied yuppies and anti-gentrification activists marched through increasingly expensive neighborhoods, brownstoners debated whether their search for authenticity had been a success or failure.