Kings County Comeback
Editor's note: The following is a book review written by Michael Woodsworth of “The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back” by Kay Hymowitz
As postwar Brooklyn lost manufacturing jobs, a new cohort of white-collar families and ‘knowledge workers’ began flocking there. Michael Woodsworth reviews ‘The New Brooklyn’ by Kay S. Hymowitz.
The Wythe Hotel sits in the heart of Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood directly across the river from Manhattan. Opened to rave reviews in 2012, the hotel offers luxury dining at Reynard restaurant and spectacular city views from the rooftop bar. (Beers: $11.) Not long ago, the Williamsburg waterfront was a postindustrial wilderness, abandoned but for squatting artists; today it’s lined with glass towers and strolling millennials. The Wythe, set in a 1901 factory that once produced barrels for local breweries, features rooms with exposed-brick walls, spare concrete floors and beds made from salvaged wood. The streetscape retains a gritty feel—except at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, when party kids pour out of the nearby nightclubs and limos jostle for curb space with Ubers.
It’s easy to mock such scenes. But the borough’s boom deserves to be taken seriously, argues Kay S. Hymowitz in her engaging book, “The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back.” Ms. Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, recounts how “a left-for-dead city”—“a cultural and economic peasant enviously eyeing the seigneur just across the East River”—has reinvented itself in recent decades and emerged as “just about the coolest place on earth.” What, she asks, turned Brooklyn into a global brand?
The history of the borough, according to Ms. Hymowitz, embodies what economist Joseph Schumpeter dubbed the “creative destruction” of capitalism—the continual obliteration of old modes of production by rising industries and new technologies. In colonial times, Dutch and English farmers tamed the lush hills of Long Island’s southwestern tip. Slavery flourished; the indigenous Canarsee people disappeared. In the 19th century, industrial growth annihilated the bucolic past, while immigration reshaped the city’s culture. Factories closed and capital fled in the postwar decades, shattering communities and leaving the built landscape to decay. That destruction, though, cleared the decks for another burst of creative energy—one that has made Brooklyn a model, and a cautionary tale, for the cities of tomorrow.
Mr. Woodsworth is the author of “Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City.” He teaches at Bard High School Early College in Queens, N.Y.
This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal