The Start Of Sunset Park

Sunset Park located on a prime location of a waterfront, made Sunset Park a community where wave after wave of immigrants could settle and find work. Named for the park at its center. The park itself was developed in the 1890s, defining an area that had previously been runoff from the surrounding neighborhoods of South Brooklyn and Bay Ridge. But even without a name, the area has always had clear and visible natural boundaries. In the 15th century, the neighborhood was mainly marshland drawn and shaped by myriad creeks that ran uphill from the bay and crested at what is now 6th Avenue.

Native Americans originally settled here for farming, and eventually the English and Dutch arrived from the 1600s to the 1800s. Farmers in the area looked toward Manhattan, shipping produce to and from the shores.

The skyline view from this part of town has changed drastically, as well as the population that gathers to look out. Maritime trade and the establishment of the Brooklyn waterfront coincided with industrialization and development of the area including the factories that define the waterfront to this day and a new rise in immigration.

In the last three decades of the 19th century, the area’s population grew from 9,500 to 31,000, largely fueled by immigrants seeking work on the waterfront. The neighborhood started to develop an identity, just as the park that would later give the neighborhood its name started to fully develop.

During the 1950’s its largest companies began to move away, taking with them more than 30,000 jobs and leaving large abandoned factories to deteriorate along the piers.

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The waterfront shipbuilding community suffered as its inhabitants increasingly left. The Depression took its toll on the area, and the push toward the suburbs of the 1960s saw most of the neighborhood’s immigrant populations leaving it behind. At this point, hollowed out by changing industry and white flight, the near-hollow Sunset Park was reborn, once again through immigration movements. After World War II, the area became home to many Puerto Rican immigrants seeking work. Between 1900 and 1930 the Puerto Rican population swelled from 500 to 45,000, creating a majority that has lasted to this day.

Sunset Park residents come from many other parts of South and Central America and the Caribbean, as well, including Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Immigrants from China, arrived in the 1980s, and helped build one of New York’s most vibrant and thriving Chinatowns. Winley Supermarket, the first Chinese-American grocery store, was opened on Eighth Avenue and 56th Street in 1986. Although surrounded by empty storefronts in a still-struggling area, Winley Supermarket acted as a middle ground both to new Chinese immigrants and those looking to escape Manhattan’s ever-climbing rents. In some ways, this is the Sunset Park you can recognize now, as the neighborhood has only grown. The population of Sunset Park currently stands at approximately 150,000 residents, about half Latino and 40 percent Chinese or other Asian.

The neighborhood would have neither numbers nor spirit without its immigrant populations, which remain a core of neighborhood prosperity. In a survey as recent as 2013, Sunset Park was one of the top ten immigrant-populated districts in New York, and one of the top five fastest-growing, with 9 percent growth since 2000. But, as gentrification occurs, Sunset Park culture is shifting in ways that New Yorkers will recognize, and not always welcome. There are some concessions to hipness in the neighborhood, mostly in new companies and cafés lurking in hollowed-out warehouses along the waterfront.

The Rise of Sunset Park

After hardships and starting from scratch Sunset Park has risen and is now and up and coming community. Several new building initiatives are worth keeping a cautionary eye on. The fashion district is making a push to move some of its Garment District businesses into the area, according to The New York Times. A multimillion-dollar real estate project promising to make the waterfront Industry City complex the “next Soho” has also made headlines, and nightlife pop-ups in those waterfront warehouses have drawn the likes of Alexander Wang and Rihanna, The Times also reported. Per a recent real estate report, the area is poised to incur a record-high rent spike, brought about by the very development that has most recently brought the greatest number of jobs (around 6,000 since 2013).

Still, for the time being, the neighborhood remains a place that people come to for living, above all, and one where the rent isn’t too high for newcomers to start a life. Now, crucially, Sunset Park has become a hearth and home to activism and resistance against anti-immigrant sentiment. A Facebook group, Love Trumps Hate Sunset Park Brooklyn, started by local resident Shanna Castillo, sees its members hosting potluck dinners for undocumented immigrants in the neighborhood, The New York Times reported. Since November 2016, the group has gathered the neighborhood together with a focus on human rights as much as on diverse cuisine.

Lawyers and community advocates also attend, offering attendees assistance and information, and childcare is offered so that parents can relax. The immigrant experience is the heart and soul of the neighborhood, now more than ever, in cause and in effect. I think of the first ferries of produce to and from Manhattan as I wait for the Sunset Park Greenmarket to return. The best thing about visiting Sunset Park is even better than its history of come up alone the most important pieces of its history are still alive and shaping its present, while newcomers who still need or want a life here are welcomed in. As more and more people come in the community spirit of its past should stay intact and fuse with its present.

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The Start Of Sunset Park. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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