One of our intentions for visiting NYC was to test our interest in moving there. It’s easy to fantasize, but would we actually like living there? And if so, where, in particular?

For the first three nights, Z and I stayed in an Airbnb in the southern corner of Bushwick, between Broadway and Bushwick Ave. It was obvious immediately that the area would be far too noisy for our dog, Baxter. He is generally frightened by noise and would be reduced to a quivering lump by the thunder and shriek of the subway that runs above Broadway.

The location was great for our trip, though. Within walking distance we had plenty of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and even a small comedy club. It was easy to have an eventful first night despite having arrived at the Airbnb at 9pm, tired after a long day of travel from Seattle. Also within walking distance were subway stations for the J, L, A, & C lines, which made it easy to get around Brooklyn and into Manhattan on the two days following.

Bushwick, according to my friend who lives there, is the hip, artsy neighborhood that Williamsburg was ten years ago, before it fell into the sterilizing grasp of corporations. Bushwick is gentrifying though, and walking east to west through the heart of the neighborhood you can see the process unfolding.

On Saturday afternoon we came up out of Myrtle-Wyckoff station onto a small pedestrian strip crowded with carts and market stalls selling a variety of Latin American street food to Latino families. We’d left the noise of the L underground, but on street level cars honked, music blared, people called and chattered, and the M ran overhead. As we walked west on Knickerbocker Ave towards Maria Hernandez Park, we started noticing trendy-looking delis among the Mexican and Central American restaurants, and the unmistakable presence of young, white tote-carriers like us.

Despite this, the neighborhood looked no less gritty and industrial. Until the sudden sign of corporate investment. It announced itself when we wandered into the “Shops at the Loom,” in the form of a semi-deserted lobby furnished with tufted leather chairs that looked brand new, or at least unused. The lobby made no more sense the farther walked into the building, past several closed offices and a surprising lack of shops. We tried the door to a vintage clothing store, but it was locked. Finally we came to a cafe where a young woman was singing and playing acoustic guitar. It was occuppied sparsely and mostly by people that seemed to know the singer. In the corner opposite the counter was a table of free kombucha and “elixirs,” attended distractedly by one of the artsy entourage. I couldn’t spot an exit to the street. Had everyone come in through the lobby and down the winding hallway?

It felt, as corporate-subsidized spaces often do, like a fake place, a place designed remotely from a real estate office rather than one developed and maintained by people that spend time there. A cursory internet search confirms it. The building belongs to Bushburg:

An integrated real estate development and management company investing in transformative projects that create long-term value in emerging markets.

Or, in fewer words, gentrifiers incorporated.

Ventures like these feel the ickiest because their sole aim is, literally, to capitalize on a place. And it shows in the lifelessness of the spaces they create, which neither exist for the people that inhabit them nor belong to them. They offer what they must in order to extract value efficiently, and no more. Why would they? These places don’t have to be meaningful to anybody, they just have to perform as an economic resource.

Less than a mile from where I live in Seattle is South Lake Union, a prime example of a city district too smothered by corporate investment to have life. It’s a disheartening place to be in. But at least escape is possible on foot. Bellevue, a quasi-city on the other side of Lake Washington, is even worse. Its skyscrapers suggest citylife but amount to little more than vertical suburbs with convenient access to corporate offices and a high-end mall. The entire place feels manufactured.

It’s easy to oppose and despise this aspect of gentrification, but what about the aspects that attract people like me? Places that I love, too, are responsible for driving up the cost of living in the areas they inhabit. Near the Loom in Bushwick are two places now among my favorites in New York: SEY Coffee and Roberta’s. And while these places are wonderful and, I think, worthy contributions to the local culture, they are also catalysts for the displacement of locals, a necessary step in the process of making space for people who can and want to pay more to live in the area. People like me.

In fact, it is precisely corporate real estate companies that make it feasible for an influx of people like me to settle in the area. (Work in progress / to be continued)