There are no flying elephants to be seen, but Dumbo is one of New York City’s buzz neighborhoods right now.
Its name is an acronym for Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Dumbo was coined in the 1970s by locals, who wanted a silly name to throw off developers, who at the time were looking for the next potential zone of urban renewal.
The area, formerly known as Fulton Landing (it was where the Fulton Street ferry from Manhattan docked) and Two Bridges (due to its unique position between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges), was an area of 30 blocks of commercially zoned warehouses, factories and lofts that serviced the many ships docking in the East River and the harbor. Characterized by red brick buildings, wooden rooftop water tanks and cobbled streets, many artifacts from the past are still visible on the walls and roads, including old tram tracks that would have transported goods to the docks.
By the 1960s and 70s, many of the warehouses had fallen into disrepair. Landlords were struggling to find commercial tenants as many companies moved their manufacturing offshore to places like Japan, China and Taiwan. Like many countries, low rent areas attracted artists. The buildings were barely inhabitable, with raw, unfinished flooring, asbestos and lead paint.
Artist in residence programs opened up these spaces and the house-proud Bohemians added their own fixtures, replaced the floors and installed proper toilets. Suddenly, savvy bankers, lawyers and other young professionals were taking advantage of the low rents and cool subcultures, making it appealing, although still edgy. Greedy landlords were evicting the artists and gouging rent prices as the area became a hot spot. Rather than giving up without a fight, the artist collectives came up with the idea of giving the area an unappealing acronym. They coined DUMBO with the idea that it would put off prospective buyers – who’d want to live in a place called DUMBO?
Today, it’s still a hotbed of commercial activity, albeit a more white-collar version. Dumbo is the epicentre of the world’s start-ups. Here you’ll find the headquarters of .coms like Etsy, along with software developers, design agencies and digital shops. Relatively lower rents and close proximity have been the major drawcards, along with the grit that’s still part of the vibe. Old storehouses now house artisan coffee shops and galleries. On paper, it shouldn’t appeal. The two bridges dominate the skyline, spilling carbon monoxide down to the streets below. It’s bordered by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the waterfront, while renewed with the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Jane’s Carousel, Grimaldi’s Pizza and a new Shake Shack, extends to a major electrical substation and the navy yards. That’s exactly what the earlier inhabitants thought too.
Sadly, DUMBO has become more appealing than ever. It’s close to Manhattan and well serviced by public transport. It’s full of trendy bars, bookstores, fashion boutiques and hipsters. There are bikes with coffee cup holders, solar mobile phone charging stations and co-op libraries. This then has made it even more attractive to investors and the new DUMBO is undergoing a final stage of renewal, with gut renovations of waterfront warehouses, converting them to high-end condominiums. That’s progress.
DUMBO is a trendy New York neighborhood that is home to loft apartments, start ups and hip restaurants.
DUMBO is at the gateway to Brooklyn, at the opposite end of the Brooklyn Bridge. It stands for Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
Access it via the A and C trains to High Street, the F train at York Street or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.