In 2000, workers at the Domino Sugar Factory on the Williamsburg waterfront went on strike. That empty building recently hosted a public art exhibit by Kara Walker and will soon be home to a new housing development. Marty Markowitz, former Brooklyn Borough President (2002-2013), State Senator (1978-2001), and now vice president of borough promotion and engagement at NYC & Co., reflects on the borough's transformation. Then, Steve Hindy, founder of the Brooklyn Brewery and the author of The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of Bed Stuy and Crown Height's Brooklyn Movement Center, discuss the changes to the borough's economy and reputation.
By 2010, as noted on the show, New York magazine declared Park Slope the city's most livable neighborhood. TV anchor Brian Williams went on a little rant about how "the media story of 2010 is the New York Times discovery of Brooklyn.. there are open air markets... artisanal cheeses for sale on the street... it's been fascinating to watch the paper venture over the bridge."
Lehrer asked Markowitz to compare Brooklyn in 2000 to Brooklyn today. The response was an anecdote about seeing two double decker buses filled with Japanese tourists in Williamsburg in 2012. "I stopped my car," the former Borough President recalled, "and I said, 'Wow... I love it.'"
Brooklyn, he said, is a brand. Lehrer noted that, in the early days, his staffers would say, "I have to move to Brooklyn" while "today, it's Brooklyn, of course."
The turning point?
When, asked Lehrer, was the turning point?
Markowitz identified it as between 2005 and 2007, though he couldn't identify any one event. "I do think significant numbers of younger people wanted to live where other young people were living, particularly in the creative community."
(I think it was earlier, or rather a rolling turning point. In other words, Forest City Ratner got in early when they announced Atlantic Yards in December 2003, but they were not exactly pioneers.
The reason the Times "discovered Brooklyn is more of their reporters lived in Brooklyn," Markowitz said, not inaccurately.
He then went on a little bit of a roll, oddly citing Australians ahead of some far larger immigrant groups (like, um, West Indians). He cited "the creative community.. the growing lesbian and gay community... the art community.... it's just a mix of folks here, that continues to lure... especially Midwesterners... the Midwest accounts for a significant increase in Brooklyn... certainly Australians represent a bit of an increase... certainly the Mexican, the Chinese grows significantly... refugees from Manhattan, as well as Midwesterners."
Tale of two cities
Lehrer said Brooklyn, was emblematic of New York being a city of rich and poor. "Can Brooklyn have it both ways, hotter than hot," he asked, and a place where people can afford to live?"
Markowitz wouldn't take the bait. "I don't know if I agree with the statement you made," he said. "It is true there is a great need for affordable housing.. I grew up in public housing myself.. I can assure you that on every major development, we absolutely insisted and achieved a minimum of 20% affordable housing."
That hardly makes up for the loss of affordable housing.
"Despite the battles of Atlantic Yards, I'm confident, that will be a sizable middle-class, working, and moderate income," he said. "The fault in my opinion rests in Washington.. the folks in Brooklyn don't want to see Brooklyn be only for the very wealthy and very poor... we are dependent on each other... I think the future is very bright."
Sure, the federal government has gotten out of the housing business, but New York City policy is part of the problem, and potentially the solution.
Lehrer cited a Spike Lee rant earlier in 2014 about the phenomenon of service improving when whites move into the neighborhood and "the motherfucking Christopher Columbus syndrome: you can't discover us, we've been here."
"Can Brooklyn have it both ways?" he asked Mark Winston Griffith of the Brooklyn Movement Center.
"I don't know," Griffith said, cautioning that Brooklyn is a big place. "I'm not sure it can have it both ways, I see the middle class getting shoved out."
Steve Hindy, founder of the Brooklyn Brewery, said "there a lot of positive things happening when it comes to manufacturing and employment." He cited companies moving to the Navy Yard, and MakerBot taking 200,000 square feet in Industry City." The average job at his company pays more than $70,000.
Lehrer asked if it was precarious, noting a 2009 article that said a soft real estate. market is key to the brewery.
"Well, it still is precarious," said Hindy, noting company leases until 2025 and a plan to "build a million-barrel brewery in Staten Island" to help with exports. "Putting us in Staten island saves us a lot of money," he said.
It also makes them a bit less Brooklyn, too.
On the phone
One caller, who founded a Pilates business in her apartment 18 years earlier and was now celebrating 15 years of operating BodyTonic in Park Slope, said she expected to lose her lease to rising rents. "I love that the neighborhood is so successful," she said, but lamented the pressures. She said she may have to take on a partner.
Griffith said Hindy's workers won't be able to afford certain parts of Brooklyn, but rather neighborhoods to the south and east with a lesser housing stock and fewer commercial amenities.
Some posted comments (with highlights)
Gayle DeWindt from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY:
Mr. Lehrer,lee from The spare bedroom of a friend for a couple more weeks:
I called in during your show today in response to your call for those with lives affected by gentrification in a "changing" neighborhood. I was not chosen, for whatever reason. But I had planned to say that the working class and some middle class are leaving here in significant numbers.This is fueled by realtors/investors, rather than people who care about quality of life, retaining the dominant culture of my neighborhood, and/or any truly human connection. Will I, a resident of twenty years, lose my place here due to the insatiable greed of ________?
And beyond that, who are these manufacturing concerns hiring? Not the young Black men with astronomical unemployment numbers, when compared with the general population. Making businesses and displacing the extant ones (rent increases of 30-50% on commercial space on Nostrand Avenue) while treating long time residents as interlopers is simply wrong.
Please understand, I am happy with new neighbors. My block is great, but I know that (like the Dumbo guy) people owned some properties in states of benign neglect for years, waiting for the upswing. We are a community of color, and as Spike Lee said, we were here already. No one discovered us.
I am a Brooklyn native, an artist, a person who is objectively middle income and gainfully employed and I KNOW how hard (and how much harder)it is to find a place to live here these days.In 1996 I was a part-time non-profit worker with a young child I raised as a single parent. I found a beautiful, affordable apartment in a pre-gentrified Stuyvesant Heights in less than 2 weeks, my neighbors were like me, working people of color, some of us owners, others tenants. In my recent protracted search for a new home of my own (I am a 40something who makes more than the median income who has a respectable credit score, I shouldn't HAVE to live with roommates or in a closet to avoid a 1 hour commute!!!!) I was shown apartments in West Bushwick/East Bed Stuy that I objectively qualified for and was redlined after a face to face meeting with the "manager" for no obvious reason. I don't know whether it was race or the reality that the rent that was being asked was in all likelihood illegal and the protests of the broker that I would be "no trouble," notwithstanding, the manager wanted to rent to one of Marty's mid-westerners who wouldn't know to research the rent history and keep a stabilized unit under regulation. My search ended when a friend's mom offered me the top of her Crown Heights brownstone for considerably less than the market rate because she wants to know her neighbor...Brian from Jackson Heights:
Enough Marty! He's really only talking about four to five neighborhoods when he talks of Brooklyn. Enough of the cheerleading------Brooklyn is larger than Philadelphia and we need a more nuanced public figure to speak about what's best for the borough and region.