Hermes is coming to Williamsburg, joining Chanel in the once-hipster neighborhood. However, gentrification can take many forms. Personally, I believe that every low-income neighborhood should have access to better stores, food, and more middle-class residents to stimulate the economy. The best form of gentrification occurs when people revitalize areas without the need for zoning changes, subsidies, or political manipulation that often result in more press conferences than affordable housing. This transformation has happened in areas like the South Bronx, Harlem, and my childhood neighborhood of Brooklyn’s Ocean Hill.
Ocean Hill, located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is primarily inhabited by black and Hispanic residents, including a large immigrant community from the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it is often associated with the NYCHA housing projects in Brownsville, known for its struggles. When I first returned to Ocean Hill years ago, the neighborhood was so dangerous that I had to walk in the middle of the street. Empty lots from the 1977 blackout fires were scattered everywhere.
However, in the past 13 years, the area has experienced a remarkable transformation. Broadway, the commercial strip beneath the J and Z el tracks, used to be creepy after dark, causing the local diner to close early for safety. Today, new buildings have been constructed on vacant land, and old buildings have been restored, attracting families who couldn’t afford more upscale parts of Bed-Stuy. The gentrification happening in Ocean Hill is more organic compared to Williamsburg, where upscale brands like Chanel are setting up shop.
The changes have been astounding. Landlords have invested in older buildings, leading to their flourishing. Beautiful brownstones on Bainbridge Street, a hidden gem, rival those found on the Upper East or West Side. Although there may not be a Hermes boutique, the number of grocery stores, pharmacies, and shops has increased significantly.
The safety of Ocean Hill has also improved. Thanks to broken-window policing and political determination to combat crime, incidents have decreased over the years. Even after bail reform and changes in policing tactics under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the area’s 73rd Precinct, which covers Ocean Hill and Brownsville, saw a decrease in murders. Most of the remaining crime occurs in Brownsville’s gang-infested projects south of Atlantic Avenue.
Although Ocean Hill is on the rise, there are still vacant storefronts waiting to be revitalized. However, the population has steadily increased, showing that people are choosing to make this neighborhood their home. Now, the government is finally stepping in. The Economic Development Corp. plans to invest half a billion dollars to redesign the Broadway Junction station and its surroundings. While the project won’t begin until 2027 and will take three years to complete, it marks a positive step forward after decades of decline.
I have personal connections to this area, as Hull Street, where I grew up, is located near the station. The street’s recovery from the 1977 riots has been slow but steady. Many of the empty lots have been developed, including one where I was born. Although the building is no longer there, it should not remain vacant for much longer. I hope someone will gentrify it in a respectful manner before the price of property rises.