A Brooklyn neighborhood finally recovers from decades of misguided urban policies.
These days, when Morris Todash walks the streets of Bushwick, a two-square-mile neighborhood of 100,000 people in central Brooklyn, he likes what he sees. On the long-abandoned seven-acre site of the former Rheingold Brewery, new two-family homes and condominiums have sprung up. On the side streets along Broadway— not so long ago, pockmarked with desolate lots where stray dogs wandered amid burned-out cars— more new homes arise and old ones get impressive face-lifts. New businesses— an organic grocery store, a fashionable restaurant— seem to be opening on every corner. Todash, whose insurance firm has served the neighborhood for more than 40 years, can hardly believe that this is the same Bushwick that became synonymous with urban chaos during the late 1960s and early 1970s, ravaged by fires, rioting, and looting until it resembled a war zone. “When I first came here to open a business, this was a shopping destination for all of Brooklyn,” Todash says of the neighborhood’s commercial district. “After the looting, no one wanted to come here any more.”
Often described by residents as a forgotten neighborhood, Bushwick was once a solid blue-collar community. But starting in the 1960s, a steady barrage of demographic changes and ruinous Great Society policies battered it down. So total was the devastation that even as New York began rebounding in the mid-1990s, Bushwick remained largely untouched by gentrification. Only recently— after years of tireless work by government (especially the police), local groups, and the private sector— has the revitalization of this once-proud neighborhood begun. With Bushwick beginning to thrive again, New York City has finally left behind the disorder and failure that flowed from the misguided liberal reforms of the sixties and seventies. Yet if Bushwick is back, no one should forget what happened to it.
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