Dumbo

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If you have ever been to Paris, you will know the experience of feeling that every street frames a picture-perfect view. It’s not difficult to take a good photograph in Paris – the city displays itself in such a way that every shot turns out to be achingly gorgeous. I love New York City, and particularly enjoy walking around the city in an unplanned way (a dérive), and wonderful photo opportunities are easy to come by (particularly in Central Park, in my opinion). It wasn’t until a recent walk around Dumbo in Brooklyn, however, that I had the same experience I had in Paris – an area so photogenic that it was hard to put my camera (phone) down.

An acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, the neighborhood is a relatively small swath of real estate largely between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges along the East River waterfront, and also continuing a bit east from the Manhattan Bridge. Originally a manufacturing area called Fulton Landing after the ferry stop that was the only way to get there from Manhattan until the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, by the 1970’s industry had largely moved out and the area had its new (endearingly silly) name. In the constant cycle of reinvention that exists in New York City, the area is now a hub for the arts, and for the tech industry – holding 500 tech businesses within a ten block radius. In 2007, the New York City Landmarks Commission made Dumbo a historic district, and since then the value of residential real estate in the area has soared.

To get to the area from Manhattan, there is still ferry service, but it is also easily accessible via subway. I took the 4 subway down the east side and transferred at the spectacular new Fulton station to the A train. One stop toward Brooklyn and I emerged ready to experience a walk around Dumbo. It is helpful to remember that the ground slopes down toward the river in this neighborhood, and with the Brooklyn Bridge on one side and the Manhattan Bridge on the other, it would be difficult to lose your sense of direction here.

Heading down Washington Street, I was quickly struck by the charming nature of this area. The streets are largely cobblestoned as in Tribeca, the repurposed industrial buildings (now residential) are warm rather than imposing, the ground level shops are interesting rather being cookie-cutter national chains, and the geometric shapes formed by the angles of the bridges to either side frame every view perfectly.

I am always drawn to waterfront if it is nearby, so I continued to slope down toward the East River. To my surprise, there were small rocky/sandy sections along the river that looked more like a beach than a riverbank! Of course, the views of the bridges to each side here were even more spectacular. Jutting out into the water toward the Brooklyn Bridge, I saw the famous Jane’s Carousel, built in 1922 and helpfully covered so that it can operate year round (tickets are only $2). Looking back toward Dumbo, I could see the ongoing construction that is continuing to transform the waterfront. St. Ann’s Warehouse is converting an old tobacco warehouse to house its theater offerings (“Where theater meets rock and roll” – well, you had me at “theater” but I like where this catchphrase is going!). Because the shell of the building is landmarked, they will build an entirely modern facility like a nesting doll within the shell but not touching the walls of it.

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Walking along Water Street, one block away from the waterfront, I enjoyed looking at some of the colorful graffiti along some of the buildings under construction, but did wonder how much longer any of that will be around this rapidly transforming area. Passing Jacques Torres’ famous chocolate shop, I decided not to go in – this time. Continuing past the Galapagos Art Space while looping back to Washington Street and preparing to walk back to Manhattan along the pedestrian path on the Brooklyn Bridge (highly recommended; see my photo tour of the experience here), I realized how many experiences were left for me to experience when I come back – pizza at Grimaldi’s, a ride on Jane’s Carousel, decadent hot chocolate at Jacques Torres – and decided that my next trip to Dumbo will be sooner rather than later.

There are no real estate bargains to be had in Dumbo these days, but if you have the money and the desire to live in a beautiful center for the arts that happens to be tucked away from the bustle of the city – but with killer views of it – in my opinion, it is well worth the cost.

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