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Hipsterless Brooklyn

Does gentrification always eat its own? A debate starring Barbara Corcoran.

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Last week, the Pratt Institute hosted a panel discussion on the future of the “creative class” in Brooklyn. Realtor-brand Corcoran, her pink lips and jacket aflame, and cowboy-booted developer David Walentas did battle against John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, a rent-stabilized Williamsburg musician, and Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future. Moderator Kurt Andersen (creatively clad in black) wanted to know: Is it inevitable that bohemians tart up a neighborhood with cool, only to get run out by the crass with cash?

“Neighborhoods . . . evolve,” said Walentas, who talks like Bob Evans and helped convert Soho before becoming what Andersen called the “enlightened despot” of Dumbo. “Not so many artists still live in Soho anymore. They can’t afford it. And that’s not a bad thing.”

Take Williamsburg—Flansburgh’s semi-toxic home since the early eighties. “For the first fifteen years, if someone under 40 got off the train, I’d be like, ‘Can we be friends?’ ” Now, of course, you’re lucky to see anybody over 40 on what he called the “clown alley” of Bedford Avenue. Corcoran had recently taken a cab out there and said the cabbie asked her, “You gonna buy something? You’d be the third person this week who went over to buy something for their kids.”

But can a real-estate frenzy be regulated away? Soho’s artist-only laws didn’t work very well. “We spent ten years giving people large canvases at closing, so they could look the part,” said Corcoran, who had sensibly arranged for piles of her self-help book, Use What You’ve Got, to be on sale in the lobby.

So what neighborhood will get gentrified next? Corcoran was up-front about her strategy: “I always find my leads by asking the waiter, who’s a creative type, and often from the gay community, where he has to live.”


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