How Brooklyn became a model for urban development - Brooklyn


Mar. 4, 2016 12:54 pm

How Brooklyn became a model for urban development

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership takes a deep look at the last 30 years of economic activity in the borough and has plenty to say.

Downtown Brooklyn from MetroTech Plaza.

(Photo by Brady Dale)

The Brooklyn explosion of the last 10 years is real. The question is: Why did it happen? And then another question, for people in other cities, is: How can we do that here?

An extensive new report called Downtown Rising from the NYU Rudin Center, Appleseed and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership offers some answers. One is to have an economic boom happen across the river from you. Another is to loosen up your zoning regulations. And another is to have the city pour over a billion dollars into infrastructure, parks and subsidies. It may not be the most replicable of solutions but it worked.

A few numbers:

  • Since 2004 the Downtown Brooklyn area alone (where most of the report focused) has added or is in the works for nearly 41 million square feet of residential, commercial and institutional space.
  • More than $10 billion dollars of private investment have been attracted to the area
  • The population of the Greater Downtown Brooklyn area grew by 17 percent between 2000 and 2013 and the population of millennials (18-44) rose by 29 percent. The percentage of all residents of the area having at least a four-year college degree rose from 35 to 55 percent.
  • Between 1990 and 2014 serious crime in the 84th precinct went down 84 percent. In 1990 there were 1,908 robberies. In 2014, 142.
  • Median monthly rent in Fort Greene and Brooklyn Heights increased from $726 in 2000 to $1,498 in 2014.

The report keyed in on a couple key things that happened along the way to help spur these changes.

In the 1980s, “a number of local institutions, organizations, and developers undertook efforts to revitalize the greater Downtown Brooklyn area,” which included the idea of building the MetroTech Center, which to this day is, if not the soul, then the heart of the commercial activity in Brooklyn.

Downtown Brooklyn defined.

Downtown Brooklyn defined. (Courtesy image)

MetroTech was eventually built, and housed primarily back-office operations for many Manhattan firms and municipal departments. Only recently have private companies began putting the “tech” in “MetroTech.”


In 2004 the Bloomberg administration adopted the Downtown Brooklyn Development Plan and rezoned the heck out of the area, making it much easier for developers to build. To wit, last month plans were announced for a 73-floor tower that would be the tallest in Brooklyn.

Big money from the Bloomberg administration played a role too. The report estimates that since 2004, the city has invested $1.5 billion in, “public infrastructure, open space, cultural facilities, and industrial and commercial development projects.”

Another aspect was simply how well Manhattan did. Office space in midtown Manhattan went through the roof in the past decade, and for companies, especially smaller ones more sensitive to cost, Brooklyn became a more economical option.

“Between the first quarter of 2004 and the third quarter of 2015, the office vacancy rate in Midtown South (defined for purposes of this analysis as the area between 34th Street and Houston Street) fell from 8.6 to 6.4 percent, while office rents more than doubled. By comparison, during the same period, average rents were lower in the Special Downtown Brooklyn District,” according to the report.

Everyone's favorite topic: rent. (Courtesy image)

Everyone’s favorite topic: rent. (Screenshot)

And for the startups that make up the tech scene, incubators and coworking spaces have expanded hugely.

“We estimate that as of the summer of 2015, there were 56 locations in western Brooklyn at which space for startups and small ventures was being offered, under construction, or planned,” the report says. “We estimate that to date nearly 1 million square feet of such space has been completed (most of it during the past ten years), and about 400,000 square feet is under construction or planned.”

The full report is 80 pages but it’s well worth checking out.

Read the full report




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