The Real Problem With City Life Today

Xochitl Gonzalez talks about “old Brooklyn,” crime in New York City, and the gentrification of pizza.

a closed restaurant with elderly patrons sitting in front of it on Brighton Beach in 1989
Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, 1989 (Tom Stoddart / Hulton Archive / Getty)

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In a recent Atlantic article, Xochitl Gonzalez, the author of our Brooklyn, Everywhere newsletter, argues that the sound of gentrification is silence. I called Xochitl to talk about the article and the New York she once knew.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

What Brooklyning Means

“New York in the summer is a noisy place, especially if you don’t have money,” Xochitl Gonzalez writes in The Atlantic’s latest print issue. “For the broke—the have-littles and have-nots—summer means an open window, through which the clatter of the city becomes the soundtrack to life.”

Xochitl goes on to explore how new, more affluent residents attempt to exert control over longtime New Yorkers by demanding that they quiet down. Xochitl’s article is an extension of the work she does in her newsletter, where she thinks about how city life, culture, and commerce are changing along with city demographics.

Isabel Fattal: You write in your article about one big mistake some people make when they move to a neighborhood. What’s your advice for people who’ve just moved to a place and are looking to connect with the community there?

Xochitl Gonzalez: Say hello. I live in a neighborhood that’s been very Caribbean for a long time. These are cultures where everyone says good morning. I know who moved there recently and who didn’t, because [new] people walk past you in the morning and don’t say anything. That’s just not really the Brooklyn way.

People don’t understand that when you think about old Brooklyn, it was part of the city, but really, you lived in your neighborhood. You might venture to other neighborhoods to see people. But mainly, it didn’t feel like you lived in a big city, because most of your world was contained to your neighborhood. So the idea that you would know people was a big deal.

We have this idea that New York–ing means we ignore one another. That is not what Brooklyn-ing means. If you want to be a good gentrifier, just get to know people. You might call 311 as the first reaction to something because you don’t know Oh, it’s their daughter’s communion, and they’re having a party in the apartment. We don’t know these things because we don’t talk to the people around us.

Isabel: What do you wish inhabitants of new Brooklyn understood about old Brooklyn?

Xochitl: I was talking to my best friend from grammar school, and I was like, “You don’t know where the best everything is.” Everyone’s like, “Oh, the best bagels are here.” You haven’t even been to the part of Brooklyn that has the best bagels! You don’t know where the best slice of pizza is. There’s no reason you would’ve gone there. People don’t realize there’s so much more Brooklyn out there that most people don’t actually interact with.

Brooklyn is so entrenched in so many different ethnicities. You can concurrently get the best pizza by the slice and the best Italian seven-layer cookie and the best Jamaican beef patty and some of the best real Chinese food … You can do all these things because those communities are there. I think that the ethnicity of Brooklyn is one of the things that has gotten lost.

Isabel: You’ve written a lot about unexpected sites of gentrification, from nightclubs to cleaning products. Is there an example of unlikely gentrification you haven’t yet written about that observers might not notice?

Xochitl: The first thing I think of is the gentrification of pizza. The newcomers came and decided they invented pizza. Also, the gentrification of stoves. You can’t get a gas top anymore, because it’s bad for the environment. I know why, and they keep trying to tell me that the induction stove is as good, if not better—but it’s not. You can’t make warm tortillas, nor can you use a caldero, because it doesn’t register the metal of the pan. It’s frustrating.

Isabel: Crime in New York is on the rise, yet it’s at a historic low compared with previous decades. Mayor Adams is currently struggling with voters in part because they think he’s not addressing crime strongly enough. As a longtime resident of the city, what’s your take on the conversation about crime in New York right now?

Xochitl: I think we can all agree that what impacts people’s ability to feel secure is that the crimes feel random and unmotivated by material gain, and I don’t think people know how to feel protected from that. When people used to get their chains snatched, that’s to get material gain. But now it doesn’t feel like there’s a motivation, or the reaction is disproportionate to the incident.

That’s why I think it’s actually challenging for the mayor. It’s easy to talk about guns. But my real worry is that people feel they have nothing to lose.

Isabel: Because you think some people in New York City are in a state of despair or hopelessness?

Xochitl: Yes. I think we don’t know what these couple of years [of the pandemic] have done. There’s a million things that could be happening that could make people feel in despair. While many of us are excited to go back to normal life, there’s a lot of people whose lives and mental health were shattered.

Isabel: Let’s wrap up with a few fun ones. What’s one thing you grudgingly appreciate about gentrification in your area?

Xochitl: I really appreciate the access to good coffee. I didn’t know that I cared about it until I got completely spoiled from it. I think I went until I was 30 drinking bodega coffee every morning. There’s nothing wrong with bodega coffee. But now I can have all these different kinds of milks and brews. I don’t hate that.

Isabel: Who is your favorite New York City character from TV or movies?

Xochitl: Elaine Nardo from Taxi and Debbie Allen’s character from Fame (the TV series), which I grew up on.

Today’s News
  1. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that he “personally approved” the decision to seek a warrant to search President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, and announced that the Justice Department is moving to unseal the warrant.
  2. Gas prices fell below $4 a gallon, their lowest level since March.
  3. A wildfire near the city of Bordeaux in France has forced 10,000 people to flee.

Evening Read
A giant smiling, waving human looks down from above into a forest. A sun with a smiley face hangs in the sky.
(Jan Buchczik)

To Get Out of Your Head, Get Out of Your House

By Arthur C. Brooks

One hundred and sixty years ago, in this magazine, Henry David Thoreau lamented that humankind was losing contact with nature. “Here is this vast, savage, hovering mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard,” he wrote, “and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man.”

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
Brad Pitt in Bullet Train
Brad Pitt in "Bullet Train" (Scott Garfield / Sony)

Read. The Wall, Marlen Haushofer’s brutal and absorbing dystopian novel, which was first published in 1963 but was recently reissued.

Watch. Bullet Train, now in theaters. It isn’t a good movie—but it’s a great study of Brad Pitt.

Play our daily crossword.


I asked Xochitl about her favorite thing to do in the summer in New York, and it turns out that her best summer memories are from Coney Island, right near where I grew up. She recalled a bar where “they’d do a bucket of beer for five bucks. When we were so broke during the recession, that’s what we would do.” “I like a nice dive bar with an outdoor garden,” she said. “Now I’m fortunate enough to have a backyard, so I like having people over. My favorite thing is really just to shit-talk with friends. The late-night backyard barbecues are still the best.”

— Isabel