Ridgewood At A Crossroads
We have some breaking news for a certain publication that described our neighborhood last week as having “A Touch of Brooklyn” in Queens: there’s been a touch of Brooklyn in Queens for decades.
Most people think of Ridgewood as being exclusively a Queens community, including the author of that New York Times article last week that sent the local social media world on fire. But up until recently, Ridgewood was much like Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Ks.-two cities with the same name in two different jurisdictions.
The Brooklyn side of Ridgewood was the area generally east of Irving Avenue and west of the zig-zag Brooklyn/Queens border- predominantly Cypress, St. Nicholas and Wyckoff avenues. Years ago, some in the community tried to re-brand it as Wyckoff Heights, but for whatever reason, the name didn’t catch on.
Over time, the Brooklyn/Queens borderline changed repeatedly with changes to community board and ZIP code boundaries. The Queens side of Ridgewood solidified its detachment from Brooklyn in the early 1980s with the creation of the 11385 ZIP code it now shares with Glendale. The Brooklyn section of Ridgewood was eventually absorbed into Bushwick.
The Brooklyn “touch” in Ridgewood has been around since there’s been a Ridgewood. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but we take exception with feature writers making Ridgewood out to be something brand new, and-inadvertently or intentionally-trying to mold it into something they want it to be, not what it really is.
They call Ridgewood the new “hot” neighborhood in New York City, and we wonder how that heat is being applied. Is it a term to describe the influx of new residents and businesses into the area, or is it a siren call for real estate developers to come in and exploit it for profit?
Make no mistake, there’s a great deal of positive in the changes currently underway in Ridgewood, as newcomers from across the country come in droves. They’re renting apartments, buying homes, opening new businesses and art studios, holding all kinds of cultural events and pumping money in the local economy. Certainly, this investment and renewed interest in Ridgewood is most welcome.
But there are two sides to every coin, and in this case, long-time Ridgewood residents truly have something to fear: hyper-gentrification that could drive the cost of housing and living in their neighborhood through the roof and into the sky. Property owners aren’t ignorant of the changes; they know they’re sitting on a gold mine, whether they sell or rent, and they will cash in to the highest bidder if they so desire. It’s only a matter of time.
Perhaps the most endangered areas of Ridgewood are the industrial sites that have gone unused or underused in recent years, as the American manufacturing sector faded away. Despite an effort to preserve these areas for new industries to come, the owners of these sites are growing impatient waiting for the right businesses to come along- and are beginning to seek variances and zoning changes for residential development.
This is arguably the most critical point in Ridgewood’s history, perhaps even more so than during the 1970s, when community residents fought hard to keep the fires of Bushwick from spreading eastward over the border. We’ve gone from one end of the economic spectrum to the other in 40 years-and hyper-gentrification can be just as damaging to a neighborhood as the dangerous divestment that reduced Bushwick to ashes back then.
Civic leaders and the city must handle Ridgewood with care, taking steps to ensure affordable rents and available industrial space while encouraging continued investment in the community. It’s the only way this working-class community will stay true to itself.