Southeast from the East River on North 7th street to the Bedford Avenue station.
This is a walk, not a real-estate tour, but in 2005 Williamsburg, they are one and the same. (3) The quiet blocks of three-story houses on North 7th Street yield quickly to the construction boom. And these new constructions are of two basic types.
The first is essentially a box, with small grilled windows set in a blond-brick façade accessorized with those brown Fedders air conditioners. These are the same buildings that are popping up all over the Hasidic enclaves in Southside Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. They are unattractive and, not coincidentally, the cheapest construction possible by code. In a housing boom, who needs pizzazz?
The other construction is so common that the blueprints must come free with the purchase of accounting software. It’s a modernist mini-scraper of three or four floors, plate-glass front, stainless-steel trim, with a smaller atrium or penthouse up top. It has pizzazz, but inside it’s rather similar to its cheaper brick cousin.
The most prominent and controversial developments here in Northside Williamsburg are the dozen or so proposed residential towers, the first of which is under construction to my left. Love it or leave it, this is the future of the Northside. Already, the triple threat of luxury apartments, good (future) park access, and ample parking has the neighborhood turning into a tattooed suburbia that’s fast replacing Park Slope as the baby-burg. Evidence: four new shops selling infant-size Iggy Pop T-shirts. (4)
Continuing southeast past the Bedford Avenue station on North 7th Street to the Lorimer Street station.
Across the street from the tower construction site is Sunac Natural, a brand-new Korean mini-market, the first in the neighborhood. Unlike the surrounding Dominican bodegas or Polish marts, this store has tofu-ice-cream sandwiches and curried-chicken salad and fresh ginger flowers, 24 hours a day. When 2008 comes, when the waterfront is a greenbelt and the buildings are finished and the 40,000 projected new residents are settled here, this store will be ready for them.
I pass my regular subway stop at Bedford Avenue, the Plymouth Rock of L-ification. At 9:30 in the morning, it is a swirl of Manhattan-bound commuters, each nonchalantly lugging somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,500 worth of portable electronics—iPods, G4s, Treos—with them. (5)
From here, the tracks continue underground along North 7th Street toward Metropolitan Avenue. Following aboveground brings me smack underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
This overpass sucks. The BQE is six lanes loud. Five bucks and a glass pipe will get you an STD in the bushes. You can practically feel the tumors massing in your thyroid as you pass. Williamsburg may boom, it may have water taxis and the 2052 Olympics, it may become a garden of ivory and peacocks. But this overpass will always suck.
Although the BQE was once, for good reason, Williamsburg’s unofficial cutoff point, (6) I find that today the expressway no more stops eastward expansion than deodorant stops lymphoma. Beyond the overpass, the Lorimer Avenue station is every bit as busy, with the same population of downtown commuters, as my stop at Bedford.