Downtown Brooklyn has experienced some of the fastest growth of any New York City neighborhood over the last 15 years, thanks, says a new report, to city investment in public parks, a major land use rezoning, and growth in private sector employment and business incubation.
The report, commissioned by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and produced by the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, defines the Downtown Brooklyn area broadly beyond the commercial core.
Growth in several neighborhoods has been enormous, with the overall population increasing by 17 percent between 2000 and 2013, the young adult population (ages 18-44) increasing by nearly 29 percent, and the number of residents with a four-year college degree increasing from 35 to 55 percent over the same period. Private sector employment rose by nearly one-third, an increase of 17,078 jobs, with growth concentrated in the media and information, technical, hospitality, and arts sectors.
New construction has also boomed, with nearly 41 million square feet of residential, commercial and institutional building completed, under construction or in the pipeline. The city and state have invested over $1.5 billion in the neighborhood; another $10 billion has poured in through private investment.
According to the report this transformation comes at the nexus of three major influences: a citywide economic uptick and crime downturn, the emergence of Brooklyn as a global brand and innovation hub, and new public policies that have created parks and open spaces and a more permissive and flexible zoning code.
A 2004 rezone called for retail space on the ground floor of new residential and office buildings, encouraged higher density, and offered incentives to developers to build community assets — like affordable housing or healthcare centers — in exchange for more square footage. But the construction of new office space, the primary goal of the rezone, has progressed more slowly than the development of new residential units. Companies are relocating to Downtown Brooklyn in droves, fleeing high rents in Manhattan and moving to where skilled workers live. Among the report’s recommendations for the continued vitality and growth is ensuring the many new businesses moving to or incubated in the neighborhood have the space to grow and remain there. (Even though the rezone didn’t produce exactly the intended results, the report cautions against returning to a more restrictive code.)
The report also lauds the neighborhood’s cultural and educational institutions for fostering business growth, and playing a key role in what it calls Brooklyn’s “innovation economy.” At least seven universities have launched business incubator and accelerator programs in the neighborhood, focused on everything from tech-oriented law to fashion entrepreneurship.
To ensure opportunity is equitably beneficial to residents, the report recommends creating high school career and technical education programs that will teach Brooklyn students skills that will allow them to participate in the “innovation economy.”
The report also cites the redevelopment of the Brooklyn Bridge Park and other open spaces as central to the neighborhood’s transformation. It recommends continuing and expanding such development, particularly for Commodore Barry Park, a site near several New York City Housing Authority projects that has suffered from chronic underinvestment.
If the growth is to continue, the report notes, public transportation to and from the neighborhood will need to improve. It recommends pursing multiple improvements simultaneously to increase access between the downtown core and the waterfront and Brooklyn Navy Yard, and new employment centers across the city, including Sunset Park, Long Island City and Astoria.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.