The roots of gentrification — it’s all in this new book

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Park Slope — you either love it or hate it, and the strollers, coffee shops and yoga studios that are quick jokes and symbols of gentrification.

“So many people feel very strongly about the changes that are happening,” said Suleiman Osman, a Park Slope native and professor at George Washington University in DC. “Park Slope has become a city-wide symbol of either people love it or have disdain for it. It’s fascinating to see the evolution of that story.”

Osman traces just that in his new book, “The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn,” a historical look at Brooklyn from the post-World War II years until the late 1970s. It’s a period ripe with complex forces at work — the arrival of a new middle class (so-called “brownstoners”) who, filled with idealist, romantic views of authentic urban living, reclaimed blighted neighborhoods, in turn raising rents and displacing long-time tenants. They’re the hallmarks, and, in this case, origins, of gentrification, a force that’s been at work here long before there was a well-known word for it.

“There was never a time when you could point to Brooklyn and say, ‘This is Brooklyn,’ ” said Osman. “It’s always been dynamic and shifting over time.”

One of the lasting contributions of that time was neighborhood names, including Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and, of course, the overarching Brownstone Brooklyn, coined in the early 1970s and proliferated by neighborhood groups, real estate agents and activists alike.

As he traces the invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, Osman’s story ends where it might start to become more familiar to readers — the emergence of an anti-gentrification movement in the 1980s — but not before asking a few questions.

“Was this movement a success?” said Osman, who may answer that question at Greenlight Bookstore on March 14. “And what’s the end of the story?”

Sounds like a sequel in the making.

Suleiman Osman discusses “The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn” at Greenlight Bookstore [686 Fulton St. between S. Elliott Place and S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200], March 14 at 7:30 pm. Free. For info, visit

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Reader Feedback

Joey from Clinton Hills says:
I hate Park Slope because of the loathesome, smug, self-involved prigs that live there.
March 7, 2011, 10:53 am
Joe from Tiagetelli says:
What's this story about bluestone Brooklyn? I can't read it because the font is too small.
March 7, 2011, 11:22 am
Dock Oscar from The Slop says:
Used to be, if you wanted to live in NYC, you had to be tough. Now you just have to be rich.
March 7, 2011, 4:10 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
We love Park Slope because of the tree-lined streets, beautiful brownstones, terrific restaurants, a great park nearby, abundant goods & services of nearly every variety, proximity to every kind of transportation, easy-going attitudes, and incredibly diverse residents. We appreciate that we can take our kids to any playground in the neighborhood and know that they'll never feel out of place because there are scores of other inter-racial families w/ kids there. It's true there are lots and lots of kids here and that's not for everyone. But there are many excellent neighborhoods with their own character, like Clinton Hill, in the city that seem like great places to live.
March 7, 2011, 4:43 pm

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