The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn

Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York

Osman, Suleiman

Book - 2011
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn
Oxford University Press
Considered one of the city's most notorious industrial slums in the 1940s and 1950s, Brownstone Brooklyn by the 1980s had become a post-industrial landscape of hip bars, yoga studios, and beautifully renovated, wildly expensive townhouses. In The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, Suleiman Osman offers a groundbreaking history of this unexpected transformation. Challenging the conventional wisdom that New York City's renaissance started in the 1990s, Osman locates the origins of gentrification in Brooklyn in the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. Gentrification began as a grassroots movement led by young and idealistic white college graduates searching for "authenticity" and life outside the burgeoning suburbs. Where postwar city leaders championed slum clearance and modern architecture, "brownstoners" (as they called themselves) fought for a new romantic urban ideal that celebrated historic buildings, industrial lofts and traditional ethnic neighborhoods as a refuge from an increasingly technocratic society. Osman examines the emergence of a "slow-growth" progressive coalition as brownstoners joined with poorer residents to battle city planners and local machine politicians. But as brownstoners migrated into poorer areas, race and class tensions emerged, and by the 1980s, as newspapers parodied yuppies and anti-gentrification activists marched through increasingly expensive neighborhoods, brownstoners debated whether their search for authenticity had been a success or failure.

Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, c2011
ISBN: 9780195387315
Branch Call Number: 307.3416 O
Characteristics: x, 348 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm.


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Feb 09, 2014

This book is a decent reference guide to the history of Brownstone Brooklyn, but there is a lot of bias and sections that will make you wince. The language he uses and his attitudes toward race are dated, even though the book was published in 2011! Refers to some groups as ethnic and spicy.

May 01, 2011
  • floy rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This well-written book provides a compelling history of Brownstone Brooklyn through a comprehensive look at Brooklyn architecture, city planning & urban renewal, race and class issues, and politics.

Anyone who's watched movies or TV shows situated in New York has probably seen the lovely old 19th century brownstones. After reading this book, you will look at them differently. When they were built, many criticized the buildings as having false fronts with pretentious detailing and inferior stone. Now they're worth millions. Many people & the media viewed the white professionals who moved into the increasingly minority Brooklyn neighborhoods as "pioneers" who cleaned up their buildings and helped save the neighborhood and the city. Others saw those same people as part of the enemy - white people with money who evicted the multiple tenants in large brownstones so they could move their own single families in and live in style. The white families intially saw themselves as liberal for moving into the area but some gradually morphed into self-interested residents who objected to all other improvements for the poor in the neighborhood. Everything is complicated in NYC but the author is a fine guide through the thicket.


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