When the new neighbors are too shiny


Our town reservoir

By Caitlin Kelly

Oh, this essay!

I loved every word of it, marinated in nostalgia — but not really nostalgia because the author, Jeremiah Moss, still lives in the place, New York’s East Village, whose massive changes he mourns.

An excerpt, originally published in n + 1:

The mothers are coming up the stairs. Holding the hands of their adult children. Daughters, mostly, and one hesitant son. Asking questions like, “Is the neighborhood safe?” The real estate agent, in his starched white shirt and slick hair, replies, “The East Village used to have quite a reputation fifteen, twenty years ago, but now it’s totally safe.” Or did he say totally tame? As in domesticated, subjugated, a wild horse broken. I am listening from inside my apartment, ear pressed to the gap where door doesn’t quite meet jamb, looking through the peephole, trying to see who my new neighbors might be, knowing they’ll be the same as all the rest. Young and funded, they belong to a certain type: utterly unblemished, physically fit, exceptionally well dressed, as bland as skim milk and unsalted saltine crackers. “I work on Wall Street,” I hear one of them call to the real-estate agent. “Awesome!” the agent replies.

They didn’t used to be here.

came in the early 1990s because it made sense for me to be here. I was a young, queer, transsexual poet, and where else would a young, queer, transsexual poet go but to the East Village? Back then the neighborhood still throbbed with its hundred years of counterculture, a dissident history going back to the early anarchists and feminists, up through the bohemians and Beats, the hippies and punks, the poets, queers, and transsexuals too. I had a pair of combat boots and an elite liberal arts education, thanks to a full ride of grants and work-study programs, but not much money.

This is so evocative and, if you know Manhattan, and especially its East Village, it will strike a powerful chord in you as well.

Sadly, it’s really not a place that tourists visit.

Why would they?

It’s residential. Not shiny. Not glossy. Not especially Instagram-able.

Long blocks filled with narrow buildings, walk-ups to tenement-style apartments.

This isn’t the cool, trendy West Village, full of investment bankers and their very thin, very blond stay at home wives and international clothing brands like Reiss and Scotch & Soda.

I’ve always loved the quieter, battered East Village, wandering and taking photos, stopping for a coffee.

And I really hear him — because the town I chose decades ago has also massively gentrified, becoming much trendier than when I moved here. We now have two coffee shops and two gyms, beyond the worn-out Y.

We even have a Japanese restaurant where we watched an angelic 27-month-old with her mother happily slurping her miso soup in silence.



A shop on our Main Street, interior


I joke — not really — that it’s become all Mini Coopers and man-buns. Now it also contains women wearing those shearling boot/clogs and artisanal scarves and driving pastel Fiats and married to guys with turned-up cuffs on their dark rinse jeans.

The cool kids priced out of Park Slope, Brooklyn have stampeded north to our funky little river town, the one whose volunteer fire department — still — is summoned by a series of specific fog-horn blasts.

Alma Snape florists is now an art gallery.

Mrs. Reali’s dry cleaners, with the dead ficus tree in the window, is now a photographer specializing in wedding and engagement and baby photos.

The former antiques mall, stretching way back from Main Street, is a gourmet shop and restaurant run by a former Manhattan photographer — one we enjoy, but where we also saw three people, in one day, read the menu and say out loud: “This is too expensive.”

Ours was once a town of battered Saturns and Corollas and Buicks.

Now there are Mercedes and even a Maserati and a Lamborghini.

Like Moss, I stare and think — who are these people?


16 thoughts on “When the new neighbors are too shiny

  1. I kind of get what you’re getting at. There are a few neighborhoods that have gentrified while I’ve lived here in Columbus. The areas around Ohio State’s campus have changed significantly: all these old buildings and shops have been replaced with these fancy metal-and-glass buildings. The place I used to live is no longer there, and last I checked, they’re building modernized apartments there. I couldn’t afford to live there as a student if I were going to school now. It would be in a dorm or a very long commute. Not sure I could afford to live there now.
    A bit further south is the Short North area, which has become one of the trendiest shopping and dining places in Columbus. However, it’s extremely expensive to live there, many old buildings have been or are being replaced (traffic is a nightmare there), and some people in the surrounding neighborhoods are worried about being priced out of their homes.
    At the same time, some areas seem like there’s only benefits to change. There are a bunch of new building being put up near where I live, on land that used to be an infamous apartment complex where police visited daily and a dead body was once found. The library here is modernized and beautiful, and has become something of a community landmark. And there’s a new microbrewery that I can attest to being a wonderful place to buy a drink.
    I haven’t heard a single complaint.
    So I guess in some places, all these changes can come with pros and cons. While in others, it’s just giving the neighborhood some new life.

  2. in most places, things change and ‘mutate’ over the years and in the flow, something is always lost, never to be the same again. sometimes it moves so slowly that you hardly notice, and then someone pauses one day, collects their thoughts, looks around at the loss of the familiar, the comfort, and notices that it is not even the same place at all anymore. here, I’ve noticed the loss of the unique small businesses and cafes, to make way for more upscale stores and restaurants.
    the buildings are not quirky and old with their own sense of charm, once the land they sit on becomes more valuable than the building that sits on it. when replaced, the new structures tend to be build in a vertical fashion, clean and trendy, but with no heart.

    1. Our town has. so far remained very much as it was visually, at least downtown, because anything shiny new is going to be 10000% at odds with its Victorian architecture, especially on our main street — which you can see in films like Mona Lisa Smile and The Good Shepherd and the HBO TV series Divorce. The visual uniformity (and charm) works (for now!) to our advantage.

  3. People are resistant to change unless that’s the change they want. Weaverville,, NC, the town where I live, is just the same. In the twenty five years I have lived here, the changes have been profound and lots of people don’t like them. The traffic is a lot crazier and the cars that make it up are generally more expensive, even mine. Our small downtown contains only a few of the same businesses that were there when I first arrived, and the newer ones are decidedly more upscale. Two cups of the daily grind, with a refill, and an everything bagel with butter cost just north of eight bucks, so say ten with a decent tip. That’s a bit stiff if it all tastes the same to you, but no one said everyone has to drink it and no one ever said you couldn’t look down your nose at those who do. Some rules are just unenforceable.
    Weaverville is my hometown, but it doesn’t belong to me. It took a little while for me to fit in, but not too long. I’m a fair bit more worldly than most of the true natives, but my roots are in these mountains so I never really felt like I didn’t belong. I don’t want anyone to feel that way.
    My shiny new neighbors, three houses up the hill, are a married couple from California. She’s a writer and he’s a jazz drummer. They’re lovely and they make Weaverville a nicer place by being here. I think we should all be trying for that, no matter how long we have been here.
    I’ve heard it said that America is becoming less of a melting pot and more of a salad bar. I can see that. The blame for that, I believe, lies with the ones who demand inclusion in the places where they want to go, but insist upon the right to exclude those they don’t care for. Really, though, that attitude hasn’t changed much. People of color, people not of color (Ain’t splittin’ that hair today, thank you) aging white hippies with dreadlocks, fresh young hipsters with man buns, gluten phobic moms, whose unfortunate children may never know the joy of eating the tough, chewy rind of crust on a well made pizza,, punk rockers and bluegrass pickers have all felt out of place somewhere, and it wasn’t their fault.
    No matter where you live,, change is coming. You can swim with the tide or you can drown in it.
    One last thing: I’ve heard a lot of complaining about this thing and that from long time locals, but nobody complained when the new Wal-Mart opened, and we can thank the out-of- state population explosion for that.

    1. I am not per se disturbed by the newcomers — they are much more my style (young, hip, urban) than the Tarrytown of old, among whose natives I will never feel at home.

      I am more bemused by the influx of such wealth (a MASSIVE Cadillac SUV parked at the YMCA [?!] this morning) and wonder what on earth these people do to earn so much money — and why choose our town? There are MUCH wealthier towns near us (Chappaqua, where the Clintons live) or Bedford (Martha Stewart) or Rye or Scarsdale or Bonxville — some with a median income of $250,000, far above ours.

      1. Weaverville is a beautiful place. I understand why lots of rich people want to live here. Asheville is super hip and it’s ten miles away. The weather’s nice most of the time and even the natives have become significantly less restless. I attribute this to the generally friendly disposition of the newcomers. I’m sure it’s not all of them, but it’s never really all of anyone, is it?

      2. For our town it’s economics (Brooklyn got expensive and our town costs less), proximity to Manhattan for quick/easy commutes (38 minute express train) and beauty (the Hudson Valley, historic architecture.) Our town has a lot going for it.

      3. We do too, so the real estate market is blazing hot. Our house, probably the last good deal in town, has doubled in value and then some. That was something to consider when we were talking about maybe relocating. Now that we’re not, it’s still a pretty solid investment.

  4. Oh, and the essay was beautifully written, even though it positively stank of entitlement and self-pity. He talks about new people glued to their phones, ignoring him. Does he know what they’re ignoring? Maybe it’s his hostility. I might be wrong about this, but I didn’t read anything about these people that was good. If I said “Please don’t you be my neighbor” (The title of the essay) to the first black family to move into my neighborhood,what would that say about me? He’s got a way with words and no doubt, but his words show me he’s just like some xenophobic redneck out in the boonies.
    I read another bit a few years ago by a woman who longed for the days of sweathog era Brooklyn. She reminisced about the crime and the garbage everywhere, and how her grandmother grew tomatoes in the vacant lot next door, but never got to eat them because the subhuman rabble, I mean the boisterous exuberant children, would pick them and throw them against the wall. Real nice. Then someone moves in with the temerity to sweep off their stoop and suddenly they’re what’s wrong with the world.
    Our essayist “Mourns simple intimacies” like they’re going extinct. Intimacy doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. It’s built on a foundation of mutual goodwill and trust. If you want that then you have to make an effort. If you don’t care enough to make that effort, then shut up about it, you’re bothering the Humans.
    I’ve been going to therapy for twenty years and some few months and I say without fear that, for a psychoanalyst, this dude sure doesn’t know much about people. Does he really think no one who is moving into his building has any bruises or scars? Sorry, but I think he has a problem with making new friends. Maybe he should talk to someone. WHEE!

  5. Oh, absolutely. He certainly made it clear to me. That said, I would never dispute his right to like what he likes, regardless of what I think. It goes hand in hand with my right to think what I think, regardless of what he likes. And yes, I would help him push his car out of the ditch if he got stuck.
    I hope your STEM article is going well, by the way.

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