Gentrification Burnout?

The gentrification of Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood was supposed to be inevitable, yet recently, the area has lost its sheen. Has New York's gentrification wave found its highpoint?

"Red Hook certainly has all the familiar ingredients of a neighborhood on the verge: quirky local favorites such as Sunny's (the waterfront bar with bluegrass bands, open three nights a week or at the owner's whim) and LeNell's (the bourbon-mecca liquor store with the hand-painted sign reading wine + likker) as well as charming start-ups like 360 (a beloved French bistro) and the Good Fork (a beloved Korean-influenced restaurant). The neighborhood, a former refuge for artists in exile, had started drawing the typical next-wavers: the self-employed, the underemployed, the fresh young couples with tricked-out strollers, walking along the refurbished Valentino Pier or hanging out at the bakery Baked. In some ways, Red Hook was a Realtor's dream, boasting Manhattan views, a salty maritime history (working piers! Brawling sailors!), and a brochure-ready name, all of which would play perfectly on some theoretical condo prospectus. Seeking waterfront living with a dusting of urban grit? Then drop your anchor in Red Hook!

More crucially, Red Hook was simply next. Because if we've learned anything in the last twenty years of gentrification in New York, it's that there will always be a next. Gentrification is a wave that's flooding the city, transforming block after block. And Red Hook was directly in its path.

Ivy Pochoda remembers it clearly. "That moment was there. It was definitely there. Everyone felt it at the same time. And then," she says, "it just went away."

For the last two years, people in Red Hook have been waiting-some hopefully, some fearfully-for that wave to crash, the hordes to come, the towers to sprout. Weirdly, though, none of that has happened. In fact, for all the heraldic attention, the neighborhood now seems to be going in reverse. The Pioneer bar has shut down. So has the bistro 360 and, just recently, the live-music venue the Hook. Buildings put on the market for $2.5 million have stayed empty and unsold. Landlords hoping to get $2,500 a month for a Van Brunt storefront-the rent that Barbara Corcoran was asking-have found no takers. In fact, Corcoran's spot sat unrented for over two years, until a local business took the space at the cut rate of $1,800 a month. The perception of the neighborhood got bad enough that in August the Post ran a story headlined "Call It ‘Dead' Hook." Somehow the neighborhood went from "undiscovered paradise" to Dead Hook in just over a year.

So what the hell is happening in Red Hook?"

Full Story: The Embers of Gentrification



Robert Goodspeed's picture

Sorry to defy your paradigm

In Washington, D.C. there are neighborhoods that have been "gentrifying" longer than I have been alive. A George Washington University professor wrote a book about "gentrification" in Mount Pleasant in 1987, where it's still being written about today. Articles from the late 70s and early 80s describe the impending "Georgetownization" of our Adams Morgan neighborhood, which still hasn't happened.

Some of the many factors guaranteeing long-term diversity seem to include public and section housing, a diverse housing stock in age and unit sizes, stubborn owners and landlords, high crime, affordable units developed by CDCs or owned by co-ops, continued bank redlining, etc ...

Red Hook

It looks to me like this writer was hired to write a long feature article, so he had to fill up the space with grand speculations about whether genrtification is a self-extinguishing phenomenon and whether gentrification has peaked in New York.

In passing, he mentions the real reasons that Red Hook is not gentrifying: it is not near public transportation, much of its old housing was demolished and replaced by housing projects, and the remaining supply of old housing in low quality.

There were some signs of gentrification there during the real estate bubble, but they have disappeared now that the bubble has disappeared.

Read this article as an example of the failure of the publishing industry. The editor comes up with an idea for a feature article. The writer has to fill up all the space, even if there is really very little to say.

Charles Siegel

Red Hook or anywhere

I'm not familiar with the specifics of Red Hook but in Philadelphia it's so painfully obvious what neighborhoods are "next" (close to good transit or close to Center City or relatively stable 'hoods with fair to good housing stock or large lot sizes and good shopping streets or the potential for one) and what neighborhoods will start to decline (those that are far from Center City, not near a rail line or express bus, little to no neighborhood shopping, with a lower middle-class population that have been deferring maintenance).

More On Red Hook

According to this article, residents think that poor transportation is stopping Red Hook's gentrification - and they want to keep it that way.

Charles Siegel

The eyebrows raise...

So maybe it doesn't happen in two years. It took 20 in SoHo, 5 in Williamsburg and I think 6 months in Bushwick. This is indeed a story folks will chuckle about in 2011.

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