A tricky thing happens to communities that experience business growth. Aided by jobs, rents and other related prices go up because more people want to live there. Existing residents and their advocates start warning against gentrification. It’s an old story that happens again and again.
So perhaps one of the latest signs that the growth of technology business in north Brooklyn is having a real impact on how the borough works is the seemingly inevitable concerns of resident displacement. In New York and other big cities, the displacement often has a racial tinge: a rush of newer wealthier residents who are often disproportionately white increases prices in existing neighborhoods that are often disproportionately populated by black or other people of color.
“Gentrification isn’t about ethnicity, it’s about mindset,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in response to a Technically Brooklyn question during a press conference Wednesday. That means, rather than fight the inevitability of change, we need to embrace ways the new and old can coexist, Adams said.
Dumbo, once a neighborhood reclaimed by artists, has become one of the densest hubs of tech business in the city, causing a rare near 99 percent commercial occupancy rate, according to numbers shared by Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Tucker Reed during a Tech Triangle U event. At the same event, Aaron Shapiro, the CEO of design agency Huge, said the community there has nearly entirely become a tech and digital one.
Fort Greene and Williamsburg, too, have seen the evolution of a creative class residential boom into a filling of early-stage, pre-profit tech and creative firms in what commercial space is there.
The march continues.
Last fall, crowdfunding giant Kickstarter quietly opened sleek headquarters for its 75 employees and growing on an industrial block of Greenpoint. Brooklyn Bridge Ventures investor Charlie O’Donnell, too, was working on proposed investment in the winter on two startups there.
So could a creative magnet like Kickstarter disrupt Greenpoint, bring new renters and other associated businesses that would heat prices fast enough to cause pain for residents, making a change as dramatic as the Brooklyn tech neighborhoods before it? Maybe, but that’s why affordable housing policy is a priority and the reason new business leaders should want to join forces with existing leaders in the neighborhood, Adams said.
“Kickstarter can only add to the community: add jobs, be a part of it, melt into it,” said Adams.
“We have become a tech giant…Brooklyn is going to have more Kickstarters,” Adams said. “So when we meet with Kickstarter or those Kickstarters of the future, we want to know what their community commitment is.”
When big or growing tech companies come into existing neighborhoods, we need to welcome them, but also expect that they want to be a part of the community existing residents have built, offering internships, opening doors and otherwise adding to what is already there, Adams said.
“From my Council days,” said Diana Reyna, Deputy Brooklyn Borough President and a former city councilwoman who once oversaw fast-changing Bushwick and Williamsburg, the most common complaint from the community [when gentrification concerns about business growth were brought up] was ‘We are not invisible.”
“The notion of ‘discovering Brooklyn’ needs to stop,” said Reyna. People have lived in these neighborhoods for generations, she said. She noted that Kickstarter is hosting a block party open house in early May, and she’ll want to see how many longtime residents are aware and attend.
That is, success is celebrating new people while challenging them to respect what came before, even while influencing it.
“Brooklyn will evolve,” said Adams, calling that an inevitable consequence of a healthy city. “Neighborhoods will change.”
Other takeaways from a conversation with Adams and Reyna:
- Adams said he wants to see the expansion of businesses, including tech firms, elsewhere in the borough to broaden the community impact, but that will require endorsing and incentivizing build out: in terms of broadband infrastructure, skills development and upper-floor commercial corridor offices.
- Does he want to be mayor? “I want to be promoted one day. If being promoted is becoming Mayor of New York,” Adams would want it. But he wants to do a good job here first.
- “Manhattan has zoned itself out of industry, but Brooklyn is where people want to be,” said Reyna of the borough’s potential mixture of software and manufacturing business.
- The Adams administration is hot on Google Docs — they’ve done crowd sourced surveying of public parks and used other efforts to reduce paper usage.
- “There is a large gap between those who provide resources and those who need resources,” said Adams of efforts like Brooklyn Law’s CUBED free legal advice service and other tech-related
- “This isn’t just about a need for STEM curriculum for kids, it’s about engaging the entire family,” said Reyna of impacting tech literacy.
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