Hundreds of miles away, tucked in a café in Bordeaux, France, a woman told a waiter she was visiting from Bedford-Stuyvesant. His eyes widened in surprise, as he said, “Yes, I’ve heard of it – my former guitarist just moved there!”
She then began sharing her tale about her new life in the Stuy.
Whether it came from news reports highlighting homicides, rappers who rhymed about its grittiness or Billy Joel professing in song the neighborhood was a “combat zone,” Bed-Stuy was notorious in the court of public opinion.
However, today, residents are less likely to “Do or Die” and more likely to Do or Dine at the new popular restaurant of the same name. The passing of time and gentrification both have played a role in changing the public’s perception of Bed-Stuy.
In New York City, news of the new hip restaurants, sleek condos, boutiques, cafes and bars are often passed through word of mouth and social media networks – yet there is something still.
How do media platforms and creative arts narrate Bed-Stuy today? Furthermore, to whom are they talking, and what impact does it have on the way people perceive and interact with the rapidly changing neighborhood?
One can find Bed-Stuy prominently displayed in New York Magazine under “nightlife,” see its restaurants featured as a NY Times “critic pick,” and get a ready made “Bed-Stuy food and bar crawl” from the NFT (Not For Tourist) guide. The neighborhood is featured as one of Time Out NY’s 2011 “Top 12 ‘hoods in NY,” and the Wall Street Journal declared Bed-Stuy has “stepped its game up.”
These outlets are generally well regarding and have a reach far beyond New York. They provide the nabe with a platform it has long since been denied. People know about Bed-Stuy nationally, even globally and it’s no longer solely shrouded with negative connotation – these outlets have something to do with that exposure.
While these platforms highlight what’s hot in changing neighborhoods like Bed- Stuy, artists are talking about the same changes. They’re making documentaries, plays, and monologues that talk about what they believe the changes and new attention represent.
Artists highlight the value of neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy prior to the global cuisine and posh bars. At the crux of their narrative they reference the impeccable architecture, community solidarity and stable local businesses.
Clearly, the birds are swarming around the neighborhood, but what exactly are they looking at? A new place to start a family? Or something to feast on and then leave?
And what messages are these outlets sending and to whom are the messages directed? Are they to reinforce the cultural contributions of the neighborhood's longtime residents, or is it a draw for prospective residents?
Or is it both?