Brooklyn Week: Retracing The Transformation Of Williamsburg
Reclaiming two miles of shoreline along the Williamsburg Greenpoint waterfront was one of the city's most ambitious rezoning plans. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
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Residential towers now sit on the Williamsburg waterfront. But for decades, the shoreline housed mostly vacant industrial property.
The community wanted access to the waterfront, the city readied to rezone the area for mixed use and developers saw opportunities to build luxury housing. But just how to do all of that became a fight.
Grassroots community groups demanded that rezoning must include 40 percent affordable housing for new developments. And thousands of units of affordable housing were included when the rezoning passed in 2005.
St. Nick's Alliance was part of that movement. The 35-year-old organization has taken part in many in Williamsburg.
"It's always been a very dynamic community that's always in the midst of flux," said Michael Rochford, the executive director of St. Nick's Alliance.
St. Nick's helped rebuild the neighborhood, one apartment complex after another, when fires and drugs were rampant three decades ago.
"As this decline set in, it began to scare people," Rochford said. "There was an outflux of people and our population dropped dramatically during the '70s and '80s. As these fires began to destroy housing, there was major disinvestment."
Williamsburg saw some stability in the '90s. That's when artists priced out of Manhattan started to move in. The newcomers joined the Latinos, Jews and Italians in calling Williamsburg home.
Many long-time residents were facing displacement. The rezoning's affordable unit component helps. But Williamsburg has increasingly become an area in demand.
"It's super hip," said one resident. "And everyone's just so cool out here."
"It's a great neighborhood," said another. "It's really happening."
"I like the people," said a third. "Everybody's real laid back."
Another challenge is bringing the diverse communities together. St Nick's now uses part of its building as an arts center.
"One of the things we've done at St Nick's is attempt to find common ground for all of the energy that the artists bring with some of what we call the historic communities," Rochford said.
This as a new chapter in Williamsburg's history unfolds.