The Williamsburg Experience—Gone in the Blink of an Eye

There are particular windows of opportunity in one’s life that are narrow, notably the once in a lifetime sweet spot that youth doesn’t realize or appreciate until years after the fact. It’s the period of time between college graduation and mid-20s, between dating and family commitment. It’s similar to the theme in the cult movie “The Girlfriend Experience” (2009) starring Sasha Grey whose character is an ultra high-priced escort whose opportunity to make obscene bucks has an extremely short shelf-life based solely on her youth and looks.

Manhattan. The geographically small island boasts astronomical rents where recent graduates are willing to pay for the Manhattan Experience. It represents extreme luxury on a small, 13 mile long Fantasy Island slightly larger than a gigantic luxury yacht with two heliports.

These non-trust fund graduates want the experience of Manhattan-style living. To accomplish this they toil at entry-level jobs earning just enough cover basic expenses, hanging out and partying at night, and living in a prison-size unit that serves as nothing more than a crash pad.  But as NY Times Holland Carter wrote in the June 8, 2012 Art Review section, “NYC has always had unaffordable neighborhoods. Now it has an unaffordable borough – Manhattan.”

However Big Apple economics in the 21st century have created new social opportunities. Brooklyn is now cool and hip which is why everyone wants to move to Williamsburg. Nowadays Williamsburg is the new Manhattan and can be aptly named “The Williamsburg Experience,” expensive but not yet completely unaffordable, an urban Bohemia where aspiring artists cannot afford to live, but where they can still afford to hang out.

You can crunch the numbers all you want but real-estate marketing is driven by perception and emotion. This young generation has already made their decision to live in Williamsburg and is willing to pay the exorbitant rental rates. To paraphrase the sage comment the Oracle tells Neo in The Matrix Reloaded, “You didn’t come here to make a choice because you’ve already made a choice. You came here to understand why you made that choice.” The “why” is simple—cool, chic and hip.

Additionally the mainstream media has romantically and nostalgically promoted Williamsburg as the latest darling of a bygone, urban, blue collar Americana.  And since local “tourists” from New Jersey, Westchester and Long Island began arriving not long ago, Williamsburg has become fully gentrified and consequently everyone’s destination.

We’re paying the price of being a celebrity nabe replete with the overwhelming wave of tourists, boutiques, bar lounges and artisanal eateries featured on the front page of publications worldwide. However as a long-time Williamsburg resident noted, one of the downsides to such celebrity status is “slumming” which occurs when visitors (professionals no less) shabbily treat a newly gentrified chic nabe as their personal playground and outhouse without regard for the residents.

The current trend will make Williamsburg as unaffordable as Manhattan sooner than you think. My advice to the new residents: embrace it and live the Inception-like dreamy fantasy as deeply as possible because the Williamsburg Experience will vanish in the blink of an eye.

Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation mega-projects, energy matters and urban planning.  Mr. Goldson is a 10 year Williamsburg resident, internationalist and avid jazz aficionado.