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Published: 2001/10/18
by Bill Stites

The Wetland-ed Gentry

"NOTICE," the flier begins, "PLEASE READTHIS AFFECTS YOU."

"A METHADONE MAINTENANCE CLINIC is trying to open right next to our
Pathmark. This could have an enormous impact on our community. We need
EVERYONE to come to a meeting about this issue."

It goes on to give the time and place.

The logo at the top consists of four computer-drawn cats, with the letters
C, A, T, S spelled across their bellies. This obnoxious acronym
stands for "Care About The Slope."

And I do.

Originally, the words "Park Slope" referred to a neighborhood of tree-lined
streets and opulent brownstones that runs along the west side of Prospect
Park, in Brooklyn. However, as New York real estate prices have climbed
skyward in recent years, the number of people looking to stake down to a
home within its esteemed borders has exploded as well. And, at least
according to the realtors, the borders themselves have expanded to
accommodate increased demand. I should know: to call where I live, on
window-repair-and-auto-parts-shop-dominated 4th Avenue, Park Slope would
have been laughable only a few years ago. People nowadays spend obscene
amounts of money for apartments even further from the pleasant shopping and
eclectic restaurants of the neighborhood we'd all like to believe we live
in.

Meanwhile, "our" Pathmark from the flier is located underneath the
Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, mere feet from the infamous Gowanus Canal.
There are hookers and crack dealers a scant few blocks away. It's in Park
Slope only by the furthest stretches of the imagination.

And yet, with the discovery of this flier, it's official: "Park Slope" has
spread all the way from Prospect Park to the industrial park along the
canal, swallowing everything and everyone in its path.

***

When Wetlands Preserve first opened its doors in 1989, 161 Hudson Street was
not commonly considered to be in TriBeCa. That consolidation of the phrase
"triangle below Canal (Street)" was in use, but most people would have found
"over by the Holland Tunnel" to be a much more helpful description of its
location. No one lived in TriBeCa then. In fact, no one could live
there, as zoning laws – long since scrapped – had demarcated the entire area
for industrial use, and residences were not allowed. What better place to
put a rock club? With no neighbors to complain about noise and long lines
of rowdy people, it seemed that Wetlands was assured a long and prosperous
future. And yet it's gone.

Hang around New Yorkers, or at least the kind likely to use five-syllable
words, and the conversation will eventually turn to the lively topic of
gentrification: where it's happening, who's responsible, whether it's good
or bad. For those of you who don't, gentrification, in a nutshell, refers
to the process of prosperous white people moving into parts of the city
where they'd never lived before, displacing the original residents and
usually installing coffee shops, Thai restaurants and "boutique" (I still
haven't figured out quite what that one means, but oftentimes they seem to
be clothing stores for extremely tiny women), in their place. The irony is,
just about the only people who would ever use the word in a sentence are
directly responsible for gentrification themselves.

We can't help it. When I went looking for apartments I could afford, I
decided that
10-years-ago-it-would-have-been-called-Gowanus-but-now-it's-become-Park
Slope was the best option available to me, partly because of the relative
proliferation of coffee shops and Thai restaurants. And, implicated in it
as I am, it would be hypocritical of me to claim that I think the
transformation of my neighborhood is an entirely bad thing. In the time
I've lived here I've watched the hip restaurants and bars with Pavement CDs
in the jukebox march down 5th Avenue towards me, and – of course – I've had
to check out each new one as it opens. The businesses the landlords are
driving out to make room for these encroaching interlopers are mostly
interchangeable laundromats, bodegas and pizza joints. My local grocery
store has a decent selection of organic produce, which I doubt it did back
in the Gowanus days. But I'd like to believe I can maintain some
perspective about it all. After all, my ilk and I were driven here by the
same ridiculous rents that are driving the neighborhood's former residents
off to God knows where. If the same thing hadn't already happened to all of
the neighborhoods in Manhattan Id care to live in, the coffeeshops and I
probably wouldn't be in Brooklyn now.

***

By the time Wetlands' 10-year lease came up, "over by the tunnel" was a very
different place. Robert DeNiro had moved into the neighborhood, and along
with Iron Chef Japanese, Masaharu Morimoto, opened the city's most famous
Japanese restaurant, Nobu, just a few blocks down Hudson Street. The
neighborhood's proximity to the financial district and copious, though
expensive, loft space fashioned from former factories had attracted an
exclusive class of denizens looking to escape the teeming streets and
increasingly touristy atmosphere of SoHo. TriBeCa had become, for the most
part, a calm, quiet oasis for the rich in Manhattan; one of the few left.
And a rock club known for letting shows run past four in the morning did not
fit into some of the new residents' views of what their neighborhood should
be.

It should go without saying that, as soon as that lease was up, the club's
landlord jacked the rent into the stratosphere. Hell, you can't really
blame him. Wetlands was occupying very valuable property by then. Suddenly,
the booking formula that had kept the club afloat, and every Tuesday free,
without needing to sell the room out six nights a week wasn't making ends
meet anymore. The local police and a community group not unlike C.A.T.S.
had been watching the place like hawks for a while already. That Wetlands
was there before any of the residents elicited no sympathy from those
who would run it from its home so as to reshape TriBeCa in their own image.
And the march of the boutiques down Hudson had begun.

***

That flier I found gets me incensed because of its absolutely arrogant
elitism. If you can't put a methadone clinic next to one of the most
polluted waterways in the Western world, where can you put it? Just looking
at that canal too long can make your hair and teeth fall out. And, judging
by the fact that someone tried to sell me drugs – no, I didn't ask what kind – right outside my apartment building yesterday, there are probably some
people around here who need it. A few "community-minded" white people move
in because they can't afford to live further up the slope either and
suddenly they're forming neighborhood organizations with cutesy acronyms and
trying to keep out social services that could make a difference in someone's
life because they feel they have a right to reshape Park Slope in "their"
own image. If you asked them where a better place for a methadone clinic
was, they'd probably tell you it belongs on the other side of the BQE, in
Red Hook. Problem is, the colonization of Red Hook has begun, and some of
New York's most wealthy developers have hatched a plan to snatch that
shrinking piece of waterfront property from the crackheads and gang members
and turn it over to the yuppies. And then I don't know where the hell the
clinic would go. Over the bridge to Staten Island?

Wetlands managed to hang in there for two more years, paying rent
month-to-month, the threat of eviction always looming. Negotiations were
entered into, new locations were scouted. But before any of those things
came to fruition, the sword fell: the building was sold to a landlord who
had no interest in keeping one of New York's most historic rock venues open.
When the press came knocking he tried to cover himself by saying "the people
who will be living in this building go out to clubs themselves. They don't
want one right downstairs," which is obviously bullshit. Id be fucking
psyched to live above Wetlands, and if you wouldn't, stop reading my
article.

Wetlands, and the 12 years of great music and memories it represents, have
probably already been flayed mercilessly from the walls of 161 Hudson
Street. Soon a suspiciously boutiqueish-sounding business will open atop
its remains. And the people who live above can now enjoy their lofts the
size of Wetlands free of joyful noise rising up through their floors at all
hours of the night, and of uncouth long-haired people gathering on the
sidewalk in front of "their" building.

Owner Pete Shapiro has diligently kept up the search for a new site worthy
of the Wetlands name, but it's been an uphill battle. There's basically no
place in Manhattan below 120th Street or so where a medium-sized rock club
could even open its doors nowadays, much less keep them open in the face of
still-rising rents and the city's uncertain economic future. I've pestered
Pete about moving the operation to Brooklyn, which makes a lot of sense to
me, considering most of Wetlands' clientele was priced out of Manhattan well
before the club was. He doesn't seem interested. Maybe he's worried about
C.A.T.S. coming after his ass, too.

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