The Dual Roles of Brighton Beach: A Local and Global Community
Phyllis Conn, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Institute for Core Studies
Abstract: In southwestern Brooklyn lie a small community that is part ethnic enclave and part seaside resort. Brighton Beach has been home to entertainments of all kinds, including horse racing, vaudeville, sports competitions, and dance halls, in addition to the primary attraction of the Atlantic Ocean beach. As Little Odessa, it has been home to the most concentrated Russian-speaking community in the United States and a vibrant Jewish émigré community. Brighton Beach has reflected changes specific to New York City; in other respects, it has truly been an international community, reflecting and affected by events thousands of miles away. Brighton’s development from the mid-nineteenth century onward echoes in many ways the dual roles played by New York City: a unique urban area with its own distinct patterns, and a global community that resonates with world events.
With the fourth wave of post-Soviet immigrants after 1991 and recent changes in Brighton Beach, the neighborhood continues to echo both global trends and local developments. From a global perspective, Brighton Beach continues to reflect events in the former Soviet Union as well as a transition to transmigration, with migrants regularly moving back and forth between their former home and their new home. Brighton Beach also reflects local trends. Gentrification and the entry of more Mexican immigrants follow city-wide trends. Brighton’s transition to a more diverse community mirrors changes in Little Colombia and the Lower East Side. Recent and planned developments of Brighton’s waterfront properties reflect renewed interest in waterfront development in areas like Long Island City and Williamsburg. Growing out of large-scale immigration and development of local resources, the history of Brighton Beach in many ways epitomizes the story of New York.