This is how Brooklyn got its cool

Experts discuss Brooklyn's renaissance at Urban Land Institute conference

From left: Regina Myer, Marty Markowitz, MaryAnne Gilmartin, Andrew Kimball and Kathryn Wylde
From left: Regina Myer, Marty Markowitz, MaryAnne Gilmartin, Andrew Kimball and Kathryn Wylde

Sure, we all like Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea and the Dumbo Waterfront. And we love fresh pressed juices and vegan donuts and lofts in Bushwick. But before all this coolness descended on the city’s most populous borough — not to mention soaring real estate prices that are giving Manhattan a run for its money — Brooklyn looked quite different.

Between 1965 and 1985, Brooklyn suffered from the urban crisis, said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, during a discussion about Brooklyn’s renaissance during the Urban Land Institute’s fall meeting at the Jacob Javits Center on Wednesday afternoon. During that time, the borough’s “thriving manufacturing” industry was lost and residents left the area in droves.

“People had written off Brooklyn,” Wylde said.

Celebrating the extreme shift on Wednesday afternoon, four industry players shared what they think are the most important reasons modern day Brooklyn is thriving.

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MaryAnne Gilmartin, president and chief executive officer Forest City Ratner Companies 
For Gilmartin, the main thing that has triggered the Brooklyn renaissance is the extensive transportation network. She mentioned the connection at Atlantic Avenue, which opens right at the entry of the Barclays Center. It took $75 million to renovate that subway entrance, she said, but the arena is a prime example of “the power of mass transit.” Besides the “transformative impact of transit,” Gilmartin said that the borough is one that likes to celebrate. She called it the “woosh” effect. The sound a train makes when it rushes by. There’s a sense of nostalgia, of ethos, she said. “You can’t bottle it, you can’t find it anywhere else.”

Andrew Kimball, chief executive officer at Industry City
For Kimball, the power of Brooklyn’s transformation lies in the opportunity of creating new affordable housing that can be planned and built close to where people work. The borough also offers actual massive physical spaces, such as Industry City and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Industry City, which Kimball oversees, is a 6 million-square-foot manufacturing district on the Sunset Park waterfront. The space was Brooklyn’s first industrial, shipping and distribution center. Now, Kimball said, the space provides a new opportunity for the borough. He said he’s looking at how to bring in retail and how to “bring in an academic collaboration.” These spaces are now open to “new, creative industries,” Kimball said.

Marty Markowitz, vice president for Borough Promotion and Engagement and former Brooklyn borough president
The former borough president isn’t thrilled when someone calls Brooklyn an “outer borough.” In fact, not only does it imply that Manhattan is the center of the world, it’s also factually incorrect. Brooklyn is the only borough from which you can’t leave New York City without going through another one, making it — in fact — the most inner one of all. For Markowitz, who served as borough president from 2001 to 2013 following a 23-year career as a state senator, the best part of Brooklyn are the people. Jokingly, he said that “almost a third are writing a book,” while the other two thirds are made up of movie makers and entrepreneurs. A special mention also went out to “Soviet Jews,” who in the 1970s formed Brighton Beach. He also cited the lesbian community, which settled in Brooklyn because “it was a friendly place.”

Regina Myer, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and former director of the city’s Department of City Planning Brooklyn office
Myer, who was re-appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to serve as the BBPC’s president, oversees the development, the maintenance and operations of the 85-acre green space. The most important factor in Brooklyn’s revival, she said, is the immense improvement of the borough’s safety. The way Downtown Brooklyn “rebounded” from the crime in the 1980s and 1990s is very important, Myer said. “That’s setting the stage,” she said. A safe downtown area also set in motion a wave of immigration to the borough. As a result, “developers in Brooklyn are going above and beyond.”

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