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Development of Brooklyn (1960 - Present)

Updated on March 30, 2013

Brooklyn has always occupied a distinctive position in the American imagination. Everlasting icons such as The Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Coney Island- are just a few of those magical names associated with the borough’s spectacular history, each of them contributing to images that depict the American experience. Brooklyn can also be considered to be the home away from home for immigrants. The borough’s streets constantly teem with various accents, scents and sights. It is known to be the largest of New York City’s five boroughs, and home to some 2.46 million people, according to the US Government Census Bureau estimate of 2000.

In the early 20th century, Brooklyn experienced a population boom and widespread expansion in urbanization. Tax dollars from New York City helped to fund innovations in transportation- new bridges, trolley lines, elevated railroads and extended subway lines further into Brooklyn. These expansions opened new areas for settlement and development, thus slowly eliminating the rural character of Brooklyn. Hence, Brooklyn became a manufacturing hub for the United States, a major center for sugar and other assembly based industries.

Brooklyn had helped to supply the industrial needs of the country, but by 1950’s, Brooklyn’s industrial energies began to wane. Heavy manufacturers began to move to cheaper locations in other cities, and the ports became less active, as large container ships, which require deep-water harbors, began to dominate the shipping trade. Economic dislocation and the easy availability of government sponsored housing loans spurred the middle classes to leave their old neighborhoods for the suburbs. Hundreds of thousands of white middle class residents abandoned Brooklyn for Queens, Nassau Country, Staten Island and New Jersey. Whole Jewish communities fled their old neighborhoods and moved to Flatbush, Boro Park, Eastern Parkway and Brighton Beach. Many Italian families moved to Bensonhurst and Gravesend. Finally, in 1957, Brooklyn’s pride was dealt a harsh blow by one particular departure: the Dodgers moved to Las Angeles.

Once vibrant neighborhoods fell into disrepair, decay and poverty. Manufacturing fell by one half between 1954 and 1990 and the Brooklyn dockyards were largely abandoned. Even the Brooklyn Navy Yard closed in 1966 to become New York’s first landmarked historic district. Prior to this, in 1964, Brooklyn saw the completion of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island. The impacts of the bridge rippled throughout Brooklyn. According to “The Bridges of New York,” to facilitate the bridge, approximately 800 buildings were demolished, in the process, relocating over 7,000 residents. To minimize the impact of the bridge on residents, the interchange between the bridge approach and the Belt Parkway was constructed as a long loop, however the damage had been done. Also, in 1965, as a result of ease in U.S. immigration laws, Brooklyn saw an increase in the number of immigrants from the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. In 1969, the West Indian/American Day Carnival parades switched to Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway from the streets of Harlem.

The formation of Medgar Evers College in 1970, City University of New York’s youngest of the four-year senior colleges has not only impacted higher education, but also Brooklyn’s economic development, health care, scientific research and cultural ambiance. Named after Medgar Wiley Evers, a seminal figure in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement, Medgar is actually the only institution within CUNY with a career ladder in Nursing. It is also one of the few CUNY institutions who offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science.

In 1971, the proposal for the construction of the Cross Brooklyn Expressway was rejected. In the words of former Brooklyn legislator, Stanley Steingut, the highway could have been built ‘without dislocating the whole face of Brooklyn.’ The scope of the highway project was expanded to include an extensive redevelopment program; vague proposals for schools, housing, commercial buildings and industrial structures. With the project blown to enormous proportions, the highway was lost in the shuffle.

The blackout of 1977, a decade later became one of Brooklyn’s worst moments: The power failure led to widespread rioting, looting and arson; entire sections of now predominantly black neighborhoods went up in flames. Several blocks of the main Broadway shopping district in Bushwick were torched, with devastating effects. One third of the remaining stores closed immediately and more than 40% of Bushwick’s commercial and retail operations went out of business within a year.

Despite the turmoil of the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the final decade of the 20th century witnessed a revival in Brooklyn’s fortunes. The 1980’s saw the rise of the Metro Tech Center, in downtown Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the beginnings of the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Crime ebbed during the 1990’s and neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Fort Green and Clinton Hill began to spring back to life. The Brooklyn Academy of Music began to draw avant-garde crowds from Manhattan, the Navy Yard began redevelopment into a booming industrial complex and a new generation of artists fleeing from Manhattan’s high rents, created a new vibrant communities in DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Additionally, immigrants continued to make Brooklyn their home, constantly lending new accents and flavors to old Brooklyn neighbourhoods.

Development does come with a price however. According to a 1987 New York Times article, “the price of real estate in Cobble Hill has escalated but the dramatic pace of rising prices of a few years ago has slowed as transition moves south to Carroll Gardens.” Manhattanites have been moving into these areas as older residents move or sell their property. As these changes increase, there will be conflict between old and new residents, small shops going out of business and possibly even an increase in crime.

In more recent times, we have seen the Atlantic Yards debacle rise to prominence. A portion of the project is part of the Atlantic Terminal Renewal Area and the remainder, located in a low-rise brownstone neighbourhood. According to the Atlantic Yards official website, the development will include a dynamic mix of affordable, middle income and market rate housing, commercial offices, retain establishments and a boutique hotel, encompassed by ‘beautifully landscaped publicly accessible open space.’ This is being opposed by several groups including, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, who claim that the project relies on the abusive use of eminent domain which essentially allows the State of New York to seize privately owned properties and hand them over to Forest City Ratner, the real estate development corporation awarded the Atlantic Yards Project. This is currently being challenged in New York State court.

Development does have its advantages and disadvantages, as clearly seen by Brooklyn’s history. On one end, you have the creation of new jobs, facilitating spending habits, encouraging business, improved infrastructure; alternately, you have displacement of lower income residents and long time inhabitants due to construction, possible rise in property values (usually closer to the Central Business District) or even by new incoming residents. There may also be conflict between the newcomers and the previous inhabitants, resulting from difference in social status, upbringing and moral values. Ultimately, it is something, which each society has to contend with. Brooklyn would not be the borough which we know today, if it wasn’t for the trials and tribulations which has occurred; that said, current issues will continue to mould, hopefully enhance the Brooklyn we know today.

Bibliography.

Jesus Rangel.” Small Town in the Big City: South Brooklyn Changes.” New York Times. July 29, 1987.

Develop- Don’t destroy Brooklyn. About the Ratner Plan. <http://dddb.net/php/status.php> Accessed December 11th 2008.

Reier, Sharon. The Bridges of New York. Quadrant Press. 1977

Schaer, Sidney. "Highway Hopes That Faded”,Newsday . November 5th, 1999

Medgar Evers College. College Bound. < http://www.collegebound.net/college-university/article/cuny-medgar-evers-college/3296/> Accessed December 11th, 2008.

U.S. Census Bureau. Brooklyn population 2000. 2000 Census of Population and housing. < http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/3651002.html> Accessed December 10th, 2008.

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