New York City changes so quickly that what you once knew can be something entirely different a short time later. This ever-evolving shift is the story of New York and as communities come in and out they shape both the landscaping and the culture of the city, sometimes a difficult pill to swallow for those being pushed out or left with the realization that there is no longer a place for them to call home. I returned to such a place during a tour recently.
I spent an afternoon, one of the best ones we’ve had so far, walking around Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was invited by Jeff of Brooklyn Unplugged Tours to experience one of his tours and since my kids deal well with walking and sightseeing, I brought them as well for the experience.
The group on the Brooklyn Unplugged tour of Williamsburg.
As a Brooklyn native it is hard to tour through gentrified neighborhoods in the city. We know what was there before, and what isn’t there now. It’s hard because though gentrification has a way of bringing businesses and crowds back into a community that was struggling, it can’t do so without displacing those who lived there before them.
Williamsburg is cool and hip and trendy. It is also expensive and inhabitable to many, most certainly to those who were in the area when I was growing up in Brooklyn. They were the starving artists and young creatives who found the crime riddled area in search of cheap rents and space where they could practice their art. There was a time when a vague flyer handed out to you in the streets would lead you to a vacant lot that was temporarily transformed for one night into an art gallery, where street artists would showcase and sell their work while DJs mixed tunes and some guy would sell beer out of a cooler. Those days are pretty much over and it’s sad to see that culture gone. There was a lot of not so good things too happening back then, signs of which can still be seen in some areas, but for the most part have been replaced with trendy boutiques, cafes, and high rises.
What I enjoyed about my tour with Jeff is that he was able to tell the story of Williamsburg from the Dutch settlers to today. He walked us through various sections and pointed out historic sites that helped to shape the neighborhood. Williamsburg is colorful and eclectic. Some things about the neighborhood are a little forced and contrived, and that can be annoying, but if you go into it like I did during a tour, you are better able to see past all that and really get to connect with the history of the area.
And to its credit, there are people in Williamsburg who are also trying to maintain the local pride, history, and heritage and are continuously working to preserve a sense of community in that area – Brooklyn Brewery comes to mind.
Though it’s true that Williamsburg is a different kind of beast than what I knew it to be years ago, and change is inevitable – especially in a city like NY – there is a lot of history there and areas that have been preserved and respected throughout the centuries. There’s a strong creative community, though many of the artists are a little better established than the ones that came before them, and there is a lot of community pride among the newer residents to the area. Jeff did a great job at highlighting it all, and giving us a good insight throughout the tour.
If you’ve never been to Williamsburg, this might be a good introduction, and if you have but want a more in-depth view, then this tour will help give you a bit of that. Wear comfortable shoes as it is a walking tour and pack water. You might also want to bring extra cash as you might make stops at local shops. Thanks to our tour guide Jeff for the experience. We learned a lot and had a really fun day.
The Williamsburg Mini Mall
Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory
Check out the Brooklyn Unplugged Tours site for information on this tour and many others offered throughout the borough.