The odd McMansions of Mill Basin, Brooklyn

Some recent McMansions in the Mill Basin neighborhood in Brooklyn caught the eye of a photographer:

Photographer Nate Dorr recently shot some of the more interesting edifices in the neighborhood, noting that some of the architecture seems to come from “a sculptural confusion of design elements that suggests the owners just opted to combine all possibilities in one facade rather than make any attempt to decide between them.” And that pretty much sums up the look of the area…

This is indeed a unique collection as well as a apt description. Perhaps the eclectic mishmash of styles actually creates its own unifying aesthetic? Hip neighborhoods can make this work – artists and creative types can’t be confined – but perhaps not wealthy ones.

A 1991 New York Times article suggests the waterfront property attracts the wealthy:

Waterfront houses eclipse these in cost — up to $4 million — and luxury. More than 200 have their own docks and a few have elevators. One, on National Drive, has a six-car garage and on Indiana Place stands a three-story house with an all-glass facade. Such high-profile houses have been built or bought by politicians, restaurateurs, physicians and, reportedly, leaders of organized crime.

An interesting outcome for a neighborhood with history dating back to the 1620s.

The New York Times has compared many places to Brooklyn

The New York Times has been fond of comparing Brooklyn to all sorts of places including Oakland, Beijing, New Orleans, The Hudson Valley, and Everywhere. What might be the effect of doing this?

Beyond beards and Girls (or why NYT trend pieces are problematic), I always wonder how the residents these cities feel about being deemed a Brooklyn-like place. I also wonder what it’s going to do to their property prices.

There are two reasons: First, studies show that a prestigious sounding name adds value to a neighborhood. For example, researchers found that buyers were willing to pay a 4.2 percent premium for the term “country.” The Brooklyn dream branding has become a certain kind of prestige to young professionals looking for housing. They loosely know what real estate being “Brooklyn” means: cool neighbors, artisanal food shops, Zagat-rated restaurants and bars. It’s the stylish land of Blue Bottle coffee and No.6 clogs. The sell is: It has places you want to be and people you want to be around.

This narrative is problematic because it is unfairly discounting vast parts of the borough that’s not being gentrified in this specific way, which is why so many Brooklynites hate Brooklyn trend pieces. But it’s also just another way of saying it has a specific set of amenities that are appealing to a certain group—Brooklyn has become a euphemism for a kind of urbanism that millennials like.

Interesting that both reasons above deal with the hip, cool side of Brooklyn that appeals to young people. They imply that Brooklyn has become a trendy brand, even if many of its residents don’t see these benefits. Being a trendy brand also likely means that the frequent comparisons will stop at some point as Brooklyn (1) becomes less cool and (2) other neighborhoods, perhaps in New York City and perhaps elsewhere, become the places to be.

At the same time, I wonder why the Times has to make such comparisons at all. Is it because it helps their readers understand unfamiliar and foreign places? Or is it because New Yorkers think they have the best places (New York exceptionalism) so they impose their vision on other contexts?

When gentrifiers are pushed out of Brooklyn to places like New Jersey

Gentrifying doesn’t last forever: when the big money arrives, gentrifiers in places like Brooklyn have to move on.

By many measures, Jeff Huston and his wife, Lisa Medvedik-Huston, arrived late to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They weren’t among the first waves of artists and hipsters in the early-to-mid ’90s to cross the East River in search of cheaper, grittier confines. When they rented a spacious, duplex loft two blocks from the Bedford Avenue subway stop in 2007, they found a safe neighborhood already dotted with clothing boutiques and wine shops. The height of the real estate boom was approaching, and condos were rising along both the waterfront and McCarren Park…

And last year, when they were ready to buy, the couple quickly realized they had been priced out. “I can’t tell you how many listings said, ‘cash only,’ ” said Mr. Huston, whose real estate search included everything from $500,000 apartments to $900,000 fixer-upper rowhouses and took him from Williamsburg to Bedford-Stuyvesant. “That was a wake-up call.”…

And so the Hustons bid farewell to Brooklyn. In October, they spent $550,000 on a 2,000-square-foot loft in a converted suitcase factory in Jersey City Heights, a section of Jersey City that overlooks Hoboken. “We weren’t sure there was anyone like us in the neighborhood,” he said. Then a Brooklyn-style coffee shop arrived. “The line down the street was all people like us. We could have been in Williamsburg. It was all, like, expats.”…

Many have tried in earnest to stay in Brooklyn, squeezing into smaller spaces or heading deeper into the borough in search of affordability. But there comes a point when that hourlong commute becomes difficult to justify, and the realization strikes that a house with a yard in Maplewood, N.J., can be had for about the same price as a condo in Midwood.

Gentrification tends to draw attention – whether from existing residents who see problems in new residents moving in or from people celebrating the revival of a neighborhood – but this is a reminder that neighborhoods can go through numerous cycles. In this case, Brooklyn’s real estate is on a continued upward swing due to a lack of inventory and high prices in nearby Manhattan. But, even that upward swing is not guaranteed and is contingent on future social and economic changes.

It would also be interesting to track what happens to these ex-pats from Brooklyn. These changes to Brooklyn have the potential to transform numerous other communities, like the “hipsturbia” north of New York City. Opinions and studies about gentrification tend to focus on a defined geographic location but this limits seeing the true big impact gentrification can have across a metropolitan region.

Building large buildings over the Hudson Yards in Brooklyn

How are large skyscrapers and buildings constructed on top of a railroad yard? See the example of Hudson Yards in Brooklyn:

Hudson Yards is the largest private development project in U.S. history, and it’s being built without footings or foundations. Instead, the project is going to sit atop 300 concrete-sleeved, steel caissons jammed deep into the underlying bedrock. Work on the platform broke ground last week, and will take roughly two and a half years to complete. In that time, there’s a lot of engineering to do.

Caissons are a technology borrowed from bridge building, and they are what makes this project possible. The engineers will drill them anywhere from 40 to 80 feet into the Manhattan schist (the dense, metamorphic bedrock that supports the city’s soaring skyline). The caissons are meticulously arranged in the narrow spaces between the tracks. Above, the they will connect to deep-girdle trusses – some up to 8 stories tall – that control and redirect the towering weight overhead. Finally, the slab. “The total punishment is somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 tons of steel and 50,000 cubic yards of concrete,” says Jim White, the lead platform engineer. And that’s before they start loading buildings on top.

Building an elevated platform over an active train yard requires clockwork scheduling. White used computer models to coordinate the tempo of his drilling and truss-laying around the rhythm of the rails. “We look at the area of the yard and model in the train traffic, when it moves on an hourly basis and actually design the connections so we can install these 100 foot long trusses when have a window of opportunity,” says White. For the two and a half years it will take to complete the platform, there are only four scheduled track closures.

That is quite a lot of weight over a rail yard. However, such projects are not unknown in large cities where people look to maximize both space above and below ground. Space is at a premium so construction projects need to get creative and allow for a multitude of uses.