From the far south side of Williamsburg, under the bridge and all the way to the tip of Greenpoint, this year’s New York City Marathon was one big block party for the trendy neighborhood. Nearly every corner featured a live DJ or indie band performance, and crowds of young, impeccably dressed Brooklynites clustered together mid-day to dance along to the music and support runners.
At certain points, interludes in dances moves were punctuated by the all too familiar pauses to check an iPhone, which were followed by hurried shouts that the runner was nearby. For some spectators, their smartphones served the purpose of tracking their favorite runner.
Steven Schafer. stood curbside on Bedford Avenue and North 10th Street tracking the progress of his girlfriend, who was steadily coming up the avenue, as indicated by a moving blue tag. He had flown in from London that previous Friday to surprise her, and meet with her mother, who flew in from Iowa to cheer her own. They had been excitedly tracking her progress on the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon Mobile App, which detailed not only where the runner was, but also noted her pace in real time throughout the marathon.
“We could watch her run through the neighborhoods this morning over breakfast,” he said. “When she started coming up Bedford Ave we knew we had to find a spot on the sidewalk.”
Some spectators held signs that had one general message of support on one side and a personalized message as their friend or family member breezed by. One group of women hailed down their favorite runner with an iPad mini, the app opened as the runner moved up the block and she stopped briefly to hand off the sweatshirt tied around her waist.
The app is powered by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which became the new partner and title sponsor of the New York Road Runners (NYRR) this past year, after supporting the marathon as a technology consulting partner since 2010. TCS is an Indian multinational IT service, consulting and business solutions company that operates in 46 countries and is one of the biggest companies in India. In a 2015 Forbes “World’s Most Innovative Companies Ranking,” TCS was ranked 64th overall, making it amongst the highest ranked IT companies on the list based on revenues.
But beyond expertise, the partnership between TCS and NYRR runs deep. The company’s CEO, Natarajan Chandrasekaran, “Chandra,” began running later in life, and has run five marathons, according to the NYRR website which proudly proclaims, “He’s one of us.”
The app TCS created allows supporters to track their favorite runners live with splits at the start, every 5 kilometers, at the halfway point and, most importantly, marked the finish.
She said she would be making her announcement at 12pm Sunday via Twitter. Instead, nearly three hours later Hillary Clinton’s top aid sent an email out to staffers announcing her official run for president in 2016. As politics often goes it was anticlimactic, but that did not bother supporters that gathered at her Brooklyn Heights campaign headquarters at One Pierrepont Plaza for the big announcement.
“I’m very anxious and excited,” said Risa Levine, 52. “I even brought champagne to celebrate the announcement.”
Levine wore not only a pink t-shirt with Clinton’s likeness, but her jean jacket was sprinkled with Hillary buttons reading slogans like, “I’m a woman for Hillary” and “Hillary sent me”.
Levine of Manhattan was one of three supporters who stood patiently and excitedly snapping selfies. She was joined by Tim Dangora, 36, also of Manhattan. A tall man donning a Hillary baseball cap and patriotically colored, “Hillary for president” t-shirt he had just one simple statement to make.
“America deserves Hillary,” said Dangora.
According to a March 29th Pew Research Center Poll 59 percent of democrats say there is a “good chance” they will vote for Clinton.
While the Clinton opponents were not physically present, their message could be seen hung from stop lights and pasted randomly to public surfaces. An unknown group or individual placed anti-Clinton posters in the area surrounding One Pierrepoint Plaza early Sunday morning. The design included an unflattering greyscale portrait of Clinton surrounded by phrases such as “Don’t Say Entitled” “Don’t Say Secretive” and “Don’t Say Polarizing”.
Despite her star power Clinton remains a polarizing and sometimes controversial candidate and has been on the receiving end of criticism from politicians and citizens. Republicans were quick to lambaste Clinton after her official announcement calling her untrustworthy.
by Thom Friend
The most important thing to Roger Mamedov, the owner and an instructor at the Williamsburg Mixed Martial Arts Academy, is the community MMA builds.
by Megan Jamerson
Mountain Province is not your typical Williamsburg, Brooklyn coffee joint. Owned by Ray Luna, it serves Filipino coffee and treats.
by Christina Dun
Sarah Sanneh, cofounder of Brooklyn eatery, Pies n Thighs, talks about her delicious business.
Gabrielle Wright reports from Bushwick
Struggling artists and hopeful gallery owners fled to Bushwick in search of building a new art scene. They were also in search of cheap rent so they acquired Bushwick’s abandoned buildings. Now, hopes of the area becoming a breeding ground for a new, experimental art scene have become a magnet for more people, more businesses and anything else indicating “next big thing”.
With each next big gallery opening, Bushwick’s art scene moves a little closer to being a pricey twin to Williamsburg’s art scene. As a result, some older Bushwick residents aren’t only priced out of their neighborhoods, they’re also disconnected from the art community coming in. But some artists are attempting to connect.
William Powhida, an artist who relocated to Bushwick from Williamsburg a few years ago, highlights the “social significance of the $13 hamburger”, brought into Bushwick by a wave of artists in his piece, “Things I Think about when I Think about Bushwick”.
“There are changes that people in the community are in support of,” said Powhida. “There’s less crime, less shootings, there’s not a drug war going on anymore, but at the same time, prices of milk goes up. The restaurants come in and the hamburgers are $13 dollars. There’s not a lot of development centered around the community. It’s centered around artists and their tastes,” he said.
In turn, some of Powhida’s work and interests are centered on Bushwick’s art world and how gentrification pushes much of the community onto the outskirts.
“We are the harbingers of gentrification,” said artist, Jennifer Dalton. “One way of looking at it is neighborhoods change and that is natural, but another way of looking at it is artists are on the frontlines of ruining other people’s situations and space. It’s ethically complicated,” she said.
Dalton, co-curator of Auxiliary Projects, an art gallery in Bushwick which sells pieces for under $300 in order to make them available to a wider and more diverse audience. She feels that although many of Bushwick’s changes are centered on artists, they have supported the community by turning empty spaces into useable ones.
“Look, people are here mainly to show their work, not necessarily to represent the community,” said artist, Deborah Brown. “We artists need to think of ways to build their community and be a part of the art dialogue.”.
Brown is the owner of Storefront Gallery and also on Bushwick’s Community Board. Many of Bushwick’s issues, from street lights to education initiatives are familiar to Brown. She’s also very keen on the art community finding ways to become more involved in Bushwick.
“…the community doesn’t really go to galleries,” said Brown.”…it’s presumptuous; they’ve been here for 30 years. They aren’t interested in seeing white artists. Who’s going to do that?”
“No long-time Bushwick resident has stepped foot in [my] gallery,” said Dalton.
Joe Ficalora, creator of 5 Points Bushwick , an ongoing street art project between Wycoff and St. Nicholas Avenue on Troutman Street, said Bushwick residents would probably visit Bushwick’s 50-plus galleries more often if they could connect to them more.
“Kids should go home and pick up a pen after seeing these murals and say I connected to this…”
Ficalora grew up in Bushwick and said his exposure to baseball kept him out of trouble. He feels art could do the same for kids today.
“It’s about sharing,” he said. “Why can’t we be responsible for having that impression for the community, for the kids?”
Brown feels that that despite the changes in the physical landscape, artists should get to know their neighbors.
“We have totally different experiences but it gets you out of your cocoon,” she said. “The art community has their own lives and they’re not drawn into the larger community unless they want to be. Efforts are just at the beginning but artists have to get the ball rolling,” said Brown.
Walking into Solomon Wagmar’s world is a lot like walking onto a movie set. The dressmakers and cobblers peddling wares along Lee Avenue exude an old world vibe, reinforced by the bearded men ambling down the street in stockings, black overcoats and wide-brimmed hats. Signs hanging in the windows of delis and restaurants clearly spell out the neighborhood’s dress code: “No shorts, no sleeveless.”
Indeed, not a single knee or elbow is revealed on the unusually warm late October afternoon as women in headscarves chat animatedly in Yiddish, pushing their baby strollers around a Klein’s Real Kosher Ice Cream truck unloading on the sidewalk.
For the tourists passing through on Saturdays (Wagmar says they come to see the kolpiks — large fur head-dresses worn by men on the Jewish day of rest), the enormous Hasidic district stretching through southern Williamsburg, Brooklyn, looks like a community frozen in time, immune to the trendy cafes, organic food stores and condos overwhelming the hipster-centric streets north of Division Avenue. For Wagmar, it’s simply the neighborhood he calls home.
“Some people don’t know exactly who we are,” Wagmar said. “They don’t get into our lives and don’t get our point of view or don’t know exactly what’s happening. We are very friendly people and a nice community. We like to live here.”
Wagmar, whose red beard makes him look older than 26, moved to Williamsburg from his childhood home in Monsey, N.Y., seven years ago with his wife Chaya, a schoolteacher. He has a quiet demeanor, but is eager to answer questions, apologizing ahead of time for his grammar. Like most Hasidic families, Wagmar and his wife speak Yiddish at home, using English only when they don’t want their three young children to understand what they’re saying. A student of Jewish law at his synagogue’s college, Wagmar breaks to pray three times a day. He loves Twitter and avoids politics.
“In Monsey, I was scared,” Wagmar said. “When I walked out at 11 o’clock at night, I was scared because it was very quiet. When you see a car passing by with loud music, I was scared about what was going to happen. Here, whenever you walk, you see other Jewish people are in the street. I feel more safe than in other neighborhoods.”
Nestled in the northern part of Brooklyn, one quick stop away from Manhattan on the L train, Williamsburg has become an increasingly popular place to live, drawing a diverse population that continues to grow. Boasting almost 150,000 people, the neighborhood is home to vibrant Polish and Puerto Rican communities and is a hot spot for young people lured in by the artsy glow of the area’s bars and restaurants.
It’s a neighborhood rich in history that’s constantly changing face. The Domino Sugar refinery still looms along the East River, an abandoned relic of Williamsburg’s 19th Century industrial boom. Other factories have since transformed into hip, indie nightclubs fueling the neighborhood’s underground music scene. A shrinking subculture of hipsters still cling to the non-conformist attitudes first introduced to Williamsburg by an influx of artists who set up shop in the 1970s and left just as quickly in the 90s, no longer able to pay rising rents on their trendy brownstones.
Despite the mesh of cultures, the Hasids have managed to maintain a certain level of exclusivity, if only just barely. The Jewish community was one of the first ethnic sects to settle in Williamsburg, arriving in droves from Hungary and Romania following World War II. Today, it is the largest community of its kind in the world and continues to grow, though at a price — literally.
“You notice outside people coming in,” Wagmar said. “Prices are rising, and some people are moving to Manhattan or other places in Brooklyn to try to grab some better prices. It’s getting more expensive here.”
It’s getting more expensive everywhere — especially in Williamsburg. The Hasidic community is not the only group wary of encroaching commercial chains and shiny high-rise condominiums popping up in a neighborhood whose zoning laws once capped buildings at five stories. In 2009, the first Duane Reade to infiltrate Williamsburg opened on Kent Avenue and North Fifth Street, four blocks away from the locally-owned King’s Pharmacy. A CVS is expected to open along Kent Avenue later this year.
The roar of construction pierces the once-quiet sidewalks running through McCarren Park as developers move forward with plans to build a luxury hotel along North 12th Street between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street. Half-finished apartment complexes along the East River give the waterfront a new look that some fear will translate into a more overarching neighborhood makeover.
“The crowd here is going to change,” said Caren Becker, a 28-year-old Williamsburg resident. “All those construction sites that you see everywhere are going to change the picture so much.”
Becker moved to Williamsburg a year ago from Prospect Heights. An architect working in Manhattan, she was attracted to the area’s close proximity to the city. She said she is unsure how much longer she will stay.
“The house where I live, it’s mostly young professionals with high-paid jobs,” Becker said. “It’s no longer just artists with no money. That’s an issue for Williamsburg. People with money can afford to live here and are pushing the other ones away. It’s scary.”
Brian Lentini, a project manager with aptsandlofts.com, a Brooklyn-based real estate firm marketing many of the new high-end condo buildings, said the new developments are aimed at bringing in young families looking to escape Manhattan who no longer want to rent. He expects the new wave of homeowners to increase as more buildings are completed in the near future, despite the lofty $550,000 starting price accompanying most one-bedroom condos.
“A lot of people from Manhattan are coming here because it costs less and there is a cooler neighborhood vibe,” Lentini said. “There is a ton of people coming over. Here, there’s a more laid-back feel. They’re getting a better product.”
Young Jewish families are increasingly moving to new housing developments going up along the Hasidic neighborhood’s eastern edge — an area Wagmar calls “New Williamsburg.” He moved his family there two years ago, no longer able to afford the rising cost of living in his community. He said despite increasing rents, most Hasids are reluctant to move from the area they’ve called home for more than 50 years.
“In all Jewish places and towns, there are very high prices,” Wagmar said. “It should push people out, but the fact is that most people are staying here, which actually makes it more expensive. If people started moving then business owners couldn’t keep prices so high. But because people are staying, prices are staying that way.”
Despite the financial challenges Hasids face in the wake of Williamsburg’s revived housing flux, Wagmar said he is most anxious about living in closer quarters with other Jewish families in his building — an inconvenience he said he didn’t have to worry about before coming to Williamsburg.
“When you live so close to each other, everyone knows what’s going on,” Wagmar said. “It’s a little more uncomfortable than in other neighborhoods where you’re living (your) life and no one knows everything going on behind your doors.”
Still, he said he does not see himself moving, nor does he fear his neighborhood’s values will be compromised by newcomers.
“Normally we are friendly to our neighbors,” Wagmar said. “The children are happy here. It’s a good place for them to grow up. People are moving out and others are moving in. The neighborhood is changing definitely, but the Jewish people are here to stay.”