New Urban Precincts III – Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Ok, clearly I’m taking a little creative liberty with the description “New.”   Williamsburg is hardly a “New Urban Precinct.”  It’s been gentrifying for some time now. In fact, it is often used as a textbook case of gentrification in New York.

In my other project, 100 Ways To See… A Street (www.100waystosee.com), I take apart one street in Williamsburg – Wythe Ave – and present it visually from 100 different perspectives, revealing its complexity. It seems I chose my street well as Wythe Ave is also one of the fastest gentrifying street in Williamsburg.

It’s rather shocking.

In three months alone, more than half a dozen new “luxury condominium developments” have taken shape on a 15 block stretch on Wythe Ave.  Some of the post-industrial buildings or empty plots I photographed in January are now gone, encircled by scaffolding.  These upcoming developments join almost three dozen existing developments within that small area bounded by Wythe and Berry Avenues.

The Williamsburg that endures in people’s minds – an artist and hipster colony; a bohemian paradise – has almost gone.  In its place is a “new” urban village, colonised by cosmopolitan, designer-toting, upper middle-classed yuppies, and their brood.  It’s become New York’s version of Shoreditch, in East London.

Here’s a photo-journal of this “new” Williamsburg, which merely brushes the surface of the complex dynamics of urban change that are taking place on a daily basis in this fascinating once-peripheral-now-central part of the Big Apple.  I hope it provides a glimpse of how diverse and exciting the landscape is.

Where Williamsburg is (circled), in relation to Manhattan (to the left).  By subway, there are two options to get there – the L train to Bedford Ave, or the M / J trains across the Williamsburg Bridge to Marcy Ave.  The immediate vicinity around the Bedford Av station feels a universe away from that around Marcy Av.

Historic Landmarks – The two most significant landmarks in Williamsburg are the Williamsburg Bridge, and the iconic Domino Sugar Factory, waiting expectantly to be transformed into yet another luxury condominium development on the Brooklyn Waterfront.

Historic Landmarks – The ornate Williamsburg Savings Bank, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was previously owned and used by HSBC group, though now it’s being refurbished for future use as an events space.  Despite more than a year of refurbishment works, however, there’s still no sign of when the project will be completed.

Post-industrial Landscape – Williamsburg is a classic gentrification case.  Disused post-industrial buildings like these on N 4th St and Wythe Ave get transformed first into artist loft-studios, and then finally into luxury residential lofts.  Increasingly, developers are leapfrogging the “artist” phase and going straight into the “luxury.”  This particular intersection is unique for having 3 out of its 4 street corners occupied by hulking derelict industrial buildings.  As this post goes live, one of the buildings has been demolished completely, while another (the one to the right of the picture) is in the process of being converted into lofts.

Loft Living (first described by NY sociologist Sharon Zukin) – Here’s the best example of a converted loft development, located just one block away on N 3rd St and Wythe Ave. This intersection was described by Brooklyn-centric The L Magazine as “Gentrification at its Best.”  I have to agree. It’s an absolute, self-contained bubble of yuppie family-dom, replete with cafes, yoga shack, specialty chocolatier, book shop, uber-expensive hair-dressers, ceramic studio for kids, artisanal deli and more.

Bedford Ave (flaneur central) – The main thoroughfare and heart of Williamsburg. People come from all over the world to see and be seen here.  The everyday is a spectacle of gorgeous, uber-hip, vintage-clad hipsters strolling with their dogs, and the yuppie out-of-Burg-ers that come toting their DSLR cameras to populate the many twee cafes, restaurants and specialty shops that line this street.  There is a distinctly quaint, European, village-y feel, which is further enhanced by the many European (many French) expatriates that choose to make Williamsburg home.

“Hipster” Cafe – This cafe (on Grand and Havermeyer) is typical Williamsburg. At any time of the day, there are always a dozen creative types tapping away on their portable computers, almost always a Macbook. They work on screenplays, business companies, or run their Tech companies from this makeshift office.  The cafe serves great food too. Organic, of course.

Haute Cuisine – Williamsburg has a surfeit of excellent restaurants using artisanal or locally-sourced produce.  Many of them are owned and run by hipster-looking founders, and feature hipster-ish wait-staff.  But don’t let that fool you. The food is excellent, and not cheap.  Just off Bedford and Broadway are two of the top-end options, Michelin-starred Dressler (top right) and Peter Luger’s, serving affluent Manhattanites, who flock in every evening and for weekend brunches.

Low-income, Ethnic Communities – About six blocks from Dressler is Marcy Ave, where the low-income, “ethnic” section of Williamsburg begins.   The contrast in lifestyles and architecture is rather stark.  Most people who visit Williamsburg come via the “L” train, rather than the “M” train (pictured here), and so tend to completely miss the more edgy, interesting bits of the Burg.

Hasidic Jewish Community – Marcy Ave and Broadway border on of the largest communities of Hasidic Jews outside of Israel.  They live in their own hermetically sealed world of religious doctrines and rituals, in which men and women are segregated, and the women shave their hair off upon being married and don wigs.

Hispanic Pentecostal Communities – There is also a large and very patriotic community of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans living amidst the yuppies and the hipsters.  Again, they appear to live in their own separate world circumscribed by family and religion. Most of them are Pentecostals, making Williamsburg an area with one of the highest concentrations of Pentecostal churches outside of Latin America.

Condos: Gretsch Building – One of the pioneer condo conversions in Williamsburg, previously a musical instruments manufacturing building.

Condos: Wythe Confectionary – A former candy factory, now luxury lofts with “a part-time attendant, private gym, bike storage, indoor parking (additional) and a roof deck with spectacular city and bridge views. Interior finishes to satisfy even the most discerning renter, with stainless steel appliances, caesar stone countertops and spacious bathrooms. In-apartment washer/dryers and a large central laundry room.”  (From streeteasy.com)

Condos: 80 Metropolitan – “The amenities are unsurpassed. The building includes a Full Time Doorman, Swimming Pool, Zen Garden, Fitness Center, Media Lounge, Roof Terrace, Bicycle Room, Refrigerated Storage, Live-in Resident Manager, Parking and Private Roof Top Cabanas – all with a 25 Year Tax Abatement. 80 Metropolitan homes feature 10 foot ceilings(approximate), Lapacho Hardwood Floors and luxurious kitchens. They also include built-in Liebherr refrigerators, Miele ovens and cooktops, Bosch dishwashers, marble finishes, polished Caesarstone countertops, Lacquer and Glass Cabinetry with Wenge details, ample closets, a garbage disposal and a washer and dryer. MasterBaths include Glass Showers with Marble Benches and Grohe Rainwater Showerheads, and custom Wenge Vanities.” (From streeteasy.com)   Right.

Condos: The Louver House – Interesting architecture, but somewhat forbidding.  Maybe that’s why most of the units seem unoccupied.

Condos: The Two Towers – This next set of three photos provides a visual account of on-going gentrification. This is the view towards the waterfront on N 4th (a previous photo showed you a view away from the water).  This was a shot taken in January.

Condos: The Two Towers – This is the same view as the above, shot in early March. Only a skeletal frame remains of the industrial building.

Condos: The Two Towers – This is a shot taken in April. The industrial building is gone, soon to be replaced by another luxury condominium project.

New Condo Development – One of the many new condominium developments on Wythe Ave, this one is on N 6th St (this photo was shot in March).

Art Gallery – Picture Farm, one of the many independent galleries dotting Williamsburg.

Book Thug Nation – Second Hand Bookstore on N 3rd St.

Hair Salon – Super-expensive, super-hip salon catering to only the most discerning of hipster / creative-types.  Apparently to be found also in London.  Hmm…

Murals – Williamsburg is still home to many artists and to a proliferation of street art of all kinds.  From the quirky and colourful…

Murals – To the socially-aware and -oriented.

Murals – To the international (this by ROA, a Belgian street artist).

Screw Rent – Finally, a picture that sums up the contrast in lifestyles and the everyday dynamics here in Williamsburg.  I live in the building to the left.

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Cities & Regions, New York, Sociology & Urban Studies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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