Surprise! The New York Urban Boom Isn’t Stopping
Taxi Driver, the quintessential neo-noir movie, was only shot in 1976. Yet it depicts New York City as many saw it: a drug-infested, crime-ridden inferno into which Robert de Niro descends into insanity.
Back then, Bushwick, Brooklyn was burning. Today, Vogue names it ‘7th Coolest Neighborhood in the World’ and Brooklyn has become more than a neighborhood; it is a brand, fashionable worldwide.
What a comeback story. But what exactly happened?
Well, while New York City’s population was already growing organically, several social phenomena occurred.
Ever attractive to immigrants around the world, the Big Apple has kept seeing an influx of those seeking opportunities in the land of Uncle Sam. Furthermore, to the contrary of cities like San Francisco, New York has been able to retain a large part of his lower-income population. Indeed, City Hall has built and placed in use a significant amount of the 300,000 subsidized, ‘affordable housing’ apartments it seeks to create by 2026.
Most noticeably however, New York has been the posterchild for ‘Superstar Cities’: urban cores that have attracted superstar tech firms, which in turn brought top-flight tech talent and created a new wave of prosperity. One thing leading to another, the Big Apple became the recipient of a large influx of ‘Millennials’, or daughters and sons of the Baby Boomers. These young professionals represent the largest generation of Americans ever -and they are primarily urban dwellers.
Millennials severely suffered from the 2008 Financial Crisis, as many of them started their careers during the Great Recession. As banks either went bankrupt or severely tightened their lending requirements, Millennials were unable to purchase homes and make their all-American move to the suburbs. Hence, they stayed within city centers, close to their workplaces. And real estate developers created 24/7 hours live-work-play neighborhoods for them.
Given the aforementioned factors, demographic growth gushed out of Manhattan’s core. Formerly forgotten areas were resurrected, such as Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn or Mott Haven in the South Bronx.
Brooklyn is the most successful revival story. Why so? As the World Trade Center was rebuilt and New York’s center of gravity shifted to Southern Manhattan, Brooklyn became a full-fledged extension of it. Not only did it witness the rehabilitation of formerly run down areas (think Williamsburg or Crown Heights), but also did it become a futuristic ecosystem. It is home to a plethora of successful startups, such as Etsy, and most recently, Bushwick became the epicenter of the cryptocurrency industry.
To some degree, Brooklyn’s success was a writing on the wall: despite haven fallen on hard times, it had attractive architecture featuring its world famous ‘brownstone’ houses. Indeed, most of the borough was built in the late 1800s to mid-1900s. Typical apartments would have been designed for large families and boast close to 1,000 square feet. While these have mostly been reconfigured over time, the average size of a Brooklyn apartment has remained large -a luxury in New York City- and many Manhattanites relocated for comfort.
Besides, with the rise of the tech industry and the advancements of the shared-economy, impersonal New York became a smaller town, where people began to ‘connect’ more with each other. As car-pooling, Airbnb and restaurants with communal shared tables attained wide success, living together became increasingly important. So did a quality environment, knowing one’s neighbors, and building lasting communities. With tree-lined streets, small, private buildings in which inhabitants know and help one another, Brooklyn was ripe for this ‘new’ New York lifestyle.
Looking ahead, the Big Apple’s outward demographic push will continue. The City is on stronger footing than before 2008, as its economy is more diversified and less reliant on Wall Street. Brooklyn will keep developing rapidly, and so will other outer boroughs as job centers keep being created outside of Manhattan.
For instance, Amazon recently announced the location of its new corporate headquarter, dubbed ‘HQ2’: Long Island City, Queens. The numbers speak for themselves: Amazon targets creating 25,000 jobs, which would translate into 50,000 new inhabitants at a conservative estimate of 2 persons per household. HQ2 will have a dramatic impact on Queens and Brooklyn, which lays immediately South of ‘LIC’: the latter currently being a neighborhood of 68,000, residents will pour out.
Despite overcrowding and population displacement fears, New York has managed to adapt to its success. The swift revival of its forgotten parts will continue, and even accelerate once car-pooling services and CitiBikes (the public sharable bicycle system) are expanded to less accessible parts of town. And once self-driving cars are fully functionally, they will accelerate urbanism: as the cars count decreases, parking lots will be redeveloped into apartment buildings and density will rise. With its unique mix of growth, architecture, tech and innovation, the sky is still blue for urbanism in New York.