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General News    H4'ed 8/1/14

The Corporate Sector Completely Assimilates Brooklyn, NY's Williamsburg

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Justin Samuels
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Vermin @ The Atlantic 2014
Vermin @ The Atlantic 2014
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Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Northwestern Brooklyn, is now considered one of the hippest neighborhoods in New York City. It wasn't always that way, though. Throughout most of the 20th century, Williamsburg was a working class industrial neighborhood. A number of products were made in the area, from petrochemicals to sugar. As you had many factories in the area, you had many warehouses. The area was a pretty important employment center for Brooklyn and Queens. Commuters took the G train to Williamsburg, or they took the L, J, or M trains from other parts of Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. But the industrial prosperity wouldn't last. Start in the 1970s, Williamsburg went through massive decline as factories and warehouses closed. It became a symbol of urban blight.

Towards the late 1990s, as the East Village began to become too expensive for starving artists, the poorest of students and recent graduates, these urban pioneers began moving into Williamsburg. There were few grocery stores, very few bank branches, and few name brand stores of any kind. A number of restaurants and bars opened up to cater to this crowd. In the next 10 years or so, Williamsburg became more popular, and investors snapped up empty warehouses and factories and converted them into residential housing. This process was slowed down by the Great Recession. As soon as financing improved, the investors returned. As the housing stock in Williamsburg changed, it became known as a neighborhood that could be more expensive than the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side. Previously, to get from Williamsburg to Midtown Manhattan one had to make at least one train transfer. But in 2010, the M was connected to the F local tracks and went from Middle Village, through Brooklyn into Manhattan, up 6th Avenue, and back into Queens to go Forest Hills. For the first time this gave Williamsburg residents a direct regular train ride to Midtown. This was a major boost to real estate in both Williamsburg and Bushwick. New bank branches have opened, and name brand retailers have finally moved in. Duane Reade is now in Williamsburg, and Whole Foods is opening up a store in Williamsburg. Williamsburg, the trendy cool neighborhood, is now a high end neighborhood in NYC.

This transformation has not been without criticism. The earliest wave of gentrifiers to Williamsburg prefered the small local businesses there. Local health food stores like Sumac Natural Foods had been in Williamsburg for many years, long before Whole Foods became huge on the national scene. Now some of the 90s to early 2000s arrivals in Williamsburg lament the arrival of Whole Foods. As warehouses became formally converted into condos and apartments, the number of places where bands could perform music has dramatically declined. What's left of this seen is increasingly moving to Bushwick. Before Starbucks was a major national chain, Williamsburg had cafe where one could sit, have coffee or tea and talk with friends. Now Starbucks is in Williamsburg too. Many of Williamsburg's vacant lots now have new buildings that have major retailers or chain stores at the bottom. Larger and more modern restaurants have opened up on some of these lots. Some lots with small stores have even been sold and bulldozed. As a result, the type of person who would have lived in the 90s Williamsburg is now in Bedstuy or Bushwick. These neighborhoods don't have all the warehouse space Williamsburg had, so this type of 90s artist scene is gone. The final straw in the ending of the old Williamsburg is Two Trees purchase of the Domino Sugar Factory. Two Trees recently settled out with the city of New York under mayor de Blasio. To be allowed to convert the Domino Sugar Factory site into office buildings and high rise residential buildings, they agreed to create more below the market units also known as affordable housing. The construction on this starts the fall of 2014, and by the time it is done all traces of industrial Williamsburg will be gone. Pretty much all of the former warehouses that have not been converted to residential are in the process of being converted. In short, a neighborhood once marketed by those on the fringe of society (artists, students, and gays) has been completely conquered by the corporate sector.
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Screenwriter. Historian. BA in History and certificate in Latin American studies from Cornell University. MA in English Education from Columbia University. Very interested in public policy.

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