Today is not yesterday—and tomorrow won’t be yesterday, either. Everything changes, for better or worse, and that goes for people, neighborhoods, cities and countries.
Ridgewood changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Much of the neighborhood “South of Myrtle Avenue” (SOMA) teemed with thriving textile mills that employed thousands of local residents and pumped cash into the local and city economies.
The factories were interspersed with residential buildings, but that wasn’t a problem for most residents, as both neighbors and businesses enjoyed the benefits of a blue-collar, workingclass community.
But, one by one, many of the textile mills moved out to other parts of the globe. The SOMA area of Ridgewood was left with many vacant factories generating zero jobs and zero revenue.
This past week, members of Community Board 5 in Queens gave their stamp of approval on designating much of SOMA as part of an industrial business zone (IBZ). If approved, the IBZ would open the door for various incentives and tax breaks to entice companies to bring jobs to SOMA and keep existing businesses in the neighborhood.
Is this an idea whose time has passed? Or can this area rise like the phoenix from the ashes of neglect?
Supporters of an IBZ in Ridgewood argued that the city needs manufacturing space to entice new jobs, and it’s true. Shipping costs are growing, and companies in the U.S. are having to spend more to ship materials across the Pacific to factories in Asia, then ship the final products back across the ocean to the U.S. for sale.
In short, companies may finally have an excuse to return to the U.S. and set up new factories, but that’s purely speculation at this point. We’ll believe jobs are coming back when we start seeing factories reopen and more Americans put back to work.
Opponents of the IBZ, however, claim that industry isn’t coming back and the owners of factories in the SOMA area need to start thinking of another way to use their properties. Specifically, the owners have made overtures of developing residential units or artists’ lofts to entice the kind of resurgence Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint have experienced over the last decade.
Helping their argument is the L line, which runs right through SOMA and has become one of the most crowded and used lines in the city. It helped rejuvenate northern Brooklyn neighborhoods, and it stands to reason that Ridgewood is the next stop for such rejuvenation.
Many also question whether the SOMA area of Ridgewood itself has the infrastructure and technological needs to accommodate 21st century manufacturers similar to those based in Long Island City. If the area lacks those needs, upgrades will be needed—and somebody (a.k.a. taxpayers) will need to step up and pay for them.
The creation of an IBZ in Ridgewood is a great idea on paper, and the city does need space for manufacturing to provide the people with good-paying jobs and the government with tax revenue. Unfortunately, this seems to be a case of the barn door being closed after all the (cash) cows have departed.
The nature of economics is slowly evolving SOMA into a residential, artisanal haven akin to Bushwick. Perhaps we ought to let such nature take its course.