Bushwick Trailer Park

An indoor camper in Williamsburg. Photo by Johnny DeKam and Bree Edwards.

Having successively appropriated so much Middle American iconography — from trucker hats to Pabst Blue Ribbon beer — some north Brooklyn hipsters may have decided that their living space ought to reach the same heights of irony as their wardrobes. Enter the Nut Factory (video below), an exclusive trailer park for artists currently situated inside a warehouse in Bushwick, east of Williamsburg.

Like homesteaders following the route of the transcontinental railroad, hipsters began gentrifying parts of Bushwick along the L train when — depending on whom you ask — they were priced out of Williamsburg or began to find it too mainstream for their liking. So while the “frontier” of their settlement has technically pushed out as far as Ridgewood, in Queens, it’s concentrated mainly along the narrow corridor easily reached by the L, and vast swathes of industrial Bushwick still invite experiments in cheap housing.

Among them, the urban trailer park may be uniquely qualified to come of age.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8bjFFXUEk8[/youtube]

The most notorious hipster housing experiment was long the McKibben Lofts. Technically in a part of Bushwick that real estate agents have optimistically rebranded “East Williamsburg,” the old warehouses shelter a warren of DIY-constructed living spaces large and small (“One of the residents likens her home to a ‘giant treehouse’,” reported the New York Times. “Another says it is like ‘living in a public bathroom’…Some spaces look more like doghouses than rooms.”) and not entirely safe (one unit infamously exploded during renovations).

Derided as “dorms”, they are notorious for raucous all-night parties, a total lack of privacy, even indiscriminate urination. Locals, many of whom have lived in Bushwick since it was gutted by arson during the notorious 1977 blackout, mock its racial composition with the moniker “Fort Whitey”. No one expressed much sympathy for “McKibbeners” who wound up victims of the neighborhood’s relatively high crime rate. After an initial honeymoon period, many McKibben residents vowed to leave as soon as their yearlong leases expired.

That might explain why, as Rented Spaces puts it, many feel the McKibben Lofts are “so mid-00s”, making the saner Nut Factory (with rules like “one person to a trailer” and “no smoking or pets”) the hipster habitat of the 2010s. Given the redundant space created by the collection of trailers sitting inside a warehouse (and especially the plan to vacate the warehouse entirely, for a yard where the trailers will form their own interior street), it’s a better explanation than the idea that the move into trailers represents the latest nadir of the perpetually rent-short creative class.

But the urban trailer park’s ascent to trendiness is more than just a product of its relative spaciousness, its novelty, or the hipster fetish for all things Appalachia. The urban trailer park is also inherently ironic. The city is a collection of solid, densely-packed buildings; the trailer is mobile. The city is the apotheosis of sophistication; the proverbial double-wide is almost its categorical opposite. Brooklyn artists have picked up on this before. Kim Holleman‘s “Trailer Park” is an installation that explores the irony of locating a public park — including firmly planted vegetation — inside a prototypical trailer that appears in various locations around New York:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HjP6br9kLg[/youtube]

But for all the apparent tensions between mobile home park and stationary city, both the hipsters of Bushwick and artists like Holleman might be borrowing more from their Brooklyn backyards than they realize. The haunting remains of an old trailer complex are only now being removed from the site of the future Brooklyn Bridge Park, and a minuscule camper community holds on along the polluted Gowanus Canal in Red Hook. Airstreams dot the driveways and vacant lots of working-class communities in north Brooklyn, and full-blown trailer parks are not unknown inside the boundaries of major U.S. cities: there are examples on Staten Island and Boston.

The Nut Factory trailer-dwellers, it turns out, aren’t even the first artists to think of living in a mobile home parked inside a Brooklyn warehouse. “We bought a 1950s camper on Ebay and then drove to Michigan to pick it up,” record bohemians Johnny DeKam and Bree Edwards. “We parked it inside a Williamsburg, Bklyn industrial space. We lived here for about 6 months in 2005 till it got too cold and then headed South.”

Whatever inspired its existence, the creators of the Bushwick trailer park appear determined to limit the enjoyment of their new digs with a series of strict membership criteria. Reports Rented Spaces:

There is a vetting process. Only “folks who believe in the vision and are excited to contribute ideas, share knowledge, help organize, decorate and bring in others to make this something extraordinary.”

Bushwick’s hipster trailer-dwellers may not be the first to take up residence in a Brooklyn warehouse, but they appear willing to experiment with another first (and a more delicious irony): adopting for their trailer park the sort of vaguely breezy discrimination that’s more common of country clubs.

This entry was written by Christopher Szabla , posted on Wednesday January 13 2010at 03:01 am , filed under Interior Space, Society and Culture, United States, Video and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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