You hear it all the time, in casual conversation or in sloppy comments on the interwet. More people. More density. Long lines, crowded sidewalks, packed subways. And yes, it's true that NYC has added people. All over. But when it comes to explosive growth round these parts, it's all a bunch of hype. Increases of a percent or two are hardly noticeable. The real problem is affordability, but as the Q has documented, time and again local gentry - part of the only 15% of locals owning homes - have used the issue of density to justify antagonism towards new rent-stabilized below-market housing. Density IS the answer to affordability in a finite City. Why is this so hard to comprehend? It needn't be Hong Kong style. But it does need to happen. And it needs to be smart and it needs to accompany planning and study that views the whole City as an organism, not just tiny fiefdoms.
Think about it. If we're going to grow, and we're growing, shouldn't there be a benefit for years to come? Shouldn't every new building come with affordable units? The carrot was dangled, but we didn't chomp.
Fact is, we're not as dense as many livable Manhattan neighborhoods (Upper East or West Side, Central Harlem) We're about on par with other Central Brooklyn neighborhoods, and even Greenwich Village. We have WAY more renters than other nearby neighborhoods, though. I think that is a real difference here than elsewhere. All these stats and more are available in the exhaustive annual Furman housing and neighborhoods report here. For a list of major trends to be found therein about gentrification, just click on the "duh" section here.
Yes, the hue and income of residents has been changing in Central BK. Any numskull can tell you that. When the Q moved here in 2003 I rarely if ever saw white people. And as I've noted many, many times before, that's why I could afford to buy a house here while my middle-middle class sisters and brothers rented small apartments in tonier neighborhoods. I make no illusions about the fact that my family benefited directly from racism, in the sense that housing prices on the eastern side of the park were monstrously less than on the west. We weren't looking to "gentrify." We were looking for a house we could afford in a place we liked. Only now do we look like real estate geniuses. But hey, you gotta have a place to live, right? The house, I'm afraid, belongs to the kids anyway, when you get realistic. Either we sell to pay for our end-of-life care or they get the house and any profit. Oh the indignity of it all! Can't take it with you I suppose. Just a toothbrush and a change of underwear.
Had you taken a guess in, say, 1965 whether Park Slope or Lefferts/Flatbush would become predominantly white or black by 2000, lots of folks would've lost the bet. North Slope was very African-American. If you haven't seen The Landlord, check it out. That's Park Slope baby. My neighbor John had a house there and sold it to an eager white guy 30 years ago. Couldn't believe how good a price he got! Love those anecdotes...
But it's all anecdotes when it comes to density. For every house turned into apartments there are apartments and SROs that became single family homes. And most of the new buildings (626 Flatbush and 33 Lincoln) haven't even populated yet. While it's certainly dense (it's NYC folks) that's actually one of the reasons people WANT to live here. Amenities, the park and garden, and a healthy and lively housing, commercial and social diversity. And most of all, great public transportation. We have LOTS of subways, thus we house many people, quite happily. The Q/B at Church and Prospect Park. The Franklin Shuttle. The (ahem) Q at Parkside. The 2/5 at Winthrop and Sterling. Dollar Vans. Cabs aplenty. The B41, B12, B16, B44 and many, many more, including those slick and efficient SBS buses. (Could use more bike lanes, but hey, I get it, I've seen it. Old timers hate bikes. I've been at the meetings. "Why don't we go back to horse and buggy?!" they shout.)
The proof is in the numbers. Feelings aren't facts, and the facts are these. There has been no major surge in population here. The subway stations have barely nudged up in ridership over the years. Some examples of daily ridership increases 2010-2015 below. And remember there's been a huge boom in employment since then, with many more people commuting to work:
QatParkside: barely budged up in 5 years
Prospect Park Q/B/S: added 318 daily riders to 10,033 a day
Winthrop 2/5: down 179 to 7541
Sterling 2/5: exactly the same for 5 years
Church B&Q: up 338 to 17,811
Year to year increases in ridership in Brooklyn generally have been about 1%, and despite the horror stories on lines like the notorious L, people are getting where they need to go. Improvements WILL come, but only if we continue to let City Planners do their work. Transportation in this City is absolutely key to its continued prosperity. There will be bumps - the bureaucracy and politics involved are headaches. But we can do it. We will do it.
What we HAVE seen, and I've been documenting it on the ol' blog, is a strong uptick in investment of capital into the neighborhood. New commerce, new construction, property changing hands and being renovated. The Lakeside Center and other major improvements to our side of the park. New trees planted, some important improvements to transportation and other infrastructure. Individuals have made tremendous progress as well, like Parkside Plaza and along Ocean Avenue.
And while the changes are by no means all for the better, it's worth remembering that one of the worst things that can happen to a neighborhood, or City, is disinvestment. Folks leaving and no one taking their place. Businesses without shoppers, shuttering. No jobs. Despair. Feeling cutoff from the rest of the City. Can anyone remember where we've been, as a city? There are still plenty of despairing ex-industrial cities awaiting your tourist dollars if you so desire a view of the past. Flint anyone?
Yes, the area will see a net gain in people in the coming years, providing no catastrophic changes. But it will happen somewhat gradually, just as the neighborhood waxes and wanes with the times. Newcomers are taking up more square footage per person. Lots of singles and young couples moving in. These are the signs of health in a neighborhood. People actively WANT to live here. There was a time when the biggest fear for any neighborhood was NEGLECT. Money and commerce and jobs disappearing. No new construction. No rehabilitation of old structures. No upward mobility.
I say the above not to diminish the very real injustices to longterm tenants and to people of color by law enforcement and the seemingly intractable realities of racism. But to keep NYC affordable to working people at all income levels, we need to be clear-headed about how much density is acceptable, as a trade-off to increasing housing stock along crucial mass transit lines.
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.