Gentrified areas have better coffee shops. It’s a fact. It’s the most basic metric of gentrification. As the gentry arrive, they bring with them their caffeine fix. A fix unsatisfied by the lukewarm dirt water served at most bodegas. But its not just about the coffee. Starbucks proved that. Its is about the atmosphere. The communal meeting point where people can gather in a relaxed atmosphere to talk, removed of the flies and stray cats of the typical slummy deli. Much like the agoras of ancient Greece, civilization thrives when community members have a place to meet and interact.
And Bed-Stuy, my current living location, could learn a few things from Starbucks and the Greeks. The infrastructure and layout of Bed-Stuy is no different from other parts of the city. Apartment blocks, storefronts, parks, “walk-up” brownstones with the quintessential New York fire escape, it is all there. So what is missing, Why is the area still not one which people flock to when looking for apartments? Why the fuck can I not get a decent coffee? This is the basis for exploration and investigation. Can neighborhood perception, pride, and responsibility be transformed through quality espresso?
Yes. Espresso. Coffee even. Coffee is the problem and the answer.
Background of Bed-Stuy
Reputations typically stem from patterns, and Bed-Stuy is no different. This Brooklyn area, which has spawned more than its fair share of famous rappers, has an unofficial motto of “Bed-Stuy, Do or Die”. Not the most welcoming place, and one which the NYPD designates as an “Impact Zone”, meaning its requires a significantly increased police presence to keep the peace.
But what if the answer is easier than that. What the real answer is no more time put in by the boys in blue, but more time put in by the residents, in cafes. Again, coffee IS that answer.
Coffee shops provide a feeling of safety. A feeling which resonates in the surrounding area. Its well documented that a higher density of coffee shops is found in areas with a higher scores in the “feelings of safety” in the US Census.
So, espresso is really the key. If you have secure gathering place, where people want to congregate and relax you are creating a more socially oriented community. The ability naturally facilitate social interaction is what makes up the urban fabric. This although most of America seems to have forgotten is what makes a community. The ability to interact with your fellow citizens. Discuss news, talk about the presidential debate, who cares what is being discussed, the value here is on exchange. With exchange ideas interchanged and contributes to the health of the city. Social interaction and exchange is a leading competitive advantage for the city.
Community Residents vs. Community Members
What Bed-Stuy needs is more community members, not merely people who reside there. The most widely recognized catalyst for this transition has historically been…coffee. Coffee creates the trickle down effect every community needs. If a community cares enough to demand a decent cup, that is a community that cares enough to make real changes.
As Malcolm Gladwell famously outlined in his book “Outliers” it is a broken window theory. If you let small details slip, such as allowing graffiti to go unchecked, then the whole community will slowly devolve into more serious crime and disrepair. A similar route is true on the other end. A community focused enough on small details, especially coffee, will bring with it larger issues, eventually lowering crime rates, lowering drop-out rates, and reducing the number of sexually transmitted diseases. In the end, this leaves all participants with a higher value community, one which people would love to call home.
If people really care about their situation, they can take steps to improve it. It is not easy, but effort over time shares. Will every single member of a community contribute to it, no. But some will. Change Agents as they are sometimes called, whatever label you give them, they increase and maintain the value of the community.
So how can we change Bed-Stuy (and all under-serviced areas?) Action. Bitching about the espresso. Demanding a higher quality of not only coffee, but life.
Gentrification means to renovate or improve. Not kick someone out of the neighborhood. Lets not make gentrification a term that is synonymous as being evil. Its improving an area or a community for a better life.
Gentrification happens when an neighborhood falls into neglect. Eventually a developer or city planner will make improvements, and then people later bitch about the neighborhood being “gentrified”, well if you take care of your place, your stoop, your street, you will live in a better place and rather than being against it, you can become part of it.
And enjoy some great coffee in the process.
Outdoor Pop-Up Espresso Party: October 13, 2012. Patchen Ave & Sumpter St.
High quality Italian Espresso will be for sale. The event is also open for anyone interested in talking about past stories or new ideas on making Bed-Stuy a more liveable community. Event starts at 11:oo am.
Closest subway station is the UTICA on the A,C, & E line.
Proceeds from the event will be used to plant new flower beds around the trees on Patchen Street.