Lessons from Brooklyn: Riverfronts, Rezoning, and Reuse

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10/31/18 The Sacramento Metro Chamber’s 2018 study mission drew over 100 local leaders to New York City’s booming borough of Brooklyn earlier this month. At first glance, the Sacramento region and Brooklyn may not seem to have much in common. But demographics tell a different story: our two regions are both remarkably diverse, with a mix of incomes, races and high percentages of foreign born residents. We also share a common history of military base closures, with Sacramento County’s two airfields closing in the latter half of the 20th century and the Brooklyn Navy Yard shuttering in the 1960s.

Brooklyn has come a long way since its Navy Yard closed in 1966. When the federal government handed the land over to New York City, it took another three decades for an economic strategy to take hold. But by the turn of the 21st century, the nearly 400 acre site directly across the East River from Manhattan was finally attracting businesses. A focus on small scale manufacturing is paying off, and along with the attraction of Steiner Studios and an urban farm, the Navy Yard is once again buzzing with jobs. Now more than 300 small businesses employ over 7,000 people on site. The city has used its position as landholder and developer to underwrite the type of economic strategy it believes is in its long-term interest.

Brooklyn also provides critical lessons for rezoning and waterfront revitalization. The new Brooklyn Bridge Park has risen from the ruins of the old Brooklyn industrial waterfront. An 84 acre park has been created from the structures that made up the old Piers 1 through 6, overseen by a non-profit corporation known as the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation. Downtown Brooklyn has also experienced a remarkable renaissance since the Great Recession, with some of the first residential development the borough has seen in decades taking hold due to an ambitious rezoning plan. The end result has been a revitalization so strong that Manhattan is now seen as a bedroom community to Brooklyn.