Despite having seriously curbed our crime, scrubbed our subways, gentrified Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and the Brownstone Belt beyond recognition, created such Instagrammable Kodak moments as Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Coney Island boardwalk, perfected our boho-chic laid-back hair and expensive but broke aesthetic, still the fashion industry doesn’t want to move to Brooklyn! But then, does Brooklyn want the fashion industry to move here?
“Brooklyn may be New York’s hippest borough to live or start a business. It just doesn’t hold that much cachet for the city’s fashion industry,” begins a Bloomberg Politics article on Mayor de Blasio’s agenda to “lure” apparel makers out of Midtown, across the river and into cheaper manufacturing centers in Sunset Park, where there is already a small but growing fashion-making community. The most contentious aspect of de Blasio’s plan is that it would end a 1987 law restricting use of Garment District real estate so manufacturers can afford to remain in the area.
Among key complaints from fashion industry workers, Bloomberg reported, being in Brooklyn would mean being far from fellow industry workers, far from the runways of New York Fashion Week, the stages of Broadway, the historic homeland of garment manufacture and instead pioneering their trade across the river. Sunset Park is boss – it’s got great Mexican and Chinese food on the cheap, plenty of old warehouses to rave in or, more recently, grow your indie manufacturing business out of, a deep history of being a working class neighborhood rich with employment opportunities for blue collar labor, and a still vaguely affordable residential community for plenty of immigrant families. So, clearly the logical next step in objectively good neighborhood growth is for Sunset to embrace an established field of work that’s being displaced from Manhattan, right? No.
As Bloomberg reports, the fashion industry is so desperate to stay in their native nabe that the Garment Center Supplier Association, a group of 120 manufacturers, have proposed an alternative plan to invest $65 million to purchase area property, “if the city would agree to invest $187.5 million.” De Blasio, ever inline with his affordability or bust agenda, would rather invest that money in Sunset Park, where cash goes far farther than it does in Midtown. Meanwhile, The Garment District Alliance – the area’s, “landlord-dominated business improvement district,” as Bloomberg puts it – is all teams go with de Blasio for the plan to move to a new nabe.
It’s an interesting situation because it puts a twist on the typical NYC gentrification tale: in this case, the industry is not being displaced out of New York, just out of the city proper. In this case, people aren’t losing jobs, they’re just switching boroughs.
Yet, it’s unhealthy to use Brooklyn as a plan b in situations where that can be avoided. There’s a law on the books protecting these workers’ right to remain in the place they planted their roots, close to their clients, near Broadway and NYFW and all that jazz their jobs have been tailored to produce for. Despite his intentions, de Blasio would not be moving these jobs in the name of affordability because relocating garment workers to Sunset Park would probably push up rents short and longterm in Brooklyn, and the vacated Garment Industry office space would, without the protective law applicable anymore, become more expensive too. So really the move would make two neighborhoods less affordable and ignore the option of maintaining an established working community.
In a sense, this illustrates a smaller scale version of exporting American jobs to China and Mexico (in this case, Brooklyn is China/Mexico). Why displace perfectly good Manhattan gigs to Brooklyn? Because cheap rent, yes, but the more you export the less cheap that rent is gonna be. Coal mining will almost definitely not come back to the Midwest, for a number of reasons (no matter how many times Trump promises the opposite), but there’s far fewer reasons the Garment Industry won’t see a resurgence if it’s allowed to stay in Manhattan.
Affordability is not a pure goal, it is a complicated concept that is as susceptible to time as it is to space. De Blasio was elected on a platform of affordability and a wave of backlash against gentrification and the seemingly unending and ever taller corporate development in NYC. Yet, he has harnessed the same methods as Bloomberg, building up up up and giving fat tax breaks, only not in the name of economic development but the name of affordability.
See you in Queens, friend. Brooklyn is baked.
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