I like my neighborhood. When I moved to New York 10 years ago, I lived in the lily-whiteness of Park Slope for two years. I like the conveniences of being a five-minute walk from my favorite restaurants, the park, or my favorite bookstore. I hated being the only black girl and having to get on a train to get to a beauty supply store. So I moved to a bigger apartment and closer to the train on the black side of Brooklyn, where the bodega owner reminds me of my grandmother and chastens me to wear a warmer coat in the winter, where I can walk to one of many beauty supply stores (convenient as I do my own hair), and where I can find Caribbean food on demand, any day but Sunday.
Of course, I missed the convenience of my Park Slope restaurants and shops. And there’s a part of me that rejoices that some of those old comforts have finally hit my neighborhood, even if it took an influx of white faces to do so. The grocery store — a place that once smelled of cat urine, and where cardboard covered the sag in the linoleum floors — closed for renovation. When it re-opened, the sprinkler system over the vegetables thundered, there were options for organic cheese and a whole column for veggie food in the freezer aisle. It was also more expensive. Then a Dominican beauty salon closed, and quickly there was a hoity-toity restaurant selling pricey pizza from a wood burning stove. You can get a side of fries for an extra $10. (Across the street at Kennedy Fried Chicken, that $10 is two meals with change to spare.) One day, I came home to find two young officers stationed on the corner, the one by the liquor store where people would line up on Sundays waiting for it to open, where the guys liked to post up and alternately harass the women walking by or offer to help them with their bags, and where I could hit my block, spot the heroin addicts leaning, and immediately determine how good the package was that day. It’s been empty since the cops began patrol.
I like these changes, and I also resent them. I approach that empty corner, spot those officers, and think, “Wasn’t this neighborhood deserving of safe corners and a decent grocery store before the white people showed up?” I feel a bit guilty, too, for liking the new things and places that are not affordable, and hence not available in a neighborhood where the median household income in 2008 was $31,398.
I round the corner, headed to the spa/nail shop, another recent addition. I look at the bustling bodies on my block, faces I see at least once a week, people with names I’ll never know, kids I’ve watched grow from afar. I wonder how long they can afford to be here and how much longer it will be before all the traits I love about my neighborhood will be displaced along with its people.