In my last post about the geometry of cities and the importance of downtowns, it looks like I understated the extent to which Downtown Brooklyn was built up during New York’s market-driven boom during the turn-of-the-century. Quoteth commenter Alon Levy:
I think you are essentially correct, but there’s one historical fact you get wrong: when the NYC subway was built, Downtown Brooklyn was a very large CBD, in fact larger than today relative to Manhattan. Nobody seriously expected people to live in the Bronx and work in Brooklyn, but people did expect Brooklynites to work in Downtown Brooklyn, taking advantage of the large network of trolleys and els.
The subway was built around Downtown Brooklyn and not just Manhattan. The lines all go through Downtown Brooklyn, with the exception of the L. In addition, the BRT built a few loops going from Downtown Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan and then back to Brooklyn, which have since been rerouted as Midtown eclipsed Brooklyn as a job center.
Nowadays, the problem of traveling from a community to one side of the primary CBD to one on the opposite side is acute, on both transit and highways. As a result, the poorest slice of suburbs will usually be the one on the opposite side of the favored quarter and the dominant edge cities; in Washington, this means PG County, which is opposite Tyson’s Corner and poorer than the white-majority DC suburbs.
My guess about Downtown Brooklyn – both then and now – is that its jobs were probably not as prestigious or high-paying as those in Lower and Midtown Manhattan, and probably contained a lot of department stores. The reason for the “lesser” jobs would be that if you were trying to attract the best talent, you’d want to pull from the widest range of people – presumably why you located in New York City to begin with – which would include lots of people from Westchester, New Jersey, and the Bronx. This will apply equally to places like Tysons Corner outside of DC: It will always be more desirable to be located within the District, where you can pick the best of the entire metro area, and not just the Virginia half.