The crux of the problem is the fast pace of residential development that has swept through north Brooklyn in the last ten years – a trend that will continue well into the future in Downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. Merely keeping Downtown zoned to existing nearby schools is not a long-term solution because all of the schools that presently serve the area will eventually be overwhelmed by the crush. No planning or provisions were made by the city for a new school to serve this population boom which was directly facilitated by the Mayor Bloomberg’s  development initiatives. In fact, the Environmental Impact Study (PDF) for the rezoning of the neighborhood predicted that only 979 new residential units (at most) would be built as a result of the rezoning  – to date more than 6500 new units (including affordable housing)  have been built since 2004 and 15,000+ more units are on the way.   Something needs to happen now to accommodate all of the children coming to the neighborhood.

A little history: At the turn of the 20th century, Downtown Brooklyn was a thriving shopping destination filled with department stores, corporate headquarters, and many residents. It has gone through many changes in the last 50 years including two major attempts at urban renewal (the tearing down of the existing ‘slums’) which displaced many of the existing residents. These included the building of the Cadman Plaza civic center in the 50s/60s and then business/university-focused Metrotech in the 80s/90s. The elimination of the elevated tracks and building of subways early in the century reduced the corridor along Schermerhorn into a stretch of surface parking lots. In 2004 a new plan was unveiled to spur redevelopment in the  business/retail core.  For any of you who haven’t seen the videos, I urge you to watch and see what was envisioned for 2012 back in 2006. The slump in the economy in 2007 slowed things down, but now the pace of things are picking back up with gusto.

A few stats to mull over:
  • Downtown Brooklyn was home to 400 people in 2001.  In 2011, the number was 12,000 and the latest estimates put it at 15,000 (plus 10,000 students living in dorms). The number of housing units is set to more than triple in the next 3-5 years.
  • The cost of building in Downtown Brooklyn has skyrocket from $50 to $350 per buildable square foot in the last 3 years..
  • Watch out, because even more (and more unplanned for) apartment units may coming flooding into the area in the next 5-10 years, affecting the schools. Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene and Vinegar Hill (next to DUMBO) are home to one of the largest concentrations of public housing in the city.   The New York City Housing Authority doesn’t have enough cash to cover the necessary maintenance of its aging stock of 178,895 units and is now proposing to build mixed income housing on empty parking lots, community centers,  and playgrounds within the complexes. Hundreds (or even thousands) of apartments could get built in the neighborhood as a result.
  • As big as this all is…2.9 million more square feet of development space is already entering the market as the Jehovah’s Witness’s sell of their massive holdings in Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO and Downtown Brooklyn.

Downtown Brooklyn isn’t the only new high-rise neighborhood in the city experiencing a population boom. However it is the only one without any new schools proposed, planned, or built. Here is a summary of how DoBro stacks up against Battery Park City, Long Island City, Williamsburg and Riverside South:

  • DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN: Upwards of 22,000 new residential units (50,000+ new residents) = 0 new schools (so far)
  • HUDSON YARDS: 20,000 new residential units = 1 new school (750 seats)
  • LONG ISLAND CITY/HUNTERS POINT SOUTH: 10,800 new residential units (27,000+ new residents) = 3 new schools
  • WILLIAMSBURG/GREENPOINT WATERFRONT:10,000 new residential units (24,000+ new residents) = 2 new schools 
  • BATTERY PARK CITY: 8600 new residential unit (13,500+ new residents) = 2 new schools
  • RIVERSIDE SOUTH (Upper West Side): 6500 new residential unit (13,600+ new residents) = 1 new school

It is time for action!