The New York Times's Williamsburg bureau has returned, this time bringing news of the Brooklyn neighborhood's "Mason-Dixon line." Williamsburg, previously explained by The Times in a piece where the writer just tried to be a Williamsburg hipster, is now not simply Williamsburg. It is "North Williamsburg," or "South Williamsburg."
Portrayed in the paper's Fashion and Style section, the divide between north and south is almost entirely about the feel of the neighborhood. The North, the paper explains, is "sleek" and "moneyed," while the South is "gritty," and "hyper-authentic." The North is "washed through" with luxury developments, covered in "$295 dungarees," a "glitzy playground of glassy condos for banker types." The South is a different world entirely,"featuring an eclectic mix of laundries and art galleries, bodegas and artisanal bakers." The North, in other words, is well-trodden ground, and somewhat sold-out. The South reads like an opportunity.
While the Times doesn't get into it here, this divide does play out rent-wise. In May, DNAInfo explained that North Williamsburg apartment seekers can expect to pay on average $1,600 more per month (rents are about $3,499) than those looking in South Williamsburg. Below the BQE and Broadway, defined here as the dividing line between the two (The Times uses Grand street, further north), the rent for the same sized apartment is $1,900 on average. The disputed border-area between North and South has higher rents, but still well under $3,000 on average. There are other markers of that divide too. The southern part of Williamsburg, in contrast to the north, also has some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the city.
The cultural divide is also well-documented. A 2012 piece in New York magazine described South Williamsburg as "comparatively untouched—scruffier and more residential" compared to its northern neighbor, yet still bustling enough to fill the magazine's round up of neighborhood coffee shops, retail, and night life. That doesn't even take into account the more traditional cultural divide between the two: the north is historically home to Italian and Polish communities, while the south has been — and in some areas, remains — Hispanic and Hasidic.
That's all well and good, but it doesn't explain what the Times seems to be after here: which side of the divide is now home to The Williamsburg Experience? The "gritty," nostalgic one, the one taste-making Style section readers might want to invest in before it gets to mainstream. That Williamsburg is South Williamsburg, which the paper straight-up calls "Williamsburg That Time Forgot." It's the Williamsburg for authentic-types. That's summed up well here:
“I feel almost a sense of relief when I cross over Grand Street,” said Chris Kiely, a talent manager who lives on South First Street. “The south side is like New York in the ’80s,” he added approvingly, “the fire hydrants open, kids playing in the streets.”
North Williamsburg, you see, is no longer Real Williamsburg. It's Manhattan. It's for rich suckers. Nobody wants to be a sucker. Williamsburg seekers should proceed directly to the South, where everything is humble, gritty, and authentic. At least until that, too, loses its artistic hipness. North Williamsburg, incidentally, is the site of what many see as the peak Williamsburgization of Williamsburg: the neighborhood's first Urban Outfitters.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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