Last week New York magazine declared, “The Bedford stop is dead.” Bedford Avenue is my home stop on Brooklyn’s L train and I think this statement was already widely known when a shiny new Dunkin’ Donuts appeared just opposite the metro station late last year. New properties and ubiquitous franchises are flooding the once unique area. Everyone wants a piece of hipster pie but finding a slice of the all-natural variety is becoming near impossible.
What was once a place where artists and independent shops thrived is now overrun with mass-market businesses, expensive lofts and twenty-somethings with enough money – or parental support – to afford the rent. That means far less freelance writers and dancers and plenty of transplants from the financial sector.
Any pseudo-creative resident of this neighbourhood is quickly deemed a hipster. The word has been abused to the point that it has lost all meaning, which proves to be a barometer for the status of the area’s population on the whole: walking in the heart of Williamsburg, it’s hard to tell the difference between those who are unaffected and those who just know where to get the right vintage clothes.
Perhaps this is simply the ebb and flow found in cities and Williamsburg is just another example of a creative hub that is past its peak. But it leads me to wonder where the true creatives can go to live an unadulterated life. If the city will continue to push them out of the epicenters that they have helped build, is the city the right place for the creative class? New York provides constant stimulation but authenticity may require some solitude and clarity.
In a similar move to artistic greats such as Thoreau and Salinger, many of New York’s young residents venture into our wooded north for fresh air during the weekend. There are some who go so far as to say that the Hudson Valley is the new Brooklyn.
An escape to the country is a trick many New Yorkers use to survive the city. But why do we think survival is enough? We already know that we can thrive with clean air and untarnished landscapes so why is the countryside merely a place to visit? While the population continues to grow on our tiny island, I can’t help but wonder if it’s time to start looking outside the city for long-term inspiration.
Megan Billings is a researcher for Monocle's New York bureau.