By Tony Filipovitch
Kay S. Hymowitz, The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring Back a City (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).
Kay Hymowitz offers a nuanced defense of gentrification as a process of creative destruction, one that results in winners and losers (although sometimes in unanticipated ways). As she says in her conclusion, “…expensive, gentrifying cities like Brooklyn are far better off than their cheap-rent counterparts” (p. 156). In the introduction, she sets out to explore how a “left-for-dead city” became “just about the coolest place on earth and the paragon of the postindustrial creative city” (p. 3). She chooses Brooklyn to study this process because it is a “… microcosm [of] the economic, demographic, and social forces behind the perplexing creative destruction of the more successful urban centers in today’s advanced economies” (p. 10). Along the way, she lays out her case in colorful, breezy prose told as a tale of seven neighborhoods.
Kay Hymowitz is a contributing editor at City Journal, the house organ for the Manhattan Institute. She was trained in English literature rather than social science, and this book is better taken as journalism or an opinion piece rather than scholarly research (although she does relate a lively story). Her idiosyncratic selection of neighborhoods should be seen as illustrative, but not demonstrative. And, while the work is heavily footnoted, the notes are often to journalistic and other online sources. Finally, her conclusions are only loosely supported by the data she presents. That said, I really enjoyed this book. She tells a good story, one that cannot be ignored, even if I don’t particularly agree with the conclusions she draws from her story. She has given me a lot to think about, and offered some interesting hypotheses to pursue more rigorously.
Tony Filipovitch, Minnesota State University Mankato