Tribeca and Bushwick : An Ethnographic Comparison of Two NYC Neighborhoods

While visiting New York City for the Winter Jazz Festival I was able to get to know two very distinct neighborhoods. Tribeca, located in Lower Manhattan and Bushwick in the Brooklyn borough.  Tribeca is where my hotel was located and most of my entertainment was planned during this trip. A desirable location with celebrity residents and rent averaging about $6,000 a month for a two bedroom apartment.  I am comparing this high end, commercially developed neighborhood with rapidly the gentrifying Bushwick, Brooklyn – an area we visited four different times during this trip. 

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Tribeca stands for “Triangle below Canal Street”, coined by city planners in the 1960’s. We chose to stay in this neighborhood because of the proximity to the night clubs where our entertainment was scheduled.  Architecture included gorgeous historic stone buildings and warehouses developed into luxury condos, commercial office spaces, upscale retail and restaurants. 

The 2010 United States census recorded that 66% of Tribeca’s residents are white.  Bordering China Town it has a 22% Asian population.  This Asian population is still visible in the neighborhood with some remaining independent restaurants and family owned store fronts. A major McDonalds location sign is partially written with Chinese Characters (hanzi).  One of the most expensive neighborhoods to live in, apartments are priced at an average of 4 million dollars on the low end and up to 22 million dollars. The Tribeca population is considered high income, most earning over $100,000 per year. 

Bushwick comes from the dutch word Boswijck meaning ‘neighborhood in the woods’.  Affordable rents has attracted persons with creative professions as well as food service industry workers and low income families.  Apartment rent averages about $2,000, condos can sell for $600,000 and up (Zillow).  Although this area is often described as becoming ‘white washed’ and  ‘gentrifying’-  it still has about a 70% hispanic population.  Once a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, there is now a Mexican, El Salvadorian and Dominican presence.  Walking around this neighborhood you still see Hispanic Grocers, Bodegas and dueling Mexican Food trucks next to the natural wine bars and small batch coffee roasters.  One of the most noticeable physical features of Bushwick are the large murals and street art. Organized and celebrated by the community, the murals are updated regularly.  Tourist visit Bushwick often to be photographed in front of this public art. 

I let my friends know in advance that I was preparing a short paper about NYC neighborhoods. Without having to ask, they flooded me with information about Bushwick during one of our walks.  Dominique is a professional Tailor, through an agent she is contracted to work with designers during events such as NY Fashion week and with major celebrities for things like award season and magazine commissions.  She introduced me to two other creative freelancers who were unaware of my school project.  Sarah, a professional backdrop artist, who lives in Tribeca but works in Bushwick and Helen, a fashion stylist who lives in Bushwick and works all over NYC.

In casual conversation I was able to learn about their politics and socio economic status. While driving past a beautiful hispanic child on the street, Sarah volunteered information about cultural makeup of Bushwick. Helen in her early thirties had just returned from a trip to NZ and invited us to see her apartment and shared about what it was like to live and work in Brooklyn.  People are excited to talk about where they live.  In this instance, everyone I spoke to had genuine love for their communities and planned on staying put.  Without using interview style or discussion prompts I was able to uncover much of the information needed for this paper. 

The high rents in Tribeca make it nearly impossible for many to work and live in the same neighborhood.  Especially persons working office and service related jobs.  Often unrelated adults share homes to help with the cost of housing but most commute from other areas of NYC.  Tribeca has priced out the average person but still provides employment to many.  Bushwick is affordable and attracts both the average and the affluent but raising rents are pushing out lower income, long time residents.  Getting to see physical home and work spaces in relation to the areas rent average was interesting.  Sarah, a Tribeca residents, art studio was more than three times the size of Helen’s Bushwick apartment.  Famously, NYC has always been known for small apartments and intimate restaurants.  Upscale Tribeca restaurants were noticeably larger then some of the trendy Bushwick eateries that we visited.  Visually, Tribeca with its historic and modern architecture is sterile compared to the colorful spray painted buildings of Bushwick.  

A 2009 study found that 75% of Bushwick children were born into poverty, while Tribeca is home to some of the most affluent families in the country.  There is an undeniable class difference between the residents of the two neighborhoods.  It is easy to conclude that New York City is one of the most diverse and one of the most expensive places in the United States to live.  Comparing the two neighborhoods I am convinced that Bushwick’s changing demographics has put the original immigrant community at risk, Tribeca will likely remain the same.

 

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Creative Entrepreneur based in PDX. I sell rare and one of a kind objects to collectors that don't have time to treasure hunt. I source vintage and antique goods on my travels and in the Pacific Northwest. Gardening and cooking are my other two passions.

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