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South Williamsburg Primer

A seven-point neighborhood brief.

Borders: North of Division Avenue, south of Grand Street, east of the East River, west of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (more or less).

Access: L at Bedford Ave; J, M, Z at Marcy Ave; the East River Ferry at Schaefer Landing.

SuperFast History: The Dutch West India Company purchased the area from Native Americans in 1638, but it wasn’t until 1827 that it was incorporated as the Village of Williamsburgh; 28 years after that, it was folded into Brooklyn by the then–Williamsburgh mayor Abraham J. Berry (as in Berry Street). South Williamsburg—no longer spelled with an h—eventually became a hub for factories, foundries, and shipyards, but didn’t start attracting working-class immigrants from the Lower East Side until after the 1903 construction of the Williamsburg Bridge. Thousands of Hasidic Jews arrived just before World War II, followed by large numbers of Puerto Ricans in the fifties and Dominicans in the sixties. (Some nicknamed the area Los Sures, or “Southside.”) The neighborhood has remained largely bisected by Broadway, with Latinos to the north, Hasidim to the south, and gentrifying creatives peppered throughout. A 2005 rezoning plan allowed developers to purchase the area’s waterfront warehouses and convert them into residential buildings and commercial spaces, setting the stage for a three-year real-estate boom. The 2008 crash halted construction—a setback the area is finally starting to recover from.

Schools: There are three public elementary and secondary schools, including the B-grade P.S. 84 Jose De Diego (64th percentile) and C-grade J.H.S. 50 John D. Wells (39th percentile). The Success Academy Williamsburg, part of the Success network of charter schools, opened last month on the fourth floor of the J.H.S. 50 building after being sued earlier this year for the usual reason charters get sued: allegedly conducting inadequate community outreach. The suit was tossed out in May, but that doesn’t make Success’s entry into the area any less divisive.

Environment: The green space totals 4.981 acres, counting eight parks or playgrounds and two community gardens. Berry Playground—with its spray showers, “tot” swings, and colored concrete—is the most kid-friendly. The basketball- and handball-ready Bedford Playground is better for teens. For adults, fitness equipment and volleyball await at La Guardia Playground.

Crime: The 90th Precinct, which covers all of Williamsburg, reported a 14 percent decrease in crime over the last decade (compared with a 34 percent decrease citywide). Commenters on NabeWise, the Yelp of neighborhood rankings, categorize South Williamsburg as “safe,” but a spate of summer burglaries along the just-past-the-BQE end of Grand Street has some residents concerned.

Neighborhood Beef: The Hasidim-vs.-Hipsters battle rages on (remember the Bike-Lane Wars of 2009 to 2010?). Most recently, more than a dozen Orthodox shopkeepers posted stern dress codes in their windows: no shorts, no sleeveless shirts, no low-cut necklines, no bare feet, no service. Non-Hasidic denizens are blogging their indignation accordingly.


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