If creativity and coolness are measured in bicycles per capita, then the Brooklyn Navy Yard is the coolest place on Earth. Take a tour and you will see prototypes of the docking stations for New York City’s recently-launched bike share program: it was tested out on the Navy Yard’s grounds. You’ll also see bike racks designed to look like ships made by Ferra Designs, a metalworking firm in the Navy Yard. Go into any office and there are retro fixed-gear bikes hanging on the walls, next to mod-ish vintage couches and coffee makers.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard once stood as a hulking emblem of American industrial might. Located in a semi-circular bend on the East River across from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it is spread out over 300 acres and encompasses 40 buildings, three dry docks, and four active piers. In the early 20th century, it was where some of the nation’s most famed battleships—such as the USS Arizona, which was sunk at Pearl Harbor—were built. But it shrank after World War II, closed in 1966, and remained a symbol of urban decline and decay. The New York City government used it as an impound lot and stored Department of Justice files there. It had virtually no connection to the surrounding communities that suffered decades of abandonment, poverty, and high crime rates.