“I don’t like to use the phrase gentrification…”
This exact same quote was repeated both by Southpaw owner Matt Roff in a New Yorker piece called “Park Slope is Dead,” written in advance of the February closure of the venue, and by Craig Max, the venue’s former sound engineer when I interviewed him at the venue about a week after its last event. In each case, they’re talking about the same phenomenon: the gradual changing of Park Slope, first from an urban community to a young, artistic one, and then from a young artistic community to a more adult, suburban one.
Indeed, after the venue was first announced to be closing, most every news outlet and music blog who mentioned the story seemed to also mention the nature of Park Slope. This initial article in The Brooklyn Paper goes into the topic in some depth, quoting Susan Fox, the founder of an organization called Park Slope Parents (which should say enough in and of itself) as saying “We are seeing a lot more kid-centered things. But, you know, just because we’re ‘babyified’ doesn’t mean we don’t want good music.” The blog The Brooklynian did a very good piece about the closing of the venue, which also cites the diminishing non-family life in Park Slope—but also takes a critical look at other reasons the venue may have closed.
Indeed, it should say plenty that there exists a blog entitled “Fucked in Park Slope,” which, in a very self-aware fashion “is a blog about a pretty, gentrified, know-it-all neighborhood in Brooklyn.” The January 27 post on the site was even titled “We’re All Fucked: Babies are Officially Taking Over Park Slope,” and its author, Jessica, says “Although we’ve known for a while that screamers in strollers and on foot overrun the Slope, it’s just getting out of control. They’re pushing us out just like they were pushed out of their mother’s vaginas, and there is no stopping it.”
But of course, the closing of a music venue isn’t the only sign that the neighborhood is (again) changing. In 2008, Roff actually did an interview with The New York Observer, which touches on the opening of his beer garden location, but is really a rumination on the gentrification of Brooklyn as a whole, as Roff is a lifetime resident of the borough, born in Park Slope. But, not without irony, of the Crown Heights neighborhood (where the beer garden, Franklin Park, is located) Roff says “I guess I can see the area becoming more like Park Slope down the road but it will take some time.”
The gentrification of Park Slope is far from a new phenomenon, and has been well underway for decades. In a New York Times article from 12 years ago about the changing landscape of the neighborhood, one landlord is focused on, but so is a so-called “displacement free zone,” an attempt to keep existing residents in their place. The location of this zone? Fifth avenue, the same locale where Southpaw sprang up two years later.
So, as Southpaw was once a benefactor of gentrification and the ever-evolving lay of the land, it seems to have now become a victim, as that cycle has continued to its logical ends, from urban, to artistic, to suburban.