Brooklyn's 'Creative Crescent' In Danger of A Drought

We’ve always dismissed the hordes of young hipsters tapping away on their laptops in Williamsburg and Park Slope cafes in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon as trust-fund babies or dilettantes. But it just so happens they might be part of the burgeoning population the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation calls “self-employed creative professionals.”

This broad category of workers encompassing everyone from freelance sound mixers and graphic designers to independent artists, performers, and performance artists living in Brooklyn increased in number 33 percent between 2002 and 2005 to 22,000, according to the BEDC, compared to an increase of only 6.5 percent in Manhattan.

Most of them are clustered in Williamsburg, Dumbo, BoCoCa, Red Hook, and Park Slope in the swathe of northern and eastern Brooklyn the BEDC has labeled the “Creative Crescent.”

Park Slope ranks the No. 1 most creative neighborhood in the borough with 3,500 independently employed designers and independent artists in residence. Williamsburg comes in No. 2 with a little less than 3,000 “self-employed creatives,” followed by Brooklyn Heights (around 2,600), and BoCoCa (around 1,700). Red Hook and Prospect Heights tied for fifth place with 1,600 each.

The majority of self-employed creatives in each neighborhood are classified as “independent artists” and earn an average of $20,000 per year according to SEC filings—a figure that reflects substantial underreporting.

Though their true economic impact remains unknown since full earnings are not accounted for, the BEDC estimates that they generated $504 million of taxable revenues in 2005—the height of the Brooklyn creative economy’s boom.

After a decade of growth, rising real estate prices and a lack of appropriate, affordable space is now driving self-employed creatives out of Brooklyn’s traditional artists’ communities and is the “single largest challenge facing New York’s creative core,” according to a new study from the Center for an Urban Future.

The city’s decision to rezone industrial neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City for greater residential development “threatens to displace the creative individuals and businesses whose pioneering presence drove their initial transformation to residential destinations,” the report says.

“The prospect of getting priced out of Park Slope is very real for us,” playwright Scott Adkins said at a Wednesday morning panel discussion organized by the Center for an Urban Future at the Brooklyn Public Library in Grand Army Plaza.

“A one-bedroom apartment with an office in center Slope is now $2,700,” Mr. Adkins said. “It’s unbelievable that rents could be so high and that the market is supporting it.”

Mr. Adkins founded the Brooklyn Writers’ Space and Room 58 to provide workspace to freelance writers and journalists. He has noticed a steady stream of writers and artists leave New York for cities they “feel they can work in.” And they don’t always go to urban centers either.

“Yes, we have seen more people come into Brooklyn, but we’ve also seen a lot of people going to Philadelphia, Jersey, and Vancouver. People go to L.A. all the time… Some move to upstate New York.”

One performance artist’s experience trying to find housing in New York bears out Mr. Adkins’ conclusions:

“I used to live in Cobble Hill, then I was priced out and moved to Fort Greene. Now I’ve been priced out again, so I am moving to Bed Stuy.”