Documenting the Spatial Practices of Global Migration

Williamsburg, at night

Category : FIELD TRIP 10/13/2011
There are interesting ways to encounter immigrant communities on a Friday night. Williamsburg is known for its diversity. Long-time home to Italian and African American communities, but also with established Hasidic jewish, Puerto Rican and Dominican populations. And of course, increasing numbers of youthful ‘hipsters’. I was in Williamsburg to explore, and attend an electronic music house concert by a friend of a friend of a friend. It is these sort of events (loud music, late nights) that are often cited as a source of tension between incoming residents and established residents, often but not necessarily immigrants. However in Williamsburg, some entrepreneurs see late night gatherings as an opportunity.

The housing stock of the neighborhood itself is slightly lower density, allowing for subdivided or large apartments that attract immigrants and young people in need of cheaper housing. The townhouses also provide an important opportunity for homeowners, in Williamsburg often successful foreign born, to express their individuality. Many houses have different facades or place objects visible to the street that reflect either their prosperity, individuality, or cultural heritage. Stoops and building fronts can easily become areas for street socializing.

Although Broadway ostensibly divides the north and south sides of Williamsburg between Italian/Polish and Puerto Rican/Dominican neighborhoods, the mix of shops along Grand Street tells of greater diversity. Pawn shops, grocers and jewelry store cater to a mix of clientele with shop names often in Spanish. At night, the variety of open businesses represent the neighborhood well. Corner bodega’s are open late, operated by latino guys. Dark bars cater both to those in search of a cheap beer or a ironic/classy dram of whiskey and serve primarily young tattoo’d types, to the profit of old run-down bars in the area. Obviously there has been an influx of hipster oriented businesses competing with those oriented towards immigrant communities, such as Noorman’s Kil scotch bar or gluten-free cafes with kitschy decor.

But proud third-generation businesses like Sal’s Pizzeria obviously profit from these new residents. At midnight,  there I observed two Italian-Americans at work, pawning off the last of their slices on the tipsy hipster revellers passing by. Young, fluent Italians lingered nearby on the street, bringing to mind that successful businesses and immigrants often attract continued generations of chain immigrants, even to an older neighborhood like this.


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