Elena Olivo

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

CityLab 2013
Exploring urban solutions to global challenges
See full coverage

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)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    Here Is Everything Wrong With 'Bodega,' the Startup That Destroys Bodegas

    We made you a list.

  2. Black and white West Charlotte High School students pose together in and around their school bus in 1972.
    Equity

    How America's Most Integrated School Segregated Again

    A new book tracks how a Charlotte, North Carolina, high school went from an integration success story to the city’s most isolated and impoverished school.

  3. A LimeBike is pictured next to a Capital Bikeshare dock.
    Transportation

    Bike Share, Unplanned

    Three private bike-share companies are determined to shake up the streets of D.C. But what, exactly, are they trying to disrupt?

  4. Rescue crews and observers on top of the rubble from a collapsed building that fell in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City.
    Environment

    A Brigade of Architects and Engineers Rushed to Assess Earthquake Damage in Mexico City

    La Casa del Arquitecto became the headquarters for highly skilled urbanists looking to help and determine why some buildings suffered more spectacularly than others.

  5. Equity

    What the New Urban Anchors Owe Their Cities

    Corporations like Google and Amazon reap the spoils of winner-take-all urbanism. Here’s how they can also bear greater responsibility.