Coffee shops are complex sites in neighborhoods that are being reorganized by gentrification.
From Houston to Seattle to Brooklyn, I’ve sat next to other solitary white people in these spaces, in historically black neighborhoods, as we write papers, check emails, and scroll through Twitter feeds.
I’m thinking of a particular kind of coffee shop, a type, that shares a visual vocabulary and an origin story with other coffee shops like it. The type is conspicuously eclectic. Its aesthetic is well-worn in resistance to its actual brand newness. It says “We’re of and for the community,” but which community? It says “We’ve been around for a while,” but a while on whose timeline?
Of myself and other new, mostly white transplants to these neighborhoods and spaces, I wonder: What are we doing in here? What was here before?
When I first started looking for answers to these questions, I used Google Street View to look up a coffee shop in Brooklyn where I spend a lot of time.
I noticed a feature in Street View that lets you scroll back in time to 2007, when Google first started capturing street views.
I took a screen shot of the 2007 Google Street View of what today is a coffee shop, but was once the Bedstuy Fish & Chip Jump Off. The screen shot became a 6′ by 4.5′ poster that was installed across the street from the coffee shop, visible from the seat I usually sit in.
Reflection: A Few Disorganized Thoughts
The poster stayed up for a day before someone took it down. I’m not sure who took it down or why. Was it someone from the neighborhood? Someone from the coffee shop? Someone from the construction site?
This was a small intervention, but it’s scalable. It’s simple to take a screen shot and turn it into a 6′ poster through an online print shop. Installation is also cheap and easy. Maybe there is room here for a toolkit, maybe with the folks who did this light board action in Bushwick: http://bushwickdaily.com/2015/12/illumination-against-gentrification/
I appreciated that someone wrote the word “artifact” on the poster after it had been up for a few hours. Who wrote it?
The responses in this article to a much bigger, much more straightforward anti-gentrification mural in the Bronx give me pause: http://hyperallergic.com/259444/in-the-south-bronx-locals-respond-to-an-anti-gentrification-mural/ The questions that remain for me are: how do we get people to think? How do we get people to look? How do we get people to ask tougher questions? How do we get people to realize their collective power? And what is the power? What should it move toward?
James Baldwin’s Collected Essays
Sylvie Tissot’s work on gentrification, including this article “Life in Boston as a Liberal Gentrifier”
Google Street View
Process: White People in Coffee Shops
Process: Google Street View