A year ago I read about someone who suggested that for those working on city revitalization, Brooklyn was a far more realistic model than Manhattan. The notion being that the assets and scale of Manhattan are not replicable. It seemed like good advice then and even more so now.

At the time I read that advice, Brooklyn was just starting its redevelopment. No guarantee that it was going to be a success story. As is clear from a recent New York Times article entitled Brooklyn’s New Gentrification Frontiers today there is no question that it is a success.

Today’s success was built on decades of pessimism. Brooklyn not that long ago was a national symbol of irreversible urban decline. As the Times writes Brooklyn’s revitalization “pushes deeper into neighborhoods that for some New Yorkers still evoke images of burned-out buildings, riots and poverty.”

Once the revitalization began, the legions of doubters maintained that it would be limited to a few neighborhoods closest to Manhattan and the water front. Think again! As the Times reports: “The median real estate price for Boerum Hill ($675,000), Carroll Gardens ($677,500) and Cobble Hill ($750,000), once viewed as out-of-the-way destinations for renters and homeowners unable to afford Manhattan, now rivals those in the northern reaches of the Upper East and West Sides and parts of Lower Manhattan, according to … Housing prices in neighborhoods deeper inside Brooklyn are even competing with or surpassing real estate in solidly middle-class areas of Westchester County, Long Island and northern New Jersey, according to”

What are the lessons we should learn from Brooklyn? The Times article demonstrates:

  • People want to live in cities. The widespread belief in Michigan and across most of America that no one but the poor want to live in cities is simply out of date.
  • Cities that work are first and foremost residential neighborhoods –– places where people want to live. So much so that they are willing to pay higher housing costs for high density, mixed use, walkable neighborhoods. The kind of neighborhoods only found in cities.
  • Public safety and rail transit matter. People won’t live in neighborhoods that are not safe, and increasingly want rail transit to connect them to jobs and entertainment.
  • Predictions that urban revitalization is consigned  to a very small portion of cities –– basically downtown and near downtown neighborhoods –– should be ignored. The evidence is that there is demand for housing in urban neighborhoods beyond downtown.

Michigan’s challenge is to learn both that central cities are an essential component of prosperous states and what needs to be done to make them a reality here.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Note: I’m an ex-Michigan resident who lives in one of the neighborhoods profiled by the Times. My spouse and I love Brooklyn and will probably never return to Michigan but we also have witnessed the gentrification battles so it’s not like this place doesn’t have it’s problems.

    As far as I can tell, most of the neighborhoods profiled by the Times, including my own, function somewhat similarly to the traditional suburban “ring” around other cities: as residential spaces where people leave for their jobs in Manhattan. Yes, there are a lot of bars, restaurants, and shops that anchor these places but not all of them are locally-owned (or, as is preferable in most neighborhoods, owned by someone who lives in the neighborhood). Example: the company Warby Parker is basically synonymous with Brooklyn but the glasses ship from a warehouse in Minneapolis. This is somewhat changing due to freelancing and telecommuting, and also the businesses that are coming to Brooklyn. At the moment, however, there are a lot of high-wage/knowledge workers who work in Manhattan but mostly require grocers, stylists, retail sales assistants, and delivery guys to meet their needs at home – or in other words, the type of low-wage earning jobs that you mentioned in a previous post are endemic to Michigan. This is not a Brooklyn-specific problem but there are more lessons to be learned from Brooklyn, which happens to also be the second most expensive city to live in the United States.

  2. The Greater New York area seems like a poor peer for the rest of the nation to base its redevelopment plans around. That region has such a substantial population factor over other metros, that its changes don’t seem easily replicable in other communities. If we’re going to find models for our cities in Michigan, I suspect the most applicable will come from similarly sized and/or situated communities.

  3. in terms of size and scale, you are right. But in terms of the features that make up a competitive city––one that can attract new residents––I think there is lots we can learn from Brooklyn, Chicago and other so-called talent magnets. We can replicate those features, even if at a smaller scale. And most importantly they help us learn that cities can come back and that they are now in demand again.

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