Elena Olivo

According to Robert K. Steel, New York's deputy mayor for economic development.

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Brooklyn has been part of New York since the end of the 19th century, but it's always felt like a city of its own. In recent years it's undergone a massive transformation that's positioned it as one of America's top cities — despite not actually being an independent metro.

"If you look at the last decade in Brooklyn, here you have a top ten city in the United States that really, the story just gets better and better," said Robert K. Steel, New York's deputy mayor for economic development, during a panel on urban success stories The Atlantic's CityLab summit. "Now Brooklyn is the place where lots of the new economy companies want to be."

When pushed to describe the pillars of Brooklyn's success, Steel identified four key factors:

  1. Public safety. By enhancing public safety across the city, said Steel, New York became a bigger place, with Brooklyn neighborhoods once considered dicey now very livable.
  2. Real estate development. Steel pointed to investments made in Dumbo "which basically re-birthed it." (Oddly enough, as The New York Times recently pointed out, the original name "Dumbo" was conceived in the 1970s by a group of artists hoping to deter development.)
  3. Alternative transportation. Expansive as New York's subway is, it still doesn't do a great job reaching the outer boroughs. But an expanded ferry service and the Citi Bike program have made it possible to access a neighborhood like Dumbo in a sustainable way even without a subway line nearby.
  4. Quality of life. By this Steel meant amenities as basic as urban parks — a type of lifestyle, he says, that "competes with Portland, Seattle, and Boulder."

"People now take the ferry from Williamsburg down to Dumbo with their dog and bike and go to work then enjoy lunch in Brooklyn Bridge Park," he said. "This was unimaginable a decade ago."

Top image: New York's deputy mayor for economic development Robert K. Steel. (Elena Olivo)

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