One morning a few weeks ago, I was leaving the building where I live, on a quiet, historic block in Brooklyn, and found a large group of tourists outside on the sidewalk, selfie sticks in hand, led by a guide who was shepherding them around the neighborhood as he lectured. Over the past several years this has become an increasingly common scene in parts of the borough: the wondrous gazes of out-of-towners as they listen to anecdotes about the area’s literary and architectural past, turning to shock as they learn of the gargantuan sums people are willing to pay to live, in such close quarters, among the ghosts.
Around the world, the spread of urban tourism into previously uncharted residential neighborhoods, a turn of events not all neighbors have welcomed, has largely been attributed to the growth of Airbnb and its promise of a more intimate experience of hospitality than modern times have typically permitted. In reality, that blame can be distributed more widely. Trends have been moving in that direction for a long time. In New York in particular, a decline in manufacturing jobs lasting decades prompted civic leaders to regroup, turning the city into a branded product that could be marketed to tourists and real estate interests around the world, who would emerge as a driving force of the economy.
My response (on the Times's web site)
As an 18-year tour guide who specializes in Brooklyn and leads exactly one tour in Manhattan, my whole aim is to show visitors--as well as many New Yorkers of vintage short and long--parts of the city they wouldn't see on a first pass. I led a tour of Red Hook the other day and showed people the Patrick Daly mural. Or the painted mark on the exterior of the Red Hook Lobster Pound that shows the height of Sandy.
I was bemused to click on this article's first hyperlink and be taken to a page listing a neighborhood tour I offer, among 25+ intricate walking tours--almost all in Brooklyn--I've devised in 18 years as a tour guide.
Not only is that tour a rarely chosen offering, the most recent clients I had for it were a typical "group": four people, two local residents, plus two visiting relatives. No microphone, no crowd, no selfie sticks.
We didn't block the sidewalk. We didn't just talk literary and architectural history, or expensive real estate, but also discussed the neighborhood's social history and gestalt. The route was customized, not presented as a "branded product."
I recognize that large group tourism can be disruptive to residential neighborhoods, so I sympathize with Brooklyn Heights residents faced with daily amplified sound. (On the relatively few tours I lead that require microphones, I try not to use them on residential blocks.) And I was appalled to see a large tour bus unloading people in the middle of that historic district.
That said, I think Ms. Bellafante's seeming discomfort with the city's outer borough tourism push is misplaced. I'm not part of NYC&Company's marketing effort, but the belated effort by Queens--2.3 million people!--to encourage tourism should be applauded. Heck, not enough New Yorkers visit Queens.
This weekend I led 13 *New Yorkers* on a tour of Red Hook [in Brooklyn], parts of which--unlike Venice--were desolate. There's much to learn about our city.