Cover Photo: A photograph of a row of brownstone houses in Brooklyn, New York.
Photograph by Sam Balye/Unsplash

To All the Brooklyn Brownstones I’ve Loved Before

The brownstone stood for everything I wanted: solidity and urbanity, possibility and permanence. I could see it, stand inside it, even sleep there. But it wasn’t mine.

60s and early 70s, every book and film and TV show told them that they belonged in a house with a yard and a picket fence, and they believed it. That’s how narratives work: they masquerade as nature, as fact, as truth. Twenty years later, I was equally sure that I belonged in a brownstone in the city.

70s, “Brooklyn’s new middle class recast brownstones and industrial lofts as an organic and authentic ‘middle cityscape,’ lodged between over-modernized skyscrapers, suburban tract homes, and the ‘wild’ ghetto.” Maybe my parents had been naïve to seek their American Dream in the suburbs, but Osman dismantles the illusion that the white families who stayed in the city were any more aware of the implications of their choices. “Gentrification in its early years was a form of white-collar urban romanticism,” he writes, and the “brownstoners” saw themselves as part of “a cultural revolt against sameness, conformity and bureaucracy.” Brownstone life wasn’t any “realer” than the suburbs; it was just another of the myriad stories white people told themselves about who they were and where they lived, at the expense of communities with far less money, mobility, and freedom.

Beth Boyle Machlan is a writer and teacher who lives in Brooklyn. She's working on a book of essays about real estate, identity, and desire. Her essays have appeared on Avidly, River Teeth, Guernica, The Rumpus, The Awl, and the New York Times. She yells about writing, teaching, her pets, and hockey at @bethmachlan.