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Dispatch / May 10, 2009
By Matt Harvey


I’ve always taken it for granted that brokers disseminate lies through the media to tweak property values. But a couple of weeks ago, I became a small cog in the national real estate propaganda machine myself while reporting for the New York edition of Time Out—on Kensington, Brooklyn, a supposedly “hot” new neighborhood stretch bordering wealthy the Park Slope district. Given the slick nature of the magazine, I filed a smoothed over narrative of what I saw—Bengalis, Hispanics and Hasids, chattering away amongst themselves in ancient dialects. I left out the trash filled yards, chop shops and nasty eyed stares from the locals. But a questioning email came back from my editor: where are the boutiques, cafes and charming restaurants? My answer, that there weren’t any, didn’t cut it with him.

My problem was I didn’t comprehend the nature of my assignment: To hype an up-and-coming “fringe neighborhood,” for bottom-feeding brokers. That’s what this was all really about. By the time my copy went through the editorial spin cycle it gleamed with low-slung starter homes and exotic eateries. I shouldn’t feel too bad; journalists have been burying the nabe’s true identity in acres of idyllic imagery since the end of the boom—when the area was shilled as a junior yuppie’s version of Park Slope’s family utopia. A typical example of how this message filtered through the media appeared in the Times, on May 25th, 2008. Experienced city reporter Jake Mooney introduced his readers to young artists moving their children to Kensington. The reason he gave for the artists fleeing wasn’t very convincing but it didn’t need to be: “[T]he last straw in Park Slope was the parking.” Stylish boom-era readers didn’t need Mooney’s 1400 words to get his drift. Artists were moving there, so “Kensington was the new Park Slope.”

Across the US, similar salesmanship—masquerading as journalism—can be found in money-hemorrhaging publications, kept on life-support by brokers’ ad revenue. Reading the LA Times most e-mailed article this week, it’s difficult to imagine the infusion of real-estate cash not holding editorial sway. “[P]ent-up demand in traditionally stable or chic areas have kept prices up — not as high as the market’s peak, but not nearly as low as they had feared,” the broker-sourced piece gushes, bending over backwards to assure readers that—contrary to popular belief—the sky hasn’t fallen on the real estate market. Right. But nowhere is this snake oil being sold as strongly and as cunningly as New York City, where self-conscious transplants eagerly suck down the so-called real estate “service journalism,” found in slick weeklies, Sunday newspaper supplements and websites such as

In the last year, vacancies have risen drastically, and prices have dropped, so Kensington’s marketing campaign has been adjusted to gear towards a less-wealthy demographic. Clamoring as to why it’s the borough’s “Best Value Neighborhood,” the Daily News even rechristened the district with a hip-sounding designation: “Called K-Town by some, Kensington combines an urban feel with row-house living… “ Contrast the News’ description to a post on, a nationwide urban house hunters’ forum.  Responding to a thread titled “What is Kensington Like,” a moderator wrote that although it was pretty safe it was also pretty grim. “It’s very dirty and there is a lot of graffitti. [sic]”

Read more here and here.

The term K-Town reeked of PR bullshit so I looked it up on Wikipedia. It was flagged with a “citation needed,” tab. Okay, academics routinely comb through the site with a virtual red pencil, so that didn’t prove it bogus. A friend of mine, Mike Byrnes, grew up right off Kensington’s main strip. In his 30’s, Byrnes’ still visits his parents there frequently. I asked him about the name “K-Town.” When his gravelly outer-borough laugh finally died down he said, “I never heard it called that in my fucking life.”

Even without the rebrand, The Daily News piece is dubious. It reads in part, “The neighborhood also has its own watchdog. Two friends run to monitor growth…” When I was scrambling for a cluster of hipsters to write about for Time Out, I had breathed a sigh of relief on finding a post on the very same. Entitled “where the cool kids go,” it seemed just what I needed to write about the alternative Kensington. The cool kids were all at “Jerbar,” a brand new hipster bar with a “speakeasy vibe,” right smack in the middle of Church Avenue’s Bengal grocers. It took me about a minute to realize that Jerbar was a turgid fantasia cooked up by the overzealous anonymous flaks behind the site. The bar doesn’t exist.

You wouldn’t know it from reading Wikipedia’s poorly sourced entry on Kensington, but, according to Byrnes, the place was rebranded before. In the 1980s, swaths of the city with bad reputations were diced up into tiny parcels and rechristened with aristocratic-sounding names or cute acronyms. Rough and tumble Flatbush—a massive neighborhood, with a large non-English speaking community—was parceled off. The resulting pieces were christened Kensington and Windsor Terrace without a trace of irony. Byrnes says he never even heard the term, “Kensington,” until he was a teenager. Stressing his consonants for emphasis he says, “It was always Flatbush, until one year this little phone book came around that said we were in Kensington.”

These layers of misinformation and spin would be low comedy if so much hard earned money weren’t at stake. According to, a real estate price index for consumers, the median sale price for a cozy piece of Kensington is well over 500 grand. Not exactly cheap, but it represents a 25% decrease—or 175 grand worth—in median price dip since last year. But here’s the kicker: Kensington property listings have only budged 1% on average—staying at the dreamy amount of $352K. Kensington is one of only three neighborhoods in Brooklyn with such a discrepancy between average list price and median sale price. (List prices are usually much higher.) One of the three is its sister nabe, Windsor Terrace. On Saturday, the flaks at were jumping up and down about a one-bedroom—for $289K. “This is probably the best Home for sale in Kensington today [sic].” You don’t need to be an undersecretary of HUD to figure out something is rotten in this formulation.

When I was trolling around for yuppies, I bumped into a symbol of the broken Kensington dream; A chubby nebbish coming home from the city with his wife and young child. They emerged from the Church Avenue F entrance into a sea of Bengals wrapped in white robes and taqiyya. Seeing my notebook he was anxious to talk. He volunteered, “You want to know if Kensington is the next Park Slope?” Just minutes before, speakers mounted on nearby shops were buzzing with afternoon Islamic prayers, so it wasn’t exactly foremost on my mind.

After going back and forth with the comparative merits, he decided ruefully that it wasn’t, saying: “The concept doesn’t feel like a perfect fit.” Mark has a reason to give the bunk idea due diligence though. Six years ago he fled from the Slope and bought a condo here, hoping real estate prices would rise. Here he is with a kid now, living in what looks like South Asia—through the deep recession. Mark explains the ethnic make-up of the Church Avenue away with a wan smile: “stores are lagging behind as the neighborhood population shifts.” Right across from where we chat, an Albanian Pizzeria has changed over to a Bengal cafeteria, which is having its grand opening. I don’t think that’s what the man means.

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Add your own

  • 1. geo8rge  |  May 10th, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Wow, I thought Red Hook was the next big thing. And they have a Fair Way supermarket. But then again Kensington has a subway.

    The lack of hipster bars just means that it is authentic, authentically Bangla (except for the Denny’s). Anyway, a short walk up Cortelyou (to Midwood) and you will find a cluster of yuppie type establishments.

    As far as gentrification goes fear not it will not happen. 20 Pakistanis can pay more for a house than 3 Yuppies, so don’t worry. Especially when 10 of the Pakistanis work as slave labor for the owners construction company.

    As to South Asians, you could do a lot worse. Sure they aren’t Chinese, or really top shelf Asians like Japanese or Koreans, but at least their kids are thinking college.

    The K-town thing is bizarre and ridiculous. Even more amusing is the dingy post office was declared a national historic place. Check Kensington in Wikipedia, it is really inexplicable, but hilarious if you were ever in there.

    BTW, the next big New York real estate idea, moving back to Manhattan.

  • 2. foo  |  May 10th, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    “they emerged from the Church Avenue F entrance into a sea of Bengals wrapped in white robes and taqiyya.”

    That the author doesn’t know that the swastika-using, laltika adorning Indo-European Bengalis (of the Aryan religion, natch) are certainly not Muslim…doesn’t inspire confidence in the article.

    They certainly do not wear white robes..that’s a muslim/arab thing. Maybe he meant the Muslim Bangladeshis, but then those are not called Bengalis anyway.

  • 3. Mr. Smiley  |  May 10th, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    While that may be an accurate description of Kensington, the area was certainly not made up by the real estate echo chamber. My mother grew up in the Kensington region of Flatbush back when it was a middle class neighborhood in the 1950s, before it fell into disrepair. It was definitely called Kensington.

  • 4. geo8rge  |  May 11th, 2009 at 4:31 am

    Bengalis – Church and McDonald is sometimes called Little Bangladesh, they have a Bangla street fair once a year. While mostly Muslim some of the people are Hindu though. A bit further away on Coney Island Ave, the people are more Pakistani. Some of the Bangladeshi restaurants have moved upscale (by local standards.) More toward Ocean Parkway there is an Eastern European thing going on.

    What is funny about the K-Town hipster marketing is that Kensington is more of a place for post hipster young people starting a career. That is how they should sell it As far as Kensington vs Flatbush, ‘Flatbush’ is old school, like 1920s. Once the farmland surrounding Flatbush got paved over they needed more specific names.

    As far as Muslims not being “hip” – Young good looking wealthy is the definition of hip. Look at the jewelry stores on Coney Island Ave and you will see that someone in the Pakistani community has some extra cash. Demographically they are young. Good looking is an aesthetic judgment.

    The median sale price for a cozy piece of Kensington is well over 500 grand – In K-town you can buy anything from a room (studio apartment), to a multi story multi family house. It is also worth noting that buildings can be anything from new to over 100 years old. The median price is not really meaningful.

  • 5. poser  |  May 11th, 2009 at 9:00 am

    we’re debating the merits of various ethnicities when we should just see the nefarious nature of the real estate/media propaganda complex.

    kensington/k-town’s real estate values won’t continue on with the boom because the bubble economy is over, period. the fact that it’s being marketed to gullible hipsters is just part of the real estate/media industry’s obfuscation.

  • 6. WW  |  May 12th, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I live just past Kensington on the F, and the first time I heard it was the next new thing, I laughed myself silly. Poor, poor, Mark. I see him on the subway everyday.

  • 7. Ana  |  May 12th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    I love this writer. Please make him a permanent addition to the Exile staff. This is the best piece I’ve read in on this site in a while. He should be your New York reporter.

  • 8. Joe  |  May 12th, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    K-Town was a war zone; now more like ruins. The war has moved on to the L’s.

    Joe, Chicago

  • 9. Jeffrey Knight  |  May 14th, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Wow, what a bitter, racist article. Matt Harvey’s sense of entitlement is outweighed only by his lack of talent. (“Flak” should be “flack,” dude. Get a dictionary.)

  • 10. Chelsea  |  May 14th, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Own some real estate dude? Dick. Excerpted from Free

    Noun 1.flak – a slick spokesperson who can turn any criticism to the advantage of their employer
    flack, flack catcher, flak catcher
    spokesperson, representative, interpreter, voice – an advocate who represents someone else’s policy or purpose; “the meeting was attended by spokespersons for all the major organs of government”

  • 11. Tyr  |  May 15th, 2009 at 8:12 am

    This happens over here in Europe too. The lies are quickly dispelled by doing what you did : take a walk over there. Still as they say “there’s one born every minute.”

    The problem is that in a bubble economy you don’t have much choice as all but the most miserable of neighborhoods are inflated out of your price range. Ironically this means the bubble economy may have actually contributed to real gentrification by forcing the middle class kids into undesirable but affordable neighborhoods.

  • 12. Jeffrey Knight  |  May 15th, 2009 at 9:08 am

    No, Chelsea (a.k.a. Harvey), I don’t own real estate. My only personal stake in this discussion is my Ph.D. in English, which permits me to criticize both your racism and your spelling. (Interesting, by the way, that you take issue with the latter criticism and not the former.) Anyway:

    From the Oxford English Dictionary (i.e., the definitive record of English usage): “flak,” n. 1a. “an anti-aircraft gun,” 1b. “abuse, adverse criticism.” No variant spellings listed. You’ll notice that your online “free dictionary” lists the variant, “flack,” not in the definition section, but in the thesaurus section. Hmm.

    Perhaps you shouldn’t make a habit of using reference tools pitched at a fourth-grade level.

  • 13. reid  |  May 15th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    jeffrey, the oxford dictionary is for the england-english dialect of english, it’s not “definitive” because there is no “definitive” type of english. webster is the american equivalent. sorry you’re an idiot

  • 14. Jeffrey Knight  |  May 15th, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Well that was a vacuous response. I’ll let you work out your own illogic, Reid. You’re clearly out of your league.

  • 15. Morgan  |  May 16th, 2009 at 9:56 am

    All agreed Jeffrey is an idiot but let’s not slander the OED. The OED does define a flak-catcher as “a person or organization whose job it is to deal with criticism on behalf of another, and defines flak jacket as well.

  • 16. Bruce Banner  |  May 16th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Since we’re at it Jeffrey: Why would a Ph.D. in English (amazing the people who have doctorates these days!) qualify you to criticize the writer’s alleged racism? Only academics are allowed to make superficial, ad hominem attacks eh?

  • 17. Felix  |  May 17th, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Does Matt Harvey wants people to stay within their own color and socio-economic group? This article reeks of cynicism and xenophobia. Horribly written, he quotes wikipedia!please… He based his huge generalization about an entire neighborhood on one block right by the subway. I was one of the subjects interviewed for the TONY article and he seemed friendly and decent, hypocrite! Who says Matt Harvey won’t start bad-mouthing this blog as well?

  • 18. aleke  |  May 17th, 2009 at 3:08 pm


    n. 1a. “Dahmer, American Brute, killed many Scum,” 1b. “Knight, White Fagot Knight of The Capital Variété, esp. Insubstantial Controbutions to Ecstatic Truth, Internet Cretin”

  • 19. ehswan  |  May 18th, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Well I’ll tell youall about the NEXT BIG THING. Me and Mom bought a house in central Ky on a quarter acre lot, 1200sq ft with detached 2 car garrage in walking distance to every thing one could need for $30,000. On top of that,seriously friendly neighbors and no property taxes. Yes. I know, for you on the coasts
    this sounds COMPLETLEY FREAKING IMPOSSIBLE and yet it is true. Not only that but the land we are on has 24 inches of fine top soil and is well watered. Consider central Ky. We will wecome you!

  • 20. Martin Thorpe  |  May 19th, 2009 at 1:25 am

    Great bit of writing. Sadly a rarity this side of the Atlantic. As for the criticism that its racist, etc., come on! Go and live in the 3rd World like I have and then judge what constitutes racism. Anyway, that’s just a side issue; the core of the piece is that real estate boosters are continuing to massage the market in NY, USA and in my backyard the UK. There hasn’t been any real market realignment over here, which any meaningful economic planning would require (2 bedroom flat in Edinburgh, Scotland upwards of $300,000!!!) The reason, simply that taxpayers money is being recycled inorder to shore-up the whole rotten financial edifice, because the alternative is that people might realise how profoundly they’ve been shafted and get out on the streets and lynch some of these scoundrels. Instead like children we’ve been read a goodnight storytale and given a glass of warm milk. The truth isn’t just out there….its right in front of your nose!

  • 21. Hellserch  |  May 19th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Whilst agreeing with the obvious anger bleeding all over this piece of journalism, I take exception to the snide comments about the Bangla.Here to in the UK,we have the same kinetic lies masquerading about property.I live in Hackney,generally acknowledge as ‘not good’ that hasn’t stopped them verbally dressing up parts of it like it was the real Kensington (West that is).Worried about islamic prayers,then don’t live in your own bloody city mate.

  • 22. jules  |  May 20th, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    I’ve lived in Midwood since high school and haven’t heard the name Kensington until it was bandied about in the press. The name makes an impression and doesn’t fit at all with the neighborhood.

    But it is true that the neighborhood is getting yupier. There are a couple Park Slopish cafes on Cortelou Rd., an organic store on Church Ave., and at least two galleries including the Kris Waldherer one off of Foster Ave and E16th.

    One didn’t have this type of places, only bodegas and the like, 15 years ago.

    The press may be blowing things out of proportion for the sake of the new story. And perhaps these stories are self-fulfilling prophecies to a degree. But they are not entirely empty of substance.

  • 23. twentyeight  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I’ve never quite understood the demographic that owns non-rental properties in NYC. But then again I am from the working-class South, where we don’t have trust fund brats, or, at least, you don’t know them. Million dollar 30′ X 100′ lots in Greenpoint on top of the biggest inhabited oil spill of all time? $500,000 600′ sq. houses? I’d like to know where the fuck these “artists” get their money from, because most “artists” I know are either broke or work full-time not doing art.

  • 24. KensingtonResident  |  May 24th, 2009 at 5:21 am

    This piece and the conversation is one of the most racist things I’ve read. Inadvertently, it extends the racism already present in the real estate marketing it claims to criticize.

    The piece is correct in identifying the real estate conspiracy to market to whites — and thus remove what makes the community as strong a place as it is. However, in doing so it accepts the real estate industry’s logic, and worse, makes the racism against anyone with an intact immigrant culture

    Ancient dialects?! wtf! thanks for the linguistic analysis, and thanks for making explicit the unspoken racist undertones of the real estate discussions. And all you posters on the relative merits of Chinese Koreans, Jews etc… I can only say wow.

  • 25. Scott in WI  |  May 31st, 2009 at 12:50 am

    @Jeffrey Knight

    Funny that an English Ph.D. by your name only shows up in a google search in reference to this article. Let me guess, Jeffrey Knight is your nom de plume? Fucking idiot.

  • 26. jasonmarcussmithIII  |  June 4th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Great article. I hope this writer can do more stuff for the Exile.

    The wonderful thing about the media is they have to pay their bills while at the same time being fashionably Marxist. Making a suckers’ pitch for leftie, trendy urban rubes is an ingenious way to keep the leftie hipness while whoring for the real estate advertising accounts. Very cool!

  • 27. zachary  |  July 15th, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Windsor Terrace was never Flatbush. Flatbush was once its own town named for the relatively flat area south of what is now Prospect Park. Windsor Terrace slopes down to reach Kensington. And Cortelyou Rd is in Flatbush-Ditmas Park, not Midwood. Midwood doesnt’ start until Avenue H or so. And if you’ve really walked through Kensington, you’d see that its a charming place, not that dirty (compared with some other hoods). It definitely doesn’t have hipster amenities though. But Ocean Parkway is a lovely stretch, the buildings are classy. I never got any stares when I was walking around. Coney Island Ave is a depressing place though. Too many auto-repair shops, too wide a road, needs some street trees.

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