It took SoHo a few decades, TriBeCa a few more and Williamsburg just under a decade to transform into trendy, high-rent neighborhoods. A few extra stops on the L, and some odd industrial blocks apart from neighboring Bushwick, the no-frills Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood, with a rich pool of artists, might just be the next to bow to real estate interests.
An 88-unit building on 176 Woodward Ave., a previously industrial site that falls within Ridgewood’s zip code has pledged some 3000 square feet of its residential space to artists, for just $ 10 a year.
For Neil Myers, a 35-year-old architect who calls Ridgewood home, the real estate pledge seems gimmicky. “I haven’t heard anyone talk about it in the artist community because they just don’t believe it’s true,” said Myers, “the whole project is out of place.”
The Slate Property Group, which owns the site, has said that 50 percent of these units will be affordable, of which 20 percent will be rent-stabilized. Weary of real estate developers who have used artists as bait in order to increase property values in neighboring Brooklyn, Myers views Slate, which is not a local property group, as “shady,” in its use of affordable housing as a crutch to gain a larger allotment of land, and tax breaks.
“Artists are actually willing to pay for rent,” says Sarah Feldman, who heads the Ridgewood Market, an artisan market held each month, and curates Ridgewood Social, a Facebook group followed closely by local artists and businesses. “We find this very strange. What are the terms attached to it?”
The 26-year-old artist believes that while the neighborhood does not scream artist-induced gentrification just yet, there are several new businesses that indicate that a transformation has definitely begun.
Susan Surface, a researcher at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, says that the “artist as gentrifier narrative” is one that pins most blame on the artists, who in actuality receive the short end of the stick. Part of an advocacy group known as Artist Studio Affordability Project, Surface is working towards rent protection for artists, who are priced out of their studio spaces.
“These artists move into spaces held together by blue-collar jobs and it often leads to cultural misunderstanding,” she said, explaining that Artist Studio Affordability Project encourages artists to engage locally, attend board meetings and support other causes in their community so that they can defeat greater real estate threats with the support of local residents and representatives.
Caroline Woolard, a lecturer of collaborative Studio Art at the New School, sees sustainability as a prime concern. To Woolard, $10 a year will not serve to create civic participation, or a sense of community integral to artists working and living in a particular area.
“How long will the spaces be affordable to artists? Do artists born in the area, or who’ve been working there for over a decade, get priority?”
Councilman Antonio Reynoso’s office said that many decisions about how the process will work have not been made yet and that the intention is to involve the local community in decision-making.
Colin Jorgensen, 37, is an artist and blogger who owns a studio on Woodward Avenue, and to him, a shared artist space within close proximity is an entirely thrilling prospect.
“Having the ability to work alongside other creative people in the same building, being able to critique one another and bounce concepts will always open an artist up to new ideas and possibilities they might not stumble upon while working alone,” he said.
Average rents in the Ridgewood area rose by 21.3 % between 2000 and 2012, despite a decline in household income, according to the Comptroller’s report. The property on Woodward Avenue is one of 11 residential developments that have taken place in Ridgewood in the last few years, including the conversion of a factory on Wyckoff Avenue and the Ridgewood Theatre.
“No one in Ridgewood wants it to become anything like ‘the new Bushwick’ or Williamsburg,” said local artist, Emily Heinz, explaining that the community has been happy to embrace new businesses and growing scenes but fears losing the sense of community between its residents.
“All things change. The question is always how they’ll change.”