The “heavy woods” from which Bushwick gets its name are difficult to imagine these days. One of the first 17th-century Dutch settlements in Brooklyn, the farming community eventually gave way to an industrial epicenter. At the end of the 1800s, Bushwick Avenue was home to prominent bankers, brewers and developers. But the factories closed and the breweries ran dry; beer companies moved away from New York, taking jobs with them. That loss of industry, along with shady real-estate practices, contributed to Bushwick’s hardscrabble reputation in the 20th century.
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By the 1970s, more than half of the neighborhood’s residents were receiving public assistance. During the 1977 blackout, dozens of local businesses were destroyed by rioting, looters and arson. By the 1980s, Knickerbocker Avenue had garnered a disparaging nickname, “The Well,” for its seemingly limitless drug supply. But a city program called the Bushwick Initiative, combined with a surge of residents drawn by cheaper rents, breathed new life into the area. Slowly but surely, Bushwick has begun to rebuild.
A burgeoning art scene is helping to transform the gritty industrial blocks near Jefferson Street. The annual Bushwick Open Studios festival, which recently celebrated its sixth anniversary, welcomes hundreds of participants. Meanwhile, hot spots like farm-to-table restaurant Northeast Kingdom(18 Wyckoff Ave at Troutman St; 718-386-3864, north-eastkingdom.com) and specialty-cocktail bar Tandem(236 Troutman St between Knickerbocker and Wilson Aves; 718-386-2369, tandembar.net) draw curious patrons from other parts of town. Plus, rents are lower than in nearby Williamsburg or Greenpoint: A one-bedroom can still be had for close to $1,300 per month.
Despite the influx of new residents, Bushwick isn’t just a scenester neighborhood: Residents new and old find common ground at farmers’ markets and playgrounds in Maria Hernandez Park(Irving and Knickerbocker Aves between Starr and Suydam Sts, nyc.gov/parks). In backyards near Myrtle Avenue, clean laundry flaps in the breeze. Children play on quiet side streets lined with townhouses, and residents congregate on their stoops. Crime is down, new businesses are opening, and the city is planting hundreds of new trees along Bushwick’s avenues—signs that not just gentrification, but a larger neighborhood restoration, is under way.