Field Notes Railing Opinion
A Response to Christina Wilkinson
Dear Ms. Wilkinson,
Thank you for taking the time and care to write such a detailed response to my article about Mr. Westergaard. Historical accuracy is of the utmost importance to me, and I value your perspective as a local historian. I of course in no way desire to rewrite history—and I believe you and I share a desire to stop gentrification in Ridgewood.
I primarily write cultural criticism, and as a resident of Ridgewood, I was interested in the ways in which Kermit Westergaard uses cultural capital to naturalize the process of neighborhood design/curation/gentrification. Of course there are many other developers and landlords with worse practices—even in Ridgewood—and my piece chose him as a focus and was meant to foster conversation. It is not meant to be the defining position on all gentriciaton in Ridgewood.
Obviously I was not able to include all of the historical context you mention within the scope of the piece. However, I think many of your disagreements are with my phrasing and conclusions. When I say that Bushwick is a historically Black neighborhood I am not saying that it was ever demographically majority Black, but rather that it has a greater Black population when compared to Ridgewood. Or when I say that St. Matthias Church is the center of Ridgewood, I mean that it is a symbolic center today—I am not claiming that the church was historically the center when designing the neighborhood. Similarly, when I say that Ridgewood is becoming homogeneous, I am not referring to the demographic makeup—but rather to the cultural threat of homogeneity posed by gentrification. When I refer to Ridgewood being part of Brooklyn, I am referring to it being on Brooklyn’s street grid—which you mention.
I chose to write about policing in Ridgewood, policies supported by Catherine Nolan and Bob Holden, and businesses such as Rolo’s, because I believe they are relevant to the discussion of gentrification. A writer needs to choose a focus, and this is what I found to be of importance.
Your point about interviewing Mr. Kerzer, the tenants, and others is well taken—and I would love to have Mr. Kerzer, Mr. Westergaard, and yourself put something on record in addition to speaking to the Tenants Union, and those hurt by Mr. Westergaard. The response to this piece has only proved that there is more to be written and investigated.