Brooklyn’s Hipster Economy Challenges Manhattan Supremacy

Marty Markowitz was strolling in Vienna when he noticed mannequins in a shop window wearing hats emblazoned with Paris, London and Brooklyn. The store had plenty of London and Paris models. Brooklyn was sold out.

“They said they couldn’t restock the Brooklyn hats fast enough,” said Markowitz, 69, who spent 12 years as president of New York City’s most populous borough before retiring in January.

Brooklyn’s cachet as a global brand and epitome of urban hipsterdom is shifting New York City’s center of gravity, reducing the supremacy of Manhattan across the East River and exerting more influence on New York’s political, economic and cultural life. It’s creating jobs and adding residents at a faster pace than any other borough, sparking a boom in commercial development to supply the new masses.

“When we started the Zagat Guide in 1982, we listed about 25 Brooklyn restaurants, and now we list 261,” said Tim Zagat, co-founder of the survey. “Brooklyn was scary 20 years ago. Now it’s the hottest part of the city.”

In the second half of the 20th century, Brooklyn was a symbol of urban decay from which middle-class taxpayers fled for the suburbs, escaping a downward spiral symbolized by the 1957 move of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team to Los Angeles.

JPMorgan Move

Today’s Brooklyn presents a different story. The borough that recorded 158,000 major crimes in 1990 had fewer than 36,000 last year, an 80 percent drop. The Barclays Center, a 19,000-seat arena that opened in 2012 near the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is home to the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets, the first major sports franchise in the borough since the Dodgers left. JPMorgan Chase & Co., the biggest U.S. lender, said in February it would move 2,000 employees nearby.

“Brooklyn has been the leader in job creation, and it’s been widespread across the sectors -- education, health, business services, media and technology,” said James Brown, principal economist for the state Labor Department.

Private-sector jobs in Brooklyn increased 26 percent between 2003 and last year, to 503,572 from 401,071, the biggest percentage gain among the five boroughs in the past decade, according to Labor Department data. By comparison, Manhattan jobs rose 13 percent in the same period, to almost 2 million from 1.75 million.

Brooklynite Mayor

As Brooklyn neighborhoods became more secure, property values rose. In the past decade, the average residential sales price more than doubled to $688,334 from $336,238, according to Miller Samuel Inc., a real-estate appraiser. In Manhattan, average prices rose 92 percent, to $1.5 million from $800,967.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, 52, a Democrat who assumed office Jan. 1, is bringing a Brooklyn flavor to a City Hall run by Manhattan residents since the 1970s. The previous Brooklynite to serve, Abraham Beame, was in charge when the city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.

“It’s pretty remarkable,” de Blasio said in an e-mail when asked to reflect on the turnaround he’s seen in the 22 years since he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, bought a house and raised two children in an interracial marriage in Park Slope, a tree-lined neighborhood of townhouses.

“The borough is as diverse and full of energy as our family is,” the mayor said. “Whether you enjoy walks in Prospect Park, a Nets game, a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, art exhibits or great dining, it’s happening in Brooklyn.”

Political Power

Brooklyn’s political power derives from its size. At 2.6 million residents, it’s the largest borough, holding almost a third of the 8.3 million who inhabit the most populous U.S. metropolis. Brooklyn’s 3.5 percent population growth between 2010 and 2013 made it the city’s fastest-growing area, and its 16-member delegation is the largest in the 51-seat city council.

Signs of Brooklyn’s allure include the international visitors buying postcards inside the P.S. Bookshop in Dumbo -- an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. The former industrial warehouse district has become a rezoned enclave of million-dollar loft apartments and boutiques. Gourmet food shops sell the locally produced Blue Marble ice cream for $7.49 a pint.

Brooklyn Flea

More tourists can be found among the thousands flocking to Fort Greene’s Brooklyn Flea, a 50,000-square-foot outdoor emporium of antique, craft and food vendors.

“Manhattan became so dominated by money and glitz that it sort of lost its soul, becoming less a place that creative people could afford or want to be,” said Brooklyn Flea co-founder Jonathan Butler, 44. He moved into and rehabilitated a Clinton Hill brownstone in 2005, not far from a street corner where the late hip-hop icon Biggie Smalls used to ply his trade as a teenage drug dealer in the 1980s.

Butler is now in partnership with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. They are transforming an 84-year-old, 150,000-square foot one-time Studebaker automobile service center last used as a warehouse for legal documents in Crown Heights -- the site of a notorious race riot in 1991 -- into what he describes as an “office building for the 21st century.”

Its tenants will include the nonprofit Brooklyn Community Foundation, video-production facilities, a yoga studio and an online bookseller. A beer hall will occupy 9,000 square feet, with some libations created nearby at the Brooklyn Brewery -- founded in 1988 and now distributed in 25 states and 20 countries.

‘Good Wife’

Five miles (8 kilometers) north in Greenpoint, across the street from a sewage-treatment plant, is the one-time pots-and-pans factory that now houses the offices of Broadway Stages, with 1 million square feet of studios. It produces dozens of movies and television shows, including CBS’s hit series “The Good Wife” and “Blue Bloods.”

The enterprise, one of the city’s four major film sound-stage complexes, is part of an industry that produces 29 episodic television series in the city, up from seven in 2003. Fourteen are shot in Brooklyn.

The television and film industry pumps $7.1 billion a year into the New York economy and employs about 130,000, according to the city’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting. Broadway Stages has grown over the years, building its studios on what had been acres of trash-strewn lots.

Rooftop Farm

The studio has a rooftop farm that grows vegetables for local consumption and solar panels that supply 30 percent of its electricity. As it prospers, so too do about 150 local merchants -- restaurants, printers, plumbers, electricians, hardware, paint and stationery stores -- serving the companies and their crews, said Gina Argento, 41, whose family owns and runs the business.

“We located in what was once one of Brooklyn’s centers of heavy industry and export, and now we’re manufacturing and exporting new American products -- films and television shows,” Argento said.

Even with the resurgence, Brooklyn’s 9.4 percent average unemployment rate for 2013 is second-highest after the Bronx, according to the state labor department.

With the rising cost of housing, the economic ascent has generated its share of detractors in a borough where 56 percent of the residents in 2012 were black or Hispanic.

In a rant that went viral on the Internet, filmmaker Spike Lee railed against the changing character of neighborhoods where he grew up and where poor and middle-class blacks and Latinos are getting pushed out.

Spike’s Take

“So why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better?” he said during a February talk near his company’s headquarters in Fort Greene. “Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose, a community organization based in Sunset Park, recalls how she just turned up the volume when a new neighbor complained about the salsa music blaring from her apartment.

“A community that has struggled for services for years suddenly gets all these amenities just as its longtime residents of color start getting pushed out,” she said. “It’s not about us resenting the new arrivals; it’s about us being excluded.”

The new arrivals will keep coming, and complaints about gentrification are unlikely to stem the flow, according to business owners who say the borough remains increasingly attractive to entrepreneurs.

“The innovation economy” is how it’s described by Andrew Kimball, chief executive officer of Industry City, a 30-acre complex of 16 buildings in Sunset Park where he expects 15,000 will be employed in another 10 years, up from 2,400 now. Its micro-manufacturing businesses include 3-D printing, commercial kitchens, fashion and industrial design, clothing, video production and computer programming.

“The artist wants to be near the woodworker next to the tech firm next to the fashion designer,” said Kimball, 49. “It’s harkening back to an idea of Brooklyn where you can walk or ride your bike to work and recreate the sense of the old industrial community.”

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