NEW YORK » For more than a century, cities around the world have compared themselves to Paris. Many claim to be the Paris of the East: Bucharest, Prague, Istanbul, Beirut and Shanghai, to name a few. There’s also the Paris of North America (Montreal), the Paris of South America (Buenos Aires) and the Paris of the Plains — Kansas City in the Jazz Age.
But now the wannabe city is Brooklyn. Every neighborhood with a critical mass of bearded hipsters, bike shops and vegan cafes calls itself "the new Brooklyn." Ballard is the Brooklyn of Seattle. Glasgow and Melbourne both claim Brooklyn cool. And Oakland, Calif., has been called the Brooklyn of San Francisco so many times that Julia Cosgrove, editor of AFAR travel magazine, says she "can’t bear to read another story about it."
There’s even a Brooklyn of Paris: the once-gritty suburb of Pantin. Its derelict, graffiti-covered warehouses have been taken over by galleries and artists, turning it into the hippest place in the City of Light. Just like in Brooklyn, real estate prices have shot up, and old industrial buildings now house luxury lofts.
"It may have a way to go before it’s on a par with Brooklyn, but I expect it will continue to develop, considering how much investment and risk-taking is going on there — alongside the natural flux of artists toward the area," said artist Oliver Beer, who works both with a gallery in Pantin and with the Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary arts outpost, PS1, in New York City.
Other signs of what’s called the "Brooklynization of Paris" include gluten-free restaurants and juice bars popping up. "It used to be when young chefs studied under the great chefs, they wanted to open important restaurants or go to the countryside and get their Michelin star. Now they’re rejecting that model; they’re saying, ‘I’m going to do more back-to-the-roots, farm-to-table cooking in a small restaurant with a few tables,’" said Katherine Johnstone, a spokeswoman for Atout France USA, the French tourism agency in New York, describing a shift that some observers compare to Brooklyn’s culinary scene.
Tourism folks in Asheville, N.C., say their city was once called the Paris of the South, but now they compare it to Brooklyn, thanks to artisanal food, indie entrepreneurs and a thriving music and arts scene. An emerging arts and entertainment district in Miami that will link to areas like Wynwood, known for street art, is said by promoters to be "like Brooklyn in its nascent days" — an interesting thought, as Brooklyn was settled by the Dutch in the 1600s. And San Diego’s South Park-North Park neighborhood is called SoNo, but it would be a no-no to compare it to Soho. Instead it claims a mix of Brooklyn and Southern California vibes.
But cities that once compared themselves to Paris were evoking something much grander than culinary trends or gentrification. In the mid-19th century, the "narrow, labyrinthine streets" of medieval Paris were demolished, making way "for the massive boulevards and squares where restaurants, cafes, theaters and other centers of amusement satisfied bourgeois taste," according to Villanova University history professor Alexander Varias. Cultural capitals in many regions underwent similar redesigns, then called themselves the Paris of wherever to signal pride in their architecture, broad boulevards, parks, arts and even nightlife.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s emergence as a global symbol of all things trendy marks quite a turnaround for a place once mocked as Manhattan’s less sophisticated neighbor.
"We’ve become the epicenter of cool as cool is now defined," said Marty Markowitz, 69, who was born and raised in Brooklyn in an era when it was better known for ethnic enclaves, working-class culture and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Markowitz, who served as Brooklyn borough president for 12 years and now works for NYC & Company, the city’s tourism agency, promoting all the boroughs, added: "There is no question that Brooklyn now serves as an example for other urban centers of how a community can transform itself into a hotbed of style."
On Oct. 10, the Atlantic published a list of places the New York Times has compared to Brooklyn with such headlines as "Brooklyn in Beijing" and "Brooklyn on the Hudson."
Undaunted, a Nov. 6 Times headline read: "A Touch of Brooklyn in Ridgewood, Queens."
Beth J. Harpaz, Associated Press