How Rezoning Can Change a Neighborhood from Industrial to Residential Brooklyn's Gowanus Neighborhood May Be Next

Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn, NY (iStock).

Change is constant in New York City: people move in and move out; businesses open and close; buildings go up… and up and up. The reasons for change are varied, but one factor in why neighborhoods -- especially in Brooklyn -- have been changing in profound ways over the past 10 years has much to do with rezoning. In 2005, Williamsburg was rezoned. In 2003 and 2007, parts of Fourth Avenue in Park Slope were rezoned. And the process of rezoning Gowanus, whose eastern border is Fourth Avenue, has begun. 

In response, current residents and community groups are looking to take an active role in how this plays out. They are calling for the retention of industrial manufacturing and the development of affordable housing, among other requests.  

What Happens?

If Williamsburg is any indicator, when a neighborhood that was once largely industrial is rezoned, its character and main use is transformed—now Williamsburg is a primarily residential neighborhood. Gowanus, home to the eponymous Canal and the myriad manufacturing zones that surround the fetid waterway (and federal Superfund site), has already experienced a shift away from manufacturing and toward residential uses. And it hasn’t even been rezoned yet.

On a generalized level, my feeling is whenever you rezone you alter a neighborhood,” says Ronald Shiffman, professor emeritus at the Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment and the co-founder of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development. “When talking about the changes in a neighborhood, they’re profound, particularly when it goes from predominantly manufacturing to predominately residential.

The rezoning of Williamsburg covered 175 blocks. Industrial land was allowed to be developed for residential and commercial uses, and higher density and taller buildings were allowed along the waterfront in exchange for the inclusion of affordable housing.


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