Civic News
Brooklyn / Urban development

NYT asks if Gowanus can survive its renaissance. Can Brooklyn survive its tech boom?

Affordability enables success. Success squashes affordability. Then what?

A view of the Gowanus Canal. (Photo by Tyler Woods)

One of the main themes we come back to time and again in the Brooklyn tech world is whether the success of the recent boom in Brooklyn startups and tech could undermine what makes Brooklyn an attractive place to build you company in the first place.

The New York Times this week turned its eye to the recent real estate boom in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, asking a similar question, whether the place’s changes will destroy what made it interesting in the first place.

The piece, “Can Gowanus Survive its Renaissance?” by Andy Newman, goes through the cleanup efforts of the Gowanus Canal and the luxury condominiums and apartments being built up along it. He writes about the warehouses of artists and glassblowers will be pushed out and of the fancy new companies, like Genius, that have moved in.

In the upper half of the canal zone, an avatar of the new Gowanus economy is flourishing: Genius, a start-up that began as a song-lyric annotation website but aims to be “the ultimate companion to music.” Genius’s 15,000-square-foot headquarters includes video studios and an auditorium where the rapper Pusha-T performed last month. There is a basketball court in the yard where visiting artists shoot hoops with the staff. “We couldn’t have done this in Union Square,” said Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer.

(Editor’s note: Is Genius flourishing? The company laid off a quarter of its staff earlier this year.)

The problem, purely from the tech scene perspective is what happens if Brooklyn does become Union Square. If it gets so expensive as to rival Manhattan, then what’s the advantage to being here? And if the artists, musicians, and legacy industry that give the place its culture and creativity can no longer afford it, then what would be special about the place?

It was a sentiment founders shared at our stakeholder meeting this summer.

“We’re in Dumbo because we found affordable office space,” Agrilyst founder Allison Kopf, who started her company at the Urban Future Lab at NYU, said at the meeting. “Even growing out of an incubator space it was a challenge to find space that was affordable.”

Another founder there, Alex Levin of L+R, a creative agency, said that he’d had to hire a coder in Spain because the cost of living in New York had made local labor too expensive.

It’s not a problem with a clear solution, and neither we nor the Times offer one. But it is a persistent issue and one worth thinking about.

Read the full story
Companies: Genius
Series: Brooklyn

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