October 3, 2004

New York’s One-Time Slums Are Thriving

First one-time "dowdy" areas like TriBeCa became hot areas to live. "Then far bleaker neighborhoods like Harlem, the South Bronx, Fort Greene and Williamsburg saw their rubble-blanketed lots, burnt-out shells and down-at-the-heels brownstones transformed into appealing, sometimes voguish habitats," the New York Times reports in a Sunday feature, The Next TriBeCa? Stick a Pin in the Map. "Now even the badlands of East New York, Bushwick and Red Hook are luring adventurous developers and homesteaders. There is scarcely a New York neighborhood that is not on an upswing."

What's prompted the rebirth of neighborhoods that not too long ago, many people feared walking through in broad daylight, let alone investing in? The story says:

* Soaring housing prices, forcing the middle class to ponder less "desirable" areas if they want to live in the city

* Major reductions in crime

* City policies to rebuild properties seized for non payment of taxes, and offer tax rebates to landlords who spiffed up their apartment buildings

* Spending on public transportation, including "breathtaking improvements in the reliability and ambience of the subways - even the ability to transfer from buses to trains without paying another fare"

* Immigration - many immigrants are more willing to invest in marginal neighborhoods, buying multifamily homes where they can live on one side and rent out the other. "It's not a coincidence that many of the neighborhoods gentrifying now are full of two- and three-family homes," the article notes. (Hmmm, sounds a little like downtown Framingham....)

* "Multicultural is now hot," Jerome Krase, a professor emeritus of sociology at Brooklyn College, told the Times. "In the 60's and 70's people were seeking homogenous neighborhoods. Now they like the ambiance of multicultural." (Hmmm, still sounds a bit like downtown Framingham....)

In East New York, an area of the city near the Brooklyn/Queens border, "run-down or ruined brick and wood-frame, two-family homes, poor schools, drug markets and soaring crime made it notorious as one of the city's worst places to live. In some corners more than half the lots were flattened by arson, abandonment, neglect and two riots. Even five years ago developers were skittish about investing."

And now? "Nearly every vacant lot is spoken for, with spanking new two- and three-family row houses, and older homes being spruced up by longtime residents awakening to their new value. . . .

"The much-praised Nehemiah Housing program, put together by a coalition of local churches on vacant land turned over by the city, has already built 2,900 homes in East New York. . .

"The neighborhood's most notorious school, Thomas Jefferson High School, where in 1992 two teenagers were shot to death an hour before Mayor David N. Dinkins was to visit, has been divided into five more manageable mini-schools, with such themes as civil rights and fire safety." (Aside: I sure wish Framingham hadn't combined high schools. There were other ways to achieve racial and economic balance within two schools).

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