The Vista on Vinegar Hill building is less than 10 years old and boasts all the amenities working professionals covet in New York: a Viking range in the kitchen, custom closets in the master bedroom, and wide-plank hardwood floors throughout. If you stand on the building’s roof deck and look west, you can see over the water towers and warehouses of Dumbo to the Manhattan Bridge and Financial District skyline beyond; you’ll be looking over and through some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
But if instead you turn 90 degrees to the left and look due south, the view changes. Less than 300 feet away sits the Farragut Houses, a public housing complex comprised of 10 low-rise brick buildings, home to just over 3,200 low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.
On a warm July day a Vista resident took her terrier out for his walk. While the pooch enjoys a daily stroll through Vinegar Hill, his owner said that she has never set foot on York Street, the boulevard that runs along the Farragut Houses’ northern border, just one block away from her apartment of the last two years. “In a big city, you just have a sense of where to go,” she said. York Street is out of bounds.
As Vinegar Hill and neighboring Dumbo have gentrified, the divide between these neighborhoods and the Farragut Houses has grown both more stark and more complicated. Over the last 15 years, developers have replaced ramshackle factories and artist lofts in Dumbo and Vinegar Hill with co-working spaces and multimillion-dollar condos. These developments have sparked a concurrent rise in the income they require of their residents. In 2014, the average Dumbo and Vinegar Hill household made over $250,000 per year; the equivalent figure in the Farragut Houses was just over $28,000, according to the American Community Survey.
This sharp divide in means is predictably mirrored by a division in amenities. While Dumbo has added trendy restaurants and mid-century-modern furniture stores to its commercial district, the Farragut Houses continue to be bordered by a handful of bodegas and simple restaurants. Asked whether he spent much time in downtown Dumbo, second-generation Farragut resident Cisco Almodovar, 46, said, “As far as the restaurants, we can’t go there. It’s not that we’re not allowed, but go to the whiskey hole and pay $6.50 for a shot of whiskey when you could get three or four bottles of wine for that?”
Almodovar is clear that the divide is one of class, not of color. “It’s not black and white anymore,” he said. “It’s moneywise. Either you got it, or you don’t.”
Robert Perris, the district manager for the local community board, sees this divide in cultural terms. “People in Vinegar Hill don’t go to Farragut Family day,” said Perris. “People at Farragut Houses don’t go to Vinegar Hill House [restaurant] for dinner.” The lack of community mixing separates the two areas, which Perris considers sufficient reason to single out the Farragut Houses as a distinct neighborhood on the community board website.
Ironically, while Dumbo’s private amenities are largely off-limits to Farragut residents for economic reasons, the neighborhood’s residential rise has coincided with enormous municipal investment in public space, most notably in the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Many Farragut residents have embraced the park, particularly the ten basketball courts that opened on Pier 2 in May 2014.
Grimms Murray, 20, a lifelong Farragut resident, says he spends two or three nights each week in the park, walking or riding his bike through Dumbo to get to the courts and play or hang out with friends. Before the courts were opened at Pier 2, Murray played at the single court on the Farragut grounds, or at the two courts at McLaughlin Park on Tillary St., a few blocks southwest of the Farragut Houses. “I knew more people down there,” Murray said. “But I like coming here. It’s not often you can meet new people and socialize. Here you have something in common, playing basketball.”
The proliferation of amenities at Brooklyn Bridge Park have pulled Farragut residents through Dumbo’s increasingly posh streets. A recent rezoning of the public schools in the area, while causing a controversy among Dumbo and Farragut parents, may also bring the communities closer together. Under the rezoning decision Dumbo and Vinegar Hill children will begin attending PS 307 in the fall, an elementary and middle school that abuts the Farragut community.
But until the long-term effects of these integrative developments are felt, residents of the three areas may continue their confusion over the neighborhood allegiance of the Farragut Houses. When Daniel Horowitz, a visual artist who established his studio three blocks north of Farragut 10 years ago, was asked which neighborhood the Farragut Houses were part of he was stymied. “I have no idea,” said Horowitz. “It’s just across the street from Vinegar Hill, but it’s not Vinegar Hill. I guess it’s possibly Vinegar Hill…[it’s] not even considered a neighborhood as far as the gentrifiers are concerned.”