(A prose poem in dialogue)

The coffee starts getting better, that’s the first sign.

  • It’s so much better now.

Once you have more options than bodega coffee, then you know hyper-gentrification is coming.

  • Hyper already? Any gentrification here is new.

It’s a process all right, happens in stages. Only seems like all at once when you run out of options.

Gentrification first but the transition into unaffordability is so accelerated, the cycle now contains little lag time. What used to take seven years or more, now takes five or less and what used to take five years, now takes three.

  • That Art Gallery opened.

Art galleries appear around the same time as the lattes, hard to tell which came first, visual expression or steamed milk.

Only one appears, you just need one. Okay maybe two, no more than three – depending, one might sell frames and/or art supplies. Artists always find the affordable neighborhoods first for studio spaces, of which a gallery is the natural spawn. Big, non-residential windows of a former hair salon or dry cleaner. People from outside the neighborhood came, the artists had friends and neighbors and Facebook.

  • New lights on an old block.

 Everyone’s friendly and artists are in every nook and cranny of each community. Welcoming. Who doesn’t appreciate talking to familiar faces you’ve never met. Gallery Show fliers stapled to telephone poles. Refreshments on a folding table in the back, beverages bought from the corner liquor store, food from that supermarket on 440.

  • The openings I’ve been to seem more like street parties.

Once the gallery opens, the flux is set in motion. The pattern is not new, here or across the river, north and south or westward too. One or two bodegas left?

  • Three.

. Weren’t there three opened stores still on that block over there two summers ago?

  • Four.

You’ve read the same studies.

  • The Darkness Stage.

Except for streetlights, completely unlit, empty and closed… one or two here, half a block over there. An entire block, maybe two, I cannot recall if they were next to each other. Still more splotches than long stretches, it’s not a wasteland but are there more uninhabited shadows than two years ago?

  • Now that you mention it.

Who can recognize dwindling in real time?   Only when you wonder how long someplace has been  dark do you feel the newly contained lifelessness.  Text Book Darkness Stage.

  • Will the Darkness spread?

No. Not that many old places still open to begin with. On some exteriors artists paint murals. A new smile on buildings from this 20th century means-of-production-mecca.

  • Art will replace the darkness? 

Not beyond murals. Galleries rarely proliferate, to more than two or three.  One’s enough to start. Not like the coffee.

  • When the coffee got better, that corner bodega, they never changed their brew but they added English Breakfast and Green Tea to go. I haven’t even tried two new places I just heard about.

What isn’t dark?

  • The drycleaner, the liquor store and the bodegas.

Each may last another generation or two.  Otherwise, prepare for the hyper, there’s unmistakable omens in the new.

  • New businesses revitalize, that darkness is good for no one.  As if an espresso machine is the sign of the apocalypse.

Who said there was only one sign. Those buildings, the block where the furniture store and shoe store used to be, boarded up or rusting storefront gates, some long-shuttered, but others no more than a year.

  • There’s more newly shuttered than old.

Have the security fences gone up?  Have you seen any new sheets of plywood aligning sidewalks? That’s the shotgun in your face.  Demolition, construction, leasing office. Those new buildings are coming. 21st century residential, sleek, several stories higher than anything nearby – accents of glass and bricks and even what looks like wood. The kind you find in every redeveloped downtown district across the country and many NATO nations.

  • Someday the darkness will be gone?

Hyper-Gentrification is incandescent. Wealth is bright and glittering, shadows are blight.  Neighborhoods near the hyper zones are the most susceptible to shifting.  But, who is moving in and how much more money do they make than you?

  • I cannot argue statistics. More people live here. Not all of them are artists.

More people will be coming. You will see less sky. The real estate offices have been here for years, what else is new?

  • .Besides coffee places? If I see one Vegan takeout, I see two. Sit-down too. With Uber who needs parking.

Judging by this chai and bean, no less than three, no more than five. Years.

  • I’ve seen one construction site in what I consider my neighborhood. But more buildings are dark too.

New buildings never have space for murals. The artists will depart not in droves, but dribbles. A leisurely bloodletting. 

The gallery will stay even after most of the artists leave, the studio space gets repurposed into residential lofts. But nothing stays forever, and soon the only thing left of the way things used to be will  be you.

No stopping the hyper. No gauging the market more than three months in advance to estimate pace. Will it be just the building, or the block?  You have way more than a few closed up places here now.

  • I loved that produce store. I still use the snow boots I bought in that shoe store. 

 Not everywhere gets hyper as bad as places before, but lately when you get a little you get a lot.

  • We have darkness, art and coffee.

For now. New constructions will replace the darkness.  Art is always somewhere, but artists will be priced out. Probably you too. Eventually. Yesterday’s vanguard is tomorrow’s remnant.  

  • What is this change and how will if affect me?

 Your guess is as good as mine, and my guesses turned out wrong.

You survive, but with less ease. The new restaurants and bars are tons of fun if you were ten years younger. They remind you of places you’ve drank at in other cities, mostly on business trips. You notice breeds of dogs you’ve never seen before. Genetically engineered cuteness can take your breath away.

 Cheese shops and the bakeries, the kind that have this well-reviewed fresh cookie or cupcake, or am I thinking of two different places. The shops keep changing concepts, reinvented again, but darkness between, for months, sometimes years.

For the darkness never abandons the city. Hyper gentrified, the rich passively overpopulate, that post-factory, inner-city vibe withered away long ago. Empty storefronts in buildings new and old, waiting for the highest rent, whatever opens cannot afford  to make it last.   Gentrification is not a phase, but phases.

Eventually you’re displaced or you die.

But, until you do, you will always have coffee that always tastes as good as everywhere else.

Copyright 2022 Timothy Herrick, held by author