Is Brooklyn Flea ‘apartheid’ or are Williamsburg residents NIMBY trash?

Photo via Brooklyn Flea
Photo via Brooklyn Flea

If you were a broker trying to rent an apartment in Williamsburg to a recent New York transplant, how would you advertise the overpriced shoebox? Probably you’d mention the rich cultural offerings – a host of cocktail bars, performance venues, bizarrely specific shops, vintage stores galore, fusion food options, lots of young, attractive, creative people, Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg at your doorstep.

The Flea and Smorgasburg are in hot water, however, as Williamsburg residents complain they are causing overcrowding (10 to 20,000 people attend a weekend, reportedly), hogging public space and restricting non-market goers allowances at East River State Park – namely, putting up signs outside the park banning outside food or drink, DNAinfo reported. It’s a convergence of everyone’s favorite Brooklyn schadenfreude sources: the monopolizing one percenters getting slapped on the wrist by the people and NIMBYs acting out against a problem of their own creation.

Brooklyn Flea has now canceled their outpost in the Burg, and are seeking a new home. Smorgasburg is staying put. One of the most vocal anti-Flea voices, a former Flea vendor and current Williamsburg resident himself, is 25-year-old Andre Van Hoek, who compared the markets’ presence in the park with “apartheid” to DNA. “I believe strongly that this is our public space and it is important space — we have so little park space here in North Brooklyn,” Van Hoek told the Brooklyn Paper.

Walking through the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg on any given day, the vendors and patrons are much more a testament to Brooklyn’s indie-loving, alternative culture than the boroughs’ diversity. This is New Brooklyn, where it’s easier to find a rare 1970 Coach handbag than it is to find lemonade for under $3 a glass. These markets don’t sell necessities, they sell locally-made home decor, thrift finds and damn good food. They serve as a wonderfully lucrative opportunity for the same group of small businesses and independent makers who are being displaced beyond the borough to earn some deserved, honest cash.

Before Williamsburg was a glass towered land of big city dreamers and fashionistas, Williamsburg was a densely populated, blue collar immigrant hub with a big Hispanic population, a large percentage of which was left jobless as manufacturing gigs evaporated in the latter half of the 20th century. Old timer Brooklynites who have seen both Brooklyns – the disinvested city suburb wracked by redlining, where arson was worth committing because your insurance payout was higher than your property value, and the artisanal hub full of mayonnaise shops and rents rivaling Manhattan’s – consistently laud the drop in crime and the increase in city services while condemning the prohibitively high cost of living and the displacement of local mom and pop shops for overpriced or corporate wares when they talk about the borough’s changing identity.

Things like Brooklyn Flea are not what is to be derided about Brooklyn. Having a gathering of local businesses that is so successful it requires a larger venue is the kind of golden problem citys’ like Detroit and Cleveland would love to have. Yes, it is inconvenient to locals and arguably makes their quality of life, like, a percentage point worse, but to call it apartheid is entitled beyond words and speaks to the bubble of privilege that dominates in the Burg. If none of Williamsburg’s history has been considered apartheid up until this point, not the densely packed tenements, not the community of immigrant workers unable to secure a job to feed their family, then certainly this isn’t either.

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  1. isn’t there a gray area here? i find his likening of it as an “apartheid” to be incredibly tone-deaf and ignorant, but the neighborhood is totally overrun on weekends and it makes doing ANYTHING incredibly inconvenient. Even going to CVS to pick up a prescription turns into a battle with the throngs of tourists on Kent and the surrounding streets. It’s a nuisance, bottom line, and I hate that media has picked up on his “apartheid” comments because it distracts from the real issue and gives you ammunition to paint large swaths of Williamsburg / Greenpoint residents as assholes living in a privileged bubble.

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