Gather close, children, and listen to a story.
Once upon a time, there were two beautiful boroughs who grew up together, side by side, connected by a bridge, metaphorical hands clasping over water. Their names were Brooklyn and Manhattan. They had other siblings, too—Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. But Brooklyn and Manhattan, the elder, were the closest of friends, the ones who were inseparable, the ones who, as they got older, people started not to be able to tell apart, not in certain lights of day, and then even at night. What was one's "West Village" might easily be mistaken for another's "Fort Greene." They started to look alike, to act alike, even to dress alike. They ate the same foods. They went to the same bars. They made the same amount of money in the same sorts of jobs, and they lived, essentially, the same way—at least, in the parts of Brooklyn that Manhattan went to.
For there were also some inescapable differences between the two. Manhattan confessed fear at going too far in, "too deep," as she put it, for Brooklyn had a gritty streak, unkempt, questionably groomed areas and a touch of lawlessness, that Manhattan never understood. This was one of the topics that, if brought up at the Thanksgiving table, would cause Queens and Bronx to side with Brooklyn and call Manhattan "bourgeois" and an "out-of-touch stick-in-the-mud who has largely been gentrified into meaninglessness." Also: "Full of yuppies!" Manhattan's sore spots, like Murray Hill and the East Village ("You call that gritty? You haven't been gritty since the '80s!") would come up, and Staten Island would announce, "You'll never find anyone who can afford you!" causing Manhattan to rush to her bedroom in tears while he helped himself to more stuffing and everyone else just felt kind of bad. Because they really did love each other, you know? They were a family.
But then Brooklyn started to really get full of herself. She was always yammering on about "artisanal" this and "free-range" that, and how she had the best cheese or the most gorgeous beets from the greenmarket and did you hear about the place that sells vintage typewriters? Can you hold my babyccino—I found a tiny, adorable coffeeshop that makes the best almond milk foam!—while I adjust my fedora? She took to riding around on a fixed gear bicycle regardless of the tightness of her extremely tight jeans; wearing heavy, dark-framed glasses even though she'd had Lasik, just like Manhattan; and consuming only homemade pickles and a certain type of tacos from a certain type of food truck. All of her friends were so much more laid-back than Manhattan's, she bragged. And they were musicians, too! She learned a smattering of French and began to drape her normally accented American speech with words like "très" (often, obnoxiously, in reference to herself—Brooklyn had adopted the habit of referring to herself in the third person) and "Oui, monsieur," and "Café au lait. Merci!" She was insufferable. And then it got worse.
Manhattan blamed it on the media campaign drummed up by a newspaper known as The New York Times, which Brooklyn had met at a party in, of course, Brooklyn. (Manhattan had not been invited, and so stayed home listening mournfully to Coldplay and thinking of the good old days, when everyone talked about Manhattan, not Brooklyn, when the parties were in Manhattan, not Brooklyn.) After that party, during which Manhattan suspected that something illicit had occurred between the paper and her sister (Brooklyn had notoriously bad taste in men, and was, how shall we say, a bit free with her charms), The New York Times would not shut up about Brooklyn. Of course, Brooklyn had been talked about before; she was quite the social butterfly and knew all sorts of people in high places, but suddenly, Manhattan began to see her sister's Toms shoe footprints everywhere, in articles about everything from Paris to Nashville to something else entirely unrelated to Brooklyn or even cities in general. Whether it was true or not! Where were the journalistic ethics? Frankly, the phrase Brooklyn-style made Manhattan want to puke. Manhattan tried to be a little more like Brooklyn despite herself. The move was widely criticized. She opened an artisanal water business, thinking it would help matters. Cruel people just laughed.
Manhattan stayed home for almost a week with the sheets over her head, getting out of bed only for food and to occasionally brush her teeth, and thought of what she could do. Manhattan stewed. Manhattan plotted. Manhattan had been the favored one for so long, she was not going to give it up easily! She would not go down without a fight. And suddenly it was all so simple. She picked up her BlackBerry (what's wrong with that!?) and she called her old pal, the Wall Street Journal. She would get Brooklyn back where it hurt, fight fire with fire: Real estate. She would just lower her rents! The fans who'd left her would return, she was sure of it. She hadn't been so sure of anything since she predicted that CBGBs would close and become a John Varvatos.
And so there it was, a counterstrike in the war between the sisters. In July of 2012, it happened. People like "Philip Bjerknes, an advertising executive who has lived in Brooklyn for six years, made a surprising discovery: He could get an apartment in Alphabet City for less than he was paying in Williamsburg." (Manhattan was thrilled.) As Bjerknes told the Wall Street Journal, "I lived [in Williamsburg] for the postindustrial charm or the affordability and neither of those really exist anymore. I love Brooklyn. It's adorable, with great places to eat, but they also have that in Manhattan."
Oh, snap! Others followed, "torrents," as Wall put it, fleeing Brooklyn to find Manhattan again. Manhattan made herself look as affordable as possible. She relaxed her posture and tried to smile more, making sure she didn't have lipstick on her teeth first. She couldn't do much about her size—she'd always been slight (blessedly, she'd never have to diet, unlike her sister, who sports a substantially wider girth)—but she could decorate herself properly, that was for certain. Decorating began with her. And her Upper East Side, for instance, while not "cool," per se, is positively spacious! She has brownstones too, and taco places, and gastro pubs, and craft-beer establishments, and tattooed residents, plus that strange breed of person Brooklyn is always speaking of so highly, "hipsters." She has everything Brooklyn has, and more.
That Brooklyn has barely noticed any of this—and that many of Brooklyn's fans seem intent on ignoring Manhattan's "new deals" and only pushing further into Brooklyn—does sting a bit. But you can't win them all, she figures. Meanwhile, Brooklyn is working on her debut novel, and unbeknownst to both of them, Queens, Bronx, and Staten are in talks about a reality TV show. Thanksgiving is shaping up to be very interesting this year.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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