The L train is packed, the rents are sky-high, even sidewalks feel crowded these days in Brooklyn, yet according to a new report based on census data, the recent trend is for people to leave the borough, not move here. According to information mined by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, close to 170,000 people have moved out of Brooklyn in the last seven years, much more than any other borough, Crain’s first reported.
Kings County’s population has grown in that time, but not due to the country’s wannabe Girls’ stars moving here en masse from middle America (that was probably never a majority demographic though, if we’re being honest), instead because of high birthrates among residents and large numbers of new immigrants. Among announcements that a Supreme store is rumored to be opening in Brooklyn and the proliferation of rental listings considered to be reasonable that request $1,000+/month for amenity-less shoeboxes in Bed-Stuy, this fact is probably shocking for many. Brooklyn, home of the cronut, home to a seemingly even ratio of vegans and vegan pop-ups, endless Kindergarten admission waitlists and the most Instagrammable carriage houses in the world, no longer seeing a large influx of new American residents?
“Brooklyn has attracted couples in their 20s and 30s, and many of them are having kids,” senior Brookings Institution policy program fellow William H. Frey told Crain’s. In other words, transplants are spawning, and Brooklyn remains an immigrant hub but, it can be inferred from the data, many longtime borough residents are being displaced or otherwise voluntarily moving out of borough. They’re leaving alongside newer transplants who likely weren’t able to get a foot in the door or were able to find jobs and a lower cost of life elsewhere. The mass migration from the rest of the country to here would seem to have ebbed to a trickle of what it was in decades past.
Who defines Brooklyn, then? Our immigrant enclaves are as strong as ever – a slap in the face to increasing xenophobia in the rest of the country – but who really gets this place anymore? Immigrants are the fabric and soul of New York, no doubt, but it’s more the diversity of businesses than the diversity of skin tones that people associate with here – not that our identity need conform to others’ images. When the rest of the world thinks of Brooklyn, at least according to mainstream discourse, they think of artisan pickles and Kushner and luxury condos with dog spas. We’re indie, we’re hip, we’re an American city that’s booming with culture and opportunity. So why aren’t people moving here? Has the cost simply reached such absurd heights that its not only displacing people, its also causing people to choose to leave?
Growing up in Brooklyn, when people not familiar with New York learned I was from here, they often asked me if I’d ever been shot. That was their association with the borough – danger. Now when people learn I’m a Brooklynite, they ask if I’m from Williamsburg (I’m not), or if I’ve been to so and so restaurant / bar / cupcake ATM?
Is Brooklyn losing its identity, or just evolving? We’ve retained our immigrant base (thank God), but the flavor that has defined Brooklyn for more or less the entirety of its existence – scrappy, blue collar, heavy accent, born here or brought here by a need for freedom – is moving to the suburbs, accent and all. There’s room enough here for everyone, but it would seem the borough’s demographics are being hollowed out by the cost of living. There’s a difference between gentrification and whatever it is that comes after, but its hard to say what that is yet.