Located in the southwestern corner of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, the neighborhood of Red Hook boasts a long and turbulent history. Red Hook is geographically hook up brooklyn: surrounded by water on three sides and by the Gowanus Parkway and Brooklyn Battery Tunnel on the fourth, it is separated from the rest of Brooklyn and at some distance from local subway lines.
From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, Red Hook’s port made it a thriving industrial neighborhood of mainly Italian and Irish American dockworkers. It was also home to one of the first Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New York City. By 1950, Red Hook had 21,000 residents, many of them longshoremen living in the Red Hook Houses, a public housing project built in 1938 to accommodate the growing number of dockworkers and their families. When containerization shipping replaced traditional bulk shipping in the 1960s, many businesses at the Red Hook ports moved to New Jersey—as did the jobs.
Unemployment increased quickly as industries abandoned Red Hook, and the neighborhood’s economy underwent a rapid decline. 80s, it became known as being a crime-ridden, desolate neighborhood, severed from the rest of Brooklyn. One of the largest public housing projects in New York City and in the country, the Red Hook Houses were first built as a Federal Works Program initiative under former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1990, the towering Houses, comprised of East and West clusters, were home to 11,000 residents, more than a third of which were under the age of 18. Unemployment was high and by the early 1990s, Red Hook was suffering from very serious problems: the deterioration of its physical fabric, abandoned buildings, illegal dumping of trash, poverty, skyrocketing drug use and violence.
Life magazine named it one of the ten worst neighborhoods in the U. Today, the Houses are home to 8,000 of Red Hook’s 11,000 residents. Crime has dropped dramatically: between 1993 and 2003, homicides were down 100 percent, felony assaults down 68 percent, robberies down 55 percent and rapes down 33 percent, and the neighborhood is continuing to change. Like most New York City neighborhoods, Red Hook is enmeshed in the real estate game, with property owners and more affluent renters perpetually looking out for the next big market. But due to its past reputation and physical isolation, an influx of commercial wealth has been slow to come to the neighborhood. The cobblestone streets and Civil War-era warehouses attracted tech firms and creative companies priced out of more expensive neighborhoods and looking for affordable office and studio space.
Within a few years, restaurants, shops and bars opened on blocks that had lacked a commercial presence for decades. 30-million passenger ship terminal at the Red Hook piers, making it a docking point for cruise ships from around the world. Perhaps the biggest—and most divisive—symbol of the neighborhood’s gentrification is the dawning of an Ikea superstore on the Red Hook waterfront. Top left waterfront photo and street corner sunset photos by Michelle Thompson.