As discussed in the cover story of last weekend’s New York Times real estate section, “The Other Downtown”, it’s no surprise that Downtown Brooklyn is going vertical. I remember when Atlantic Yards was first revealed in 2004, I attended a parlor reading given by Mike Wallace, one of New York’s preeminent historians and the author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. At the time, Mike lived on Dean Street, which happens to be right on the cusp of what became known as “Develop – Don’t Destroy. Brooklyn”. Develop – Don’t Destroy. Brooklyn, the main opposition group to the massive urban renewal project that eventually brought us the astoundingly successful Barclay’s Center, took the conversation between preservation and development to a whole new level in NYC. The Q&A at the end of Mike’s reading quickly turned into an impassioned dialogue about Atlantic Yards. What Mike said, and I paraphrase, was that to him “it was not that long ago that above 14th Street in Manhattan was farmland.”
Cities must grow. Edward Glaeser’s brilliant book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, explores the idea that cities are where the necessary human capital exists to promote the innovation necessary to solve the biggest challenges of our day.
Downtown Brooklyn is the embodiment of Glaeser’s thesis in action. “DoBro”, as it is known today, is the fourth largest economic center in the country. Now that Brooklyn has become THE global brand coming out of NYC, the area has garnered the attention of all the major developers, many of whom have locked up and parceled together sites throughout the downtown area. The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership sums up DoBro as “a business district with more than 17 million square feet of office space, a historic and vibrant shopping center, a burgeoning residential community, 11 colleges and universities, nearly 50 cultural organizations, a professional sports franchise, and exceptional public transportation and open spaces.”
This current second wave of development, after the rezoning of 2004 which spawned 5,000 units of housing, will bring nearly 4,000 more housing units to this neighborhood. The difference is that the major retailers have also ramped up their agenda to capture some of this Brooklyn magic with 1.5 million square-feet of retail space in development since 2006. In the same time frame, DoBro has added 1,570 hotel rooms. With this kind of private and public investment, Downtown Brooklyn will continue to grow in size and in height. And this is a good thing.
Downtown Brooklyn is clicking on all cylinders and it is well on its way to transforming from primarily a daytime business area into a fully integrated residential and mixed-use community, with all the amenities and services that attract people from around the globe.
And what Brooklyn offers, which is really undeniable and a big boon for DoBro, is that Brooklyn is COOL.