Everyone is talking about revolutions in media, science, medicine, energy, education, labor organization, philanthropy and the myriad of other fields that are effected by the introduction of transformative information distribution systems . No one, it seems, but the anarchists and new agers are talking about THE Revolution. It is here, it is peaceful and it’s manifesting itself in many of the cultural movements taking place in Brooklyn. The following are a few of the one’s I’ve witnessed:
1. Art everywhere: There is nothing more liberating to an individual than participating in authentic artistic expression. Even if the art is bad, if it isn’t ‘original’ or has no philosophy behind it, the simple expression of art is enough to get participants to think critically about their world. This artistic expression is evident in the galleries, cafes, parks and music venues where every emerging indie musical talent seems to play, but also on the streets as different graffiti artists battle day in and day out promoting their work with massive murals and/or prolific tagging. There is street music, especially in the trains, and lots of the music players wear costumes: authentic gypsy garb, cookie monster suits, V for Vendetta masks… it’s eclectic to say the least. Then there is the community spaces such as 3rd Ward, the lofts where every other ‘apartment’ is a band’s dormitory and practice stage, the warehouses where massive installations are constructed and, of course, the streets, where all this artistic energy expresses itself in a general attitude of folks not giving a shit.
2. Conforming to non-conformity: People complain that the hipster aesthetic is hypocritical. If everyone looks like they don’t give a shit they are conforming to what it means to look like one doesn’t give a shit. It’s true, there is a continuity, maybe a conformity, but when the guy next to you at the bar is a bad ass architect, his friend is a musician and ‘shaman’ and all of you are talking to (a) girls from Manhattan who came to Brooklyn to see where dancing with free individuals would take them (b) Spanish designers who heard this bar was awesome in Barcelona or (c) ‘anarchists’, worries about hypocrisy quickly fade away. Quite simple, it becomes quickly apparent if someone is boring and can’t dance.
3. A food focus: Whether it’s the half dozen urban farms that have popped up in the last 5 years, the well reviewed, locally focused indie restaurants that open every week or the underground kitchens secretly serving the most innovative meals to adventurous foodies, it’s clear that the food revolution discussed in recent feature films Food Inc. and Fresh: The Movie has found its east coast home in Brooklyn.
4. DIY: Do It Yourself, once considered a vestige of a bygone era of American machismo, has hit Brooklyn with tremendous force. Massive factories and warehouses in Industrial Williamsburg and Gowanus (and to a lesser extent Queens and the Bronx) have been converted into wood and metal working spaces where artists can pay a monthly fee to use tools once only accessible to the most well financed artists. Add a massive population of creatives and a community of people who genuinely want to drop out of the formal economy and traditional ‘consumer roles’ and you’ll find an area bursting with creative ideas and the tools necessary to make them a reality.
5. Hustler/Artists: Living in Brooklyn makes one aware of the many ways one can make a living in this world. Lots of Brooklynites earn money so they can pursue their artistic endeavors and since the economy loves freelancers, people have lots of projects. Some are for financial rewards, others are for social and artistic ones. Painters are doing graphic design, sculptors sell real estate and everyone is an electronic music artist. More social folks are realtors and event promoters, usually with a side of DJing skills. People aren’t starving, but a lot of folks are following their dreams and that’s rewarding to see.
It’s important to note a sobering reality. Over 2.5 million people reside in Brooklyn at a density level of 35,000 per square mile. Chicago, in comparison has 2.8 million people living at 1/3 the density. Everything I described happens in a small portion of the northwest of this metropolis bordering Manhattan. The 18 train lines are slowly changing that. Indeed, Brooklyn, with it’s extensive subway and bus network, boulevards, parks, coast lines, canals, and even beaches, it’s the only city in America that can compete with Manhattan. Indeed, the two cities competed vigorously for stature in the 19th century. In the 20th century Manhattan dominated, powered by the mass media and financial services industries. In the 21st, Brooklyn is going to make a decisive comeback. In fact, it’s going to be a revolution.