A tiny sliver of a neighborhood on the western side of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway ditch has been quietly growing for years. As more and more apartment buildings were built along Hicks Street, more and more people moved into what is now called the Columbia Street Waterfront District.
Originally Carroll Gardens, or South Brooklyn, depending on whom you ask, locals have known for some time that the neighborhood was swelling. But the theory was verified by recently-released Census Bureau data.
The Northern section of Columbia Street, between Degraw Street and Atlantic Avenue, has seen a 24 percent increase in population growth, which is one of the biggest increases anywhere in Brooklyn. The section between Degraw Street and Hamilton Avenue grew by 4 percent, which is more than nearby Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.
“People are definitely more interested in this area and starting to come down on the weekends,” said Denise Fasanello, who runs Denise Fasanello Floral Design on Columbia Street and lives in the neighborhood with her husband and daughter, Ruby. “There isn’t the same foot traffic as somewhere like Smith Street, but its been picking up.”
With the waterfront bike lane, the plans for a , the many restaurants on Union Street and talk of ., this may just be Columbia Street's renaissance.
Interestingly, before the BQE cut Columbia Street off from the rest of the neighborhood, it was once the bustling center of "South Brooklyn," which included Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. The street was busier than Court Street today, .
"Between easy access to Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governor's Island, and the huge draw that has become, there's a lot of appeal to this area that would bring couples and families in," said Brian McCormick, a resident and co-founder of the Brooklyn Greenway. "What we're seeing a lot of is that the neighborhood is moving from singles to couples, and now they're having kids."
The population growth has also led to a series of new housing developments along Hicks Street, in addition to several buildings being converted into multi-family residences.
“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed lately is the adaptive reuse of manufacturing buildings,” said McCormick. “You’re seeing that along Tiffany Place now, and 25 Carroll St. has recently been converted into 17 apartments.”
Victoria Hagman, owner of Realty Collective, said that while rents have increased over the last five years in the area, the jump in price hasn’t been as dramatic as in other neighborhoods like Park Slope. The lower prices, and the slightly off the beaten path location, are bringing people to the neighborhood that might not be able to afford Carroll Gardens or Cobble Hill, she said.
“A lot of people are still reluctant to live so far from the trains and over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, despite all the new businesses popping up, so there are still affordable apartments,” said Hagman. “A one-bedroom apartment that might have been $1,400 or $1,500 a year ago is now about $1,700 or $1,800.”
Ari Ben Eli has lived with her family for more than 7 years and owns the Columbia Street business The Super Movers. She agreed that the affordability of the neighborhood also extends to potential home and business owners.
"People are moving here because it's the only area in the P.S. 29 school zone where you can build developments," said Ben Eli. "Because the rest of the school zone is landmarked, it increases the value on what would otherwise not be highly valuable property. It's also appealing to families because you can still find plenty of three-bedroom homes for under $800,000, which just isn't possible once you go across the BQE."
Fasanello says that she and her husband have also noticed an influx of young couples with children moving into the area, and that their presence has resulted in several new programs that serve the area.
“We now have community supported agriculture because there was such a demand for it from families that have been moving here,” said Fasanello. "The Urban Meadow CSA opened up within the last few years, so this new group of people is starting to impact the shape of the neighborhood.”
Stores, restaurants and bars are also part of the neighborhood's appeal. In addition to longstanding businesses like the bar (named after the bus line) and sandwich shop and bakery , Miknic bar just opened in a storefront that was long vacant, and many other vintage shops and restaurants line Columbia and Union streets.
This is a neighborhood with a lot of pride, too. Two local newspapers serve the small area, Columbia Street News, published by local Real Estate broker Frank Galeano and The Red Hook Star Review, published by George Fiala out of the Union Street Star Theater space.
And in the tiny neighborhood, there are five community gardens. See pictures here.
The couples moving into the neighborhood also extend to same-sex partnerships. Recent census data shows that 11 percent of the population along the northern section of Columbia Street is comprised of unmarried, same-sex households, which is the largest percentage anywhere in New York City.
But despite the rapid population growth along Columbia Street, Fasanello said a few minor additions would bring even more people to the area.
“There’s definitely a Sunday morning family crowd who would take advantage of a coffee shop or diner type of place around here,” said Fasanello. “I often walk to Carroll Gardens proper to get coffee or a bagel, so that would be a welcome addition.”
Georgia Kral contributed reporting