For Latino and Hasidic families who have lived for decades in the Brooklyn waterfront community of Williamsburg, the September 19, 2005 headline in New York magazine wasn’t exactly news: “The Southside of Williamsburg has become a place to put down roots,” it declared. Williamsburg has long been a place where people put down roots-see Betty Smith’s 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or Arthur A. Cohen and Philip Garvin’s 1970 study, A People Apart: Hasidism in America. But more recently, Williamsburg’s impoverished Southside has been “discovered” by the same breed of “pioneers”-as many insist on putting it-who turned Williamsburg’s neighboring Northside into a hip artsy enclave à la Manhattan’s Soho district. The new arrivals were seeking “frontiers” to the south and east that might provide lower rents and cheaper loft space. Many are paying rents that are unimaginably high for Bushwick, east of Williamsburg and for decades one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.

Frontier terminology may have been apt in the early days of urban revival in neighborhoods being reclaimed from abandoned fields of debris. But in many urban communities today, the trend toward gentrification no longer involves “homesteading” amid rubble or in vacant factories. It has become a process that pits the interests of poor, often minority, working-class residents against those of real-estate developers, local governments seeking higher...

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