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The Hinge: standing in the center of New York City to see the future of religion

The view from 3 neighborhoods: Bushwick, Brooklyn; Flushing, Queens; and Morris Park, Bronx.

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Measuring the future of religion in NYC


I am standing here in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in front of Wykoff Hospital Chapel, next to the exact geographic center of New York City, according to the city’s Department of Planning. No matter which way I look, the city spreads equally around me. Here, one can gain a perspective on the future of New York City independent of the imperious attention of Manhattan.

From here, we can see the religious churning by gentrification in a predominately poor and working class Hispanic and African American area. We will match our observations here with those in the Asian American powerhouse of Flushing, Queens and an older lower middle and working class neighborhood in Morris Park area in the Bronx.

This central, yet peripheral, place is a good perch to start because the city changes fundamentally when outsiders come crashing into the center to shake things up, do things differently, and seize power. Eventually, they become Manhattanites, self-satisfied, insulated and oblivious to stirrings here in the hinterland from which they originally came.

The big religious changes in the city started in the outer boroughs between the late 1970s and late 1980s. Immigrants from other countries, migrants from within the United States, and converts new to religion started to bring a new vigor and re-ordering to the putrid mess that New York City had become. Then, the changes swept into Manhattan. Networks of believers started to pray, plan, and act together in a way that they hadn't been doing for years.

This was a Hinge period: a time when New Yorkers decided to go forward to save their city and themselves.  It took some outsiders and disaffected insiders to jump start the process. We have seen the surprising result in the growth of religion in Manhattan.

Will the Manhattan religious boomlet continue to grow? It might depend upon what happens in the boroughs.

Today, we are in another Hinge period:

a generation of religious leaders are retiring;

their kids are writing their own faith testaments that may include drop-out-and-tune-out;

Manhattan religious groups are establishing branches in the boroughs;

gentrification is swamping neighborhoods and obliterating traditional community spaces for the poor, working and middle classes;

a rich class has arisen that is sometimes clueless and deliberately exclusive of middle and working classes;

the outer boroughs have staged a political revolt that has elected one of their own as mayor and supported outsiders for president of the United States; and

the mayor is weaving together a secular – faith-based coalition.

The perception of the “public good” is up for grabs. Who should sit on the boards of charities and charter schools? Is the rich class the solution or should there be a mix of solutions generated from all of the class interests in the city and religious congregations? Who owns the city?

A Hinge moment is a time when we need to look around and see what we have been missing. We need to fill-in our mental map of the city in order to take into account all the resources, problems, and developments.

Since A Journey through NYC religions began, our viewers and Journey have developed a much better understanding of the role of religious groups in the city. But we still need to keep on top of the trends. So, what are the next religious changes coming from the boroughs and how will they also affect Manhattan?

We are combining street smarts and data lab stats to give a deep look at religion as we journey in the city. We have selected out some areas of New York City that taken together will reveal many of the trends that are going on. So, we are starting in Bushwick and Flushing, then will pivot over to Morris Park in the Bronx. Then, we will land in Manhattan for some summing up.

Join us in the journey to The Hinge! Give us your take on the future of religion in New York City with your comments, essays, photos, cartoons, and videos. We will publish as many of them as we can.



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