For the 4th of July – I was standing next to two Canadians in a private, $200,000 roof top ‘cabana’ at 70 Washington – a renovated building located in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The infamous Real Estate developer David Walentas and his wife were standing to my right. The sky truly lit up with red, whites and blues from the fireworks and the views of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge were stunning. Afterwards, we were asked to join the group downstairs for Veuve Clicquoit and blueberry pie. If you hadn’t guessed by now – this wasn’t our usual scene.
10 years ago I lived in DUMBO. There are not many things I can associate being ‘cool’ with before it was ‘cool’ but living in DUMBO Brooklyn 10 years ago before all of it’s development is one of them.
DUMBO was introduced to me by a guy I was dating at the time. He and his roommate invited me and my roommate for a visit. I remember the night well. We boarded the ‘mysterious’ F train to York Street and emerged in the middle of nowhere Brooklyn. It was dark and empty and we thought we were going to die. Frightened - we wussy Manhattanites called the guys from a sticky, dirty payphone. Our shoes were inappropriately high for the cobble stone streets. We waited impatiently for the guys to arrive while standing next to a homeless man with one leg tipped over and passed out in a wheelchair.
The guys took us back to their apartment. In comparison to our East Village hell hole it looked like the size of a skating rink. Worse – the guys paid something like $1000 a month for close to 3000 square feet.
Two months later an apartment opened up in the same building we had visited on Water Street between Bridge and Gold. We packed up our twenty-something furniture in a U-Haul van and drove both unknowingly and illegally over the Brooklyn Bridge in our commercial vehicle. It was smaller than the guy’s apartment but the 2500 square foot of outdoor space we shared with the lesbian artist couple next door made up for it.
Granted - the lifestyle was rough around the edges. The only grocery store for miles was a 15 minute walk to Brooklyn Heights. The only option to do laundry was in the basement of a Baptist church in the nearby projects. Most nights we walked alone in the dark streets with broken street lamps. There were prostitutes, crack heads but mostly a combination of prostitutes and crack heads that would have sex in the daylight on our front stoop. Mail didn’t always get to us and forget about packages. If you wanted to reach us or come over for a visit- we didn’t have a door bell but rather a makeshift rig consisting of a large string of empty Café Bustelo coffee cans that ran off the roof and down the side of the building. No lie. It was amazing. Like living in an abandoned tree house with plenty of room to party.
Flash forward. It’s Independence Day. On my left - our Canadian friends that in less than two weeks move back to Canada in order to be able to afford to live and have a kid. To our right - David Walentas with a bird’s eye view of his number of Brooklyn projects in development. And there we were standing in the middle on the roof of a $200,000 cabana just blocks from where I used to live.
So what - you say… it’s an old and familiar tale. The rich get richer (yawn) and the poor are getting pushed out (what else is new?). Regardless, it sucks. We are not just losing space anymore over our non-real estate independence but now friends too that can’t afford to live here anymore. I still hope for the best even if it is somewhat childish and unrealistic. A tree house big enough for us all to play in. Somewhere between a working doorbell and the sound of rattling coffee cans.