A while back, I had a piece I wrote published on The Billfold. I wrote about it here. Knowing the editors of a site that I totally respect (and, let's be honest, a site that has such a large audience) made me pretty darn happy back then, and it still does now. One thing I didn't mention was the negative feedback I received below in that ever-perilous comments section. I didn't bother to mention it because it didn't affect my happiness one little bit, particularly as nobody was criticising my writing or my profile picture. Just my life choices and personal experiences, but not my writing, so no worries. In fact, I was rather proud in a strange way. Negativity from others when you put yourself out there kind of means you've made it, right?
All that said, one comment obviously made enough of an impact to stick with me, because I have remembered it to this day. Maybe because it was the first slightly less-than-positive-or-even-neutral sounding one. Maybe because of the teeny-bit-parochial username of the commenter. Maybe because it was clearly obviously written in jest or careless haste, because surely the commenter cannot have meant Hackney is the London Brooklyn when he or she wrote that Hackney was London's version of Brooklyn?
You may be shaking your head and thinking that clearly I'm a total moron, because that's so obviously what the commenter meant, but bear with me. If you've ever been to both Hackney and Brooklyn, carefully compare the two, and something will jump out at you. If you haven't been to one or the other, keep reading (if you've been to both, keep reading also, please!)
Hackney is 7.539 square miles (19.06 square kilometres).
Brooklyn is 96.9 square miles (251 square kilometres).
In case you're like me and not all that spatially aware, that is quite the size difference. And when something is that much bigger, you can fit a lot more into it, like a giant park and a Down Under style pie shop and a food festival and an Orthodox Jewish community and an enormous bowling alley and just a whole lot more diversity, you know?
So I'm inclined to disagree with the commenter. Hackney is not London's version of Brooklyn. That said, I can see where he/she could get that impression. Working off the assumption that they have never been to Brooklyn, and thinking about all the information I've subconsciously gathered about Brooklyn over the years, I can see how you would equate the two in your mind, because when Brooklyn in mentioned in magazine articles and TV shows and films, it's always full of gentrifying hipsters and/or hippies setting up galleries and communes and ateliers left, right, and centre, and an undercurrent of grit and 'authenticity' (poor people, guys, and minorities too) and so, in short, it's not all that different from the London neighbourhood of Hackney.
What I just described is a fairly small part of Brooklyn, in reality. It's Williamsburg, and maybe Greenpoint, and what Bushwick is fast becoming as gentrifiers get priced out of Williamsburg and Greenpoint and/or realise that they weren't there first, so it's not cool anymore. I have been to Williamsburg, a couple of times, but not the other two places, and I liked it. It has its own bridge, and I'm very fond of bridges:
And rather pretty little houses, some made out of wood, which you really don't see in Manhattan:
And an artisanal food festival next to some fancy big condominiums, just to remind you that the gentrification is coming along nicely but it is still a very special and artistically bountiful place.
This is all coming out quite sarcastic, and it's meant to be in a way, but mostly not. I'm serious when I say I like Williamsburg. It's most definitely worth a visit if you're a tourist in NYC, and several if you live here, but to say it is Brooklyn is a little annoying (and if it's annoying to me, a die hard Manhattanite*, I can only imagine how Brooklynites** feel about it). There is lots to Brooklyn. It contains multitudes. Some parts of it are very cool, and some parts are still so 'authentic' you're probably best not to go there after dark. And lots of parts - probably most of it, honestly - just kind of are.
A bit like London, really.
*This was not picked up by spellcheck. I had no idea it was that established a word!
**Ditto for this, and ditto for my feelings on it.