Skip to main content

"How Brooklyn Got Its Groove Back": an analysis of the borough's rise, and those left behind (and, I'd suggest, why that helped bring us AY)


In the Autumn 2011 issue of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz offers How Brooklyn Got Its Groove Back: New York’s biggest borough has reinvented itself as a postindustrial hot spot.

And, while not about Atlantic Yards (except for one mention), it presents a useful framework, based on personal experience and reportage, for some of the changes that brought us here, while offering more background on the enduring economic divide sketched this week in Crain's.

(It's on the Atlantic Cities' list of ten best CityReads of 2011.)

An early transplant

Hymowitz and her family were relatively early transplants to Park Slope, in 1982, after the first waves of gentrification but before the acceleration.

Back then, she writes, "real-estate agents euphemistically described it as 'in transition,' meaning that the chances you’d get mugged during a given year were pretty good." Crime actually got worse over the decade, with "a nightly explosion of shattered glass from car windows" and hold-ups on the street.

The changes

She asks:
How did the Brooklyn of the Lehanes and crack houses turn into what it is today—home to celebrities like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Adrian Grenier, to Michelin-starred chefs, and to more writers per square foot than any place outside Yaddo? How did the borough become a destination for tour buses showing off some of the most desirable real estate in the city, even the country? How did the mean streets once paced by Irish and Italian dockworkers, and later scarred by muggings and shootings, become just about the coolest place on earth? The answer involves economic, class, and cultural changes that have transformed urban life all over America during the last few decades. It’s a story that contains plenty of gumption, innovation, and aspiration, but also a disturbing coda. Brooklyn now boasts a splendid population of postindustrial and creative-class winners—but in the far reaches of the borough, where nary a hipster can be found, it is also home to the economy’s many losers.
I'd add that the "population of postindustrial and creative-class winners" made it ever more attractive for developer Forest City Ratner to plan a massive project focused on luxury housing, while the fact that Brooklyn "is also home to the economy's many losers" made the announced plans for "affordable housing" and "jobs" tantalizingly powerful.

From the factories to gentrification

Hymowitz recalls how Brooklyn for a century "was one of the nation’s preeminent industrial cities," producing coffee and metalwork and beer and sugar and pharmaceuticals.

Drawing on Suleiman Osman’s recent history, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, she points to the influx, beginning in the late 1950s, of a new class of gentrifiers, "an educated person with a little more money and a lot more 'culture,'" serving not only the burgeoning businesses in Manhattan but the city's cultural and philanthropic organizations. They sought “authenticity” unavailable in the suburbs or the modernist, high-rise city.

Hymowitz acknowledges the unease accompanying gentrification, as attention to the neighborhood and home renovation "also meant rising rents," even as the borough's manufacturing decline meant fewer jobs for less-educated, blue-collar workers

Meanwhile, bad policy--the isolation of Red Hook by a highway, and failure to allow mixed-use zoning--exacerbated the situation.

She adds, "Lax crime-fighting and overgenerous social programs accelerated Brooklyn’s decline." (More liberal commentators would probably stress other policy decisions. And I should add that, as Francis Morrone pointed out, gentrification increased in the 1980s even when crime went up.)

The changes in the 1990s

Hymowitz suggests that, as "the gentrifying middle class" began to leave in the early 1990s, "Brooklyn came awfully close to becoming an East Coast Detroit."

I think that's hyperbole, because New York City, unlike Detroit, had a much broader economic base, despite the loss of manufacturing.

But she credits three factors for the improvements:
  • "policing reform brought a dramatic reduction in crime"
  • "rezoning of fallow industrial neighborhoods for 'mixed' uses
  • "the arrival of a new generation of gentrifiers"
I'd add the domino effect of increasing housing costs in Manhattan, where the concentration of the 1% working in financial services (and finding Manhattan an alternative to the 'burbs), the plethora of second homes for the global wealthy, and the conversion of lower-cost housing all spurred middle- and upper-middle-income households to Brownstone Brooklyn, thus driving existing residents Brooklynites deeper into the borough or out of town.

Such gentrification made some property owners well off, but was tough for renters.

An AY mention

In the section under rezonings, Hymowitz writes:
Brooklyn also benefited from the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations’ rezoning of fallow industrial neighborhoods for “mixed” uses, so that residential, commercial, and light-industry buildings could occupy the same area. These decisions have met with fierce resistance, with Brooklyn’s gentrifiers—ironically, given their historical role in changing the borough—among the most vociferous in arguing that grabby real-estate interests and their friends in government are driving out an indigenous population. Bruce Ratner’s much-reviled Atlantic Yards project, which took advantage of the government’s bullying eminent-domain powers, lends some credence to the charge. But mostly, Brooklyn’s transformation has come from the ground up. In the beginning, as Osman observes, gentrification spread because “a few families decided to cross” Atlantic Avenue, the southern boundary of Brooklyn Heights. The rezoning that finally took place decades later was simply bowing to reality: large factories were gone for good, and young singles and families wanted in.
For Atlantic Yards, it must be pointed out, there was no rezoning, just an override of zoning.

The impact of the new

Hymowitz sketches the "creative-class gentrification" in Williamsburg and DUMBO, the latter aided by the designation in 2007 as a historic district and the "newly opened, long-in-the-making, and still-evolving Brooklyn Bridge Park."

DUMBO, she notes, requires "twentysomething digerati," part of the borough's (and the city's) new economy, while Williamsburg features the "hippie entrepreneur, who specializes in two consumer industries—music and food." (Not so sure about the "hippie" designation; better to say "hipster.")

The unsolved problem

As with the overall impact of companies like Facebook and Google (compared to, say GM or Kraft), in Brooklyn, "these boutique businesses have a limited impact on the borough’s total economy," because there aren't tons of factory jobs.

Thus, Hymowitz concludes:
[T]he borough is a microcosm of the nation’s “hourglass economy.” At the top, the college-educated are doing interesting, motivating work during the day and bicycling home to enjoy gourmet beer and grass-fed beef after hours. At the bottom, matters are very different. Almost a quarter of Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents live below the poverty line—in the housing projects of East New York, in the tenements of Brownsville, or in “transitional” parts of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, all places where single-mother poverty has become an intergenerational way of life.
The statistics are stark:
Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of the area’s population on welfare did decline markedly, but the number of Medicaid recipients almost tripled, to nearly 750,000. About 40 percent of Brooklyn’s total population receives some kind of public assistance today, up from 23 percent a decade ago.
And even when "manufacturing jobs do become available, they tend to require skills that high school graduates—and dropouts—lack. East New York and Brownsville also remain the highest-crime areas in New York."

Her conclusion: "And no one believes that’s transitional."

I'd add: "And no one should believe Atlantic Yards can solve that."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in January 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won't be so cheap.

As …

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).

As…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…