On Monday, on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, Rosie Perez discussed the G word — gentrification — in Manhattan and in her childhood Brooklyn, specifically in Fort Greene and in Clinton Hill, where she now lives. You could say that Perez is on the anti-gentrification side of the ongoing citywide debate about how to preserve the old NYC while embracing the new. She complained that her neighbors don’t say hello to her. “When I walk out of my house, I used to know everyone on my block in Clinton Hill. I walk out there now, people move away from me because I’m a person of color and then once they recognize me, they go, oh. That’s a horrible feeling. That’s a feeling I didn’t grow up with,” she told Lehrer. This morning, at WNYC’s flashy new Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, the conversation continued, with Perez’s signature feistiness in full force. She hosted a broadcast debate in which community activists and city-landmark officials argued over the nature of this changing city. “Let me tell you, since I said that [on the radio], now everybody is saying hello to me,” she told her mostly amused audience (many of whom seemed to be from Fort Greene). “Be careful what you wish for.”
Perez got pretty slammed on the Brooklyn blogs for her comments. “As much as I find Rosie Perez to be a decent actor, sexy and certainly part of NYC’s charm, I must say comments like these make me want to kick her in the shins,” wrote one commenter on Brownstoner. We cornered Perez after the show, and she was happy to clear up what she worried was a hostile comment. “What I really wanted to say was that, yes, I’m nostalgic for the past, but I’m also excited about the present and hopeful for the future,” she explained. “Things do change. Water always has to flow or else it becomes stale. But with change, you can bring along some of the good minerals that came from the top of the waterfall.” She said she’d read some of the blogs and seen the nasty comments. “I think it’s their guilt of being the gentrifiers. They don’t know how to take it,” she said. “But I had to look at myself and I realized it came off a little hostile, to be honest.”
What Rosie meant to express was that the neighborhood has a growing sense of elitism. “I live in Clinton Hill. The gentrification is not only the mom-and-pop shops getting displaced, residents getting displaced, people getting priced out even of the Associated markets,” she said. “It’s the sense of entitlement that people bring with them to the neighborhood.” People seem to think since they’re paying a premium for the lovely neighborhood, they don’t have to say hello, and they should be able to rule the space. They’ll think to themselves, Perez groans, “‘This is our place in the park, I don’t care if you played soccer here, we want to put our baby strollers here.’ What? Excuse me? That is not the feeling of New York. That is why New York City is the only place where you can come, whether you’re gay, straight, transgender, freak, geek, and live a fairly decent life and not get killed. If you do get killed, it’s probably a tiny, tiny percentage because of the color of your skin or because you want to wear a pink tutu on your head. But if you do that in Arkansas, you might get killed. In NYC, your chances [of getting killed] are very slim because it’s called tolerance and respect for your fellow humans. And saying hello to your neighbor is a great start. Even if you’re in a bad mood, just give me a nod.”
Next time we’re in Clinton Hill, Ms. Perez is certainly getting a tip of our hat.