Sunday, April 28, 2013

Decline Of Suburban North Jersey

Migration is an optimistic undertaking. Wherever you are headed, it must be better than this place. For a few decades, that meant leaving the dreadful city for the bucolic suburbs. The geographic pattern of sprawl was the picture of aspirations realized. At the very least, your kids would have a much better life than you did. This world upside down in North Jersey:

In a small sign that the tide could be reversing today, the newest generation of the Weinstein family has found a new value in the old Canarsie.

There, Alex Gomberg, 25, Phil Weinstein’s grandson, has staked his future on creating an offshoot of the family business, Gomberg Seltzer Works, which, for decades, refilled seltzer bottles for old-fashioned distributors.

After Gomberg graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, though, he convinced his father and uncle to expand the operation, under the name Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, delivering seltzer in vintage glass bottles to newly chic neighborhoods like Park Slope and Williamsburg, where rapid redevelopment has created an appetite for nostalgia.

“Everything old is new again, and we’re as old as it gets,” said Alex’s father and business partner, Ken Gomberg.

The endeavor has already earned a splashy headline in the New York Post, calling Alex, “The Prince of Pop,” and a potential feature in publicity material for the new Barclay’s Center — another monument to the borough’s improved fortunes.

The Canarsie neighborhood is also on the verge of another transition. The Carribbean immigrants who bought the two-story brick homes from the Weinsteins and their Italian and Jewish neighbors have raised their families and are now moving out. They are being replaced by young families looking for a more affordable version of gentrified neighborhoods like Park Slope and Williamsburg, said Vernasta Whyte, who described herself as one of the first black people in the neighborhood to buy a home in 1976.

“We’re getting old now,” she said. “We’ll move on also. There’ll be another shift here.”

In a previous era, those new residents might have gone to North Jersey.

A story or two, anecdotes, belie the larger forces at work. The agglomeration of globalization is pulling young adults back to the places their parents or grandparents left behind in search of a better life. They grew up in the suburbs. Anywhere must be better than this place.

Even for young families, the aspirational geography is Lena Dunham's Brooklyn. But that's only half of the migration. The suburbs are dying:

Between 1950 and 2004, New Jersey’s employment base grew from less than half the size of New York City’s to 13 percent larger, according to the 2012 Rutgers report on the region’s economy.

But the bursting of the housing bubble and the 2008 recession unraveled most of that advantage, leaving it at just 2 percent larger.

“Maybe we were suburban saturated,” said James Hughes, the dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers and one of the authors of the report.

Statistics indicate that the number of young families leaving for the suburbs is shrinking.

The number of children under the age of 5 has dropped 12 percent across Bergen and Passaic counties since 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. At the same time, middle- and upper-income areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn have seen virtually the opposite shift in both the number of young adults as well as preschool children.

The 2008 recession changed everything. I noticed roughly the same break in San Antonio's talent migration. The urban core brain gain is recent. The flipping fortunes of North Jersey and NYC are a national trend. It may be a global trend.

Another way to look at the ironic migration is the trading places of immigrants and suburban brats. For the foreign born, the greenfield American dream is still alive. For the Geography of Nowhere generation, taking out your toddler for some free range pooping in Park Slope is the new utopia.

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