Changes in Demography in South Williamsburg

“A lot of Mexicans and Hispanics that used to live in Williamsburg are gone. They’re in Ridgewood, Knickerbocker--that’s a very popular Hispanic place...I guess it’s affected how I look at myself in the community. Because before it used to feel like a home and I used to feel accepted because everyone knew who I was and everyone was aware that, “Hey, this is where the Hispanics live.” And now in a sense when you’re walking around, when you’re on the L train headed to Brooklyn, people look at you as if you don’t belong there, like, “How could she still afford to live there? Isn’t it too expensive?” And I see the looks, and every corner of my neighbourhood is now a little cafe, or little bistro, or restaurant. And they look at you as if, like, “She shouldn’t be here”, you know, “This isn’t her territory anymore. It’s ours.””

There is no doubt that the demography of South Williamsburg, where most Hispanic people in the community live, has changed drastically over the years. The image below, captured on Social Explorer, shows the concentration of Hispanics just about 15 years ago, in 1990, when Denise’s parents just moved into the neighbourhood, alongside the concentration of Hispanics and Latinos from data most recently available, from 2014. The darker the color, the higher the concentration. It is clear that the concentration of Hispanics and Latino people in South Williamsburg has decreased.

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Concentration of Hispanic people in South Williamsburg in 1990 vs. 2014

So if the Hispanic and Latino people are moving out, who is moving in? Below is an image that compares the concentration of “white” people in 1990 versus 2014. The darker the color on the sections of the map, the higher the concentration of white people live in that area. We can see clearly the significant increase of white people who have moved into South Williamsburg in the span of just under 15 years.  


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Concentration of white people in South Williamsburg in 1990 vs. 2014

One might bring up the fact that according to our description of the gentrifier in the previous section, the gentrifier is supposed to majorly displace an existing community, thus creating a change in the socioeconomic character of the neighbourhood. But in South Williamsburg, while the concentration of Hispanic people have decreased, there is still a significant existing community of Hispanics. Yet, we call the neighbourhood gentrified and claim that the socioeconomic character has indeed changed. How can we rationalize this? According to Lance Freeman and Frank Braconi in their chapter “Gentrification and Displacement: New York City in the 1900s” in The Gentrification Reader, “for poor households, a 1% increase in rent inflation is associated with a 1% decrease in the odds of moving.” The most plausible explanation for this seemingly counterintuitive fact is not, in fact, counterintuitive: disadvantaged households value and want to hold on to the neighbourhood improvements that gentrification brings. So while the socioeconomic character of the neighbourhood is indeed changing because of an influx of (white) people from a higher socioeconomic class, those of the community that can afford to stay in the neighbourhood, even if it be by the skin of their teeth, cling on and stay. Denise talks about how despite skyrocketing rents, her family has not moved to Knickerbocker like so many of their friends because her family greatly values the safety of South Williamsburg, or to Staten Island because her family cannot give up the convenience of the train system in the city and buy a car.


Changes in Demography in South Williamsburg