As an enclave for the hipster, bohemian, sub-cultures of the late 1990s and early 2000s (describing a generation of middle-class youths interested in the alternative art and music scene), the Brooklyn, NY neighborhood of Williamsburg rapidly emerged as the epicenter for artists and musicians who seeked low-rents, large spaces for their craft, and easy accessibility to Manhattan.
A migration of creative minds flooded the Williamsburg neighborhood in waves. The first flock of artists and musicians moved to the area in the 1970s, again in the 1980s, and most significantly in the 1990s as their previous havens of expression in SoHo and the East Village in Manhattan rapidly became gentrified and inaccessible.
A strong close-knit community of artists began to thrive in the neighborhood throughout the 1990s and 2000s; galleries and music venues emerged amidst an abandoned urban landscape of industrial and manufacturing warehouses.
Gentrification is long, complicated, and often controversial process referring to the changes that result when the wealthier (“gentry”) acquire property in lower income communities. A migration of lower-income residents from a given area follows as increased rents, house prices, and property taxes emerge. Consequently, the economic impacts of urban gentrification are often mirrored with a cultural gentrification – as the culturally heterogeneous character of a neighborhood shifts to a more economically homogeneous neighborhood.
The gentrification process in Williamsburg was slowly underway since the 1990s; however, a large-scale rezoning, or “upzoning,” plan for Williamsburg’s North Side and the Greenpoint waterway was passed in 2005, which acted as the catalyst for what was a rapid urban transformation that swept the neighborhood over the next few years – the upzoning represented a dramatic shift in scale in the ongoing process of gentrification.
Supporters of the massive rezoning shift cited the plan’s supposed economic benefits, new private waterfront promenades, an its inclusionary housing component. This inclusionary housing component offered developers large tax breaks in exchange for developers to promise that they would rent out about one-third of the newly created residential units at “affordable” rates. However, many of the developers decided to forgo the tax break incentives.
The rezoning changes focused heavily along the East River waterfront district of Williamsburg, at it accommodated high density residential units, mixed-use, future plans for an open waterfront park area, as well as creating strict building guidelines which inadvertently called for developers to build a continuous 2-mile stretch of waterfront promenades. Rezoning efforts were seen as a way to anchor the potential for economic growth in an area with declining manufacturing along the waterfront, which had resulted in a number of vacant and abandoned warehouses. Along with the new construction and development of residential units along the waterfront, many of the warehouses began to be converted into residential loft units as well.
Much of the recent development and higher rents are forcing priced-out the hipsters and sub-cultures out of Williamsburg. Artists and musicians are slowly beginning to flock to other neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Bushwick, Bedfrod-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Red Hook.