Ahoy, Brooklyn! Defying Recession, Developers Drop Anchor Along East River

On the waterfront... someday.

The sun had not quite broken over the rowhouses and warehouses of Greenpoint Monday morning when The Observer arrived at the new concrete pier jutting out into the East River at India Street. The dock seemed barely finished, its concrete planks not entirely even, the sides of the structure lined with chain-link fencing. Whole sections were torn up and surrounded with orange construction netting.

When the ferry pulled up, ghost decals clinging to the foredeck, the passengers filed on, handing over their $4 tickets, joining the nearly 3,000 New Yorkers who have ridden the ferry each weekday since its launch in mid-June, according to the city—more than double the number officials had expected.

After ordering our locally brewed fair-trade coffee and a pain au chocolat, we turned to see a gay couple smiling across a starboard table, sharing a quiche, a floating picnic. On the port side was a pretty biracial pair staring out the window at Long Island City, its gleaming towers pulling into view. The woman held a breastfeeding baby on her lap.

The subway this was not.

But neither was it entirely new. The Bloomberg administration—and to a lesser degree its predecessors and the civic groups that surrounded them—has been dreaming about transforming the East River into the city’s new axis. It took nearly a decade of experimentation and failure, but the river is about to be flooded with people. The ferries (after two tries finally a success) are only the first sign.

Just two years ago the master plans, brand new parks, renderings and rezonings that made this stretch a seething hot bed of development and gentrification were declared dead, another casualty of an overheated real estate market that had thrust the nation into recession. But something unusual happened. Even as the unemployment rate rose, so too did the rents throughout western Brooklyn. Instead of shuttering, an almost endless stream of precious boîtes and boutiques opened on the vinyl-siding-lined streets. What the bourgeois soothsayers at New York magazine dubbed “The Billyburg Bust,” complete with operatic comparisons to Miami, never materialized. Not a few bankers and movie stars—Ed Westwick among them—moved in. So what if the critics are right, and there is a little too much South Florida glass for all the soot still in the air? This is Brooklyn circa 2012.

Ahoy, Brooklyn! Defying Recession, Developers Drop Anchor Along East River