Growing up, I always knew I wanted to move to New York and just make it. I loved the idea of being in the big city, living in a beautiful brownstone like that of Carrie Bradshaw’s, strutting down Fifth Avenue in my favorite pair of heels, grabbing my coffee from the corner bodega and whisking off into the city. Well, as a millennial in her 20s today, life is a little less Sex & the City and a little more Lena Dunham’s Girls. It’s a lot less Madison Avenue and more Astoria Blvd living. But what both shows seem to lack or even acknowledge, for that matter, is how unaffordable New York City really is and with that, how rising rents and cramped spaces have caused many Manhattanites to “join” us Bridge-and-Tunnel folk, re-shaping the New York culture I grew up imagining.
As a transplant, I don’t really notice too much change. The cool restaurants down the street from me in my Astoria neighborhood feel like fun eateries, but my native neighbors see them more as hostile takeovers. For once, I felt like I couldn’t really say if gentrification is as prominent as they say because I was not here to see the change. In that, I was able to interview the amazing Alfonso Francois, founder of the blog FonzFranc.com. A Brooklyn-born, Brooklyn-made blogger, I sat down with Fonz to get the perspective from someone who sees his neighborhood of Crown Heights change from the Caribbean potluck it once was to the gentrified neighborhood it now is.
New York Gentrification: My Interview with @FonzFranc
In your opinion, what do you think makes New York City, specifically the outer boroughs, so great?
Well, I’m from Brooklyn, and what I love so much about my borough is that growing up, I got a taste of everything. I come from a mixed race household, my community was so diverse, my school was so diverse from faculty to students and that was the norm for me. It’s definitely what NYC is, a huge hub of diversity. It’s been that way for a long time. That’s sort of our aesthetic.
Do you think gentrification is as bad as reports are making it seem?
I’m definitely against gentrification, but I am for community development and improvement. People don’t understand that these are two mutually exclusive concepts. Gentrification is about conformity, and conformity chips away at originality until it is no longer. When you take diverse neighborhoods like Bushwick or Crown Heights or Washington Heights or Harlem–places flooded with different black and Latino cultures–and reshape and redefine these cultural landscapes until they’re priced out and pushed out, it’s a disservice to the community-at-large. I feel like there’s a happy medium. Invest in original businesses, especially small ones owned by people of color.
Growing up in Brooklyn, leaving to New Jersey and moving back to Brooklyn, what would you say has changed the most in your neighborhood?
The cost of living. It’s evident in the new businesses that have popped up since my absence, as well as the people who now live there.
How has Brooklyn influenced your style?
People from Brooklyn are always proud. We’re very proud of this borough, and we’re very proud to say we’re from here. I feel like the concept of pride has influenced my style greatly. I can feel pride, I can own pride, and I can wear it. Anything I get dressed up (or down) in, I like to be completely comfortable. I’m a very upbeat and social guy, and presentation is everything. It’s important to present yourself proudly.
What kind of style would you say is inherently Brooklyn?
Well when I think of Brooklyn style, I think throwback jerseys or varsity jackets, pops of color that shout “I am here”, accessories that complement the outfit, etc. There’s also that “cool” factor. A style that is inherently Brooklyn is inherently cool. You see us wearing certain things or starting certain trends, and you’ll more than likely follow suit. It’s about being one step ahead of the game, and having your finger on the pulse of knowing what the people want–then wearing it.
Do you think it will change now that it is rapidly changing?
I’ll say that while change is something that is inevitable, it isn’t something we always have to accept. Realistically speaking, all change is not good. Hopefully the true character of Brooklyn and NYC isn’t reduced to cultural residue. I don’t want us to be smudges of color in a whitewashed, high-priced painting. We can’t be what ruins the aesthetic. We create the aesthetic.
How do you think native New Yorkers can overcome gentrification? Do you think there’s a way we can live harmoniously?
I want native New Yorkers to be more business-savvy. This is all happening from a capitalist perspective. Neighborhoods and cultures are commoditized, but hardly ever respected. We have to be competitive in our jobs, our schools, and beyond. Otherwise, we’re making this an easy win for outsiders. We have to be sure to let them know that we can welcome newcomers, but this doesn’t mean we’re compromising our identities. The seeds we’ve planted weren’t put in place so that they can come in and reap the benefits.
Having spent summers here in the Bronx and Queens, I can say outer borough living is one full of so much life and culture. I love waking up to Saturday morning bachata and walking home to kids playing under an open fire hydrant. It’s life, beautiful, raw, flavorful life and I must say I do not agree with people being unable to afford homes in the neighborhoods that raised and shaped them. For that matter, each borough has its own sense of style and fashion that has helped shaped New York fashion. Creativity thrives off culture and without it, what is fashion?
Thank you, Fonz, for such incredible insight and I cannot wait to have another interview on the blog soon. Until next time, friends!
Love this post? Check out my interview with actress Kalyne Coleman!