SongBook – The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn

Yup, already wrote a post about this book. But it’s been awhile since I found a song that fit the book I was reading so nicely. And I did say I would make it a recurring series. So here you go.

So, this book. I’m almost done with it (I know, I’m really slacking). The history of Brownstone Brooklyn that it addresses is essentially a battle of good vs. evil. On the side of good, the young professionals and artists that “discovered” Brooklyn Heights and fought tooth and nail to keep the brownstones the way they were. They wanted an organic gentrification, without the interference of government building projects (or middle-class housing, for that matter) and towers that looked like any other apartment building. The evil side featured Robert Moses, the man determined to build build build and who didn’t care what was in his way.

That’s the book’s interpretation of him, anyway (or I should say, the interpretation of the housing associations and people that refused to let the city demolish their historic houses*). There was more than one fight between the opposing parties that lasted for years. The Brownstoners refused to compromise. The city tried compromising but it wasn’t enough. Etc. Etc. Etc. It was exhausting to read, I can’t imagine having been on either side while the actual decisions were being made.

And so, this morning, when The Kink’s “Demolition” came up on shuffle during my morning commute, I thought it did a good job of summing up the “they’re out to destroy everything” mentality that the Brownstoners felt the city had. You can argue from now until the end of time about which side of urban renewal is the “right” one, but to these new homeowners in the 1950 and 60’s, Moses and his committees were short-sighted devils:

Two up, two down,
It hasn’t got a garden,
But it’s got a lovely patio.
Stainless steel kitchen sink,
Gas fired central heating,
Whaaa — specifically designed for modern-day living,
Nothing’s permanent and nothing lasts,
We’ve sold all the houses so put ’em up fast.
We’re gonna buy up this town
And pull it all down.
How I love to hear the demolition sound
Of concrete crashing to the ground.

A video for your listening pleasure (it’s some random neighborhood, the video is less important than the beautiful voice of Ray Davies coming through your speakers):

*This isn’t the first time I’ve read negative viewpoints about Moses. I love the park named after him on Long Island, but I don’t know enough about him to form my own opinion. I guess that means that, at some point, The Power Broker will be on my to-read pile.


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