The Desertification of Williamsburg

August 31, 2010 -

The landscape of Williamsburg, Brooklyn has been radically transformed in the last decade. Located at the epicenter of New York City's recent development boom, the neighborhood saw countless industrial buildings and row houses torn down by developers. In their place, dozens of luxury condominium towers were constructed, permanently altering the skyline. By July 2009, however, "The Billyburg Bust" was reported by New York Magazine, which wrote that the area was "littered with half-built shells of a vanished boom." Like any gold rush, the aftermath of the frenzied push to develop Williamsburg has left permanent scars on the land.

Williamsburg has the highest concentration of stalled development sites in New York City, according to a 2010 report in The Real Deal. This has been the case since at least July 2009, when The New York Post described it as "ground zero in the growing scourge of stalled construction," with more stalled projects then The Bronx, Staten Island or Queens. The number of abandoned projects in Williamsburg has soared since 2009, according to the Brooklyn Paper, which reported in June 2010 that "Brooklyn is pockmarked by a disproportionate number of abandoned development sites compared with the rest of the city... North Brooklyn has been hardest hit." Currently, Williamsburg's stalled projects range from empty condominium towers and unfinished steel frames to huge holes in the ground and vast open fields.

These wide open spaces are remarkable for a neighborhood where land once sold at a premium. Several are the size of city blocks. Baked by the arid summer sun, they have become mini deserts, or are covered by fields of weeds. Hidden inside are abandoned cars, mountains of rubble, abandoned building foundations. Some fields have been converted to illegal parking lots, according to The Real Deal. Others are neighborhood dog runs, makeshift parks, and secret drinking spots littered with empty bottles. These huge swaths of empty land, like the hundreds of other empty lots throughout the city, are reminders of the overly ambitious push to redevelop New York City during the first part of the Bloomberg Era. Like the empty lots of The Gowanus, Far Rockaway, Brighton Beach, The Hole and countless other neighborhoods scarred by failed development schemes, these reminders will be with us for years to come.

Fallow Land - Union and N.10th

Dry Empty Hole - S.4th near Bedford

Foundations and Field - Kent and S.8th

Dunham Field - Dunham and Broadway

Screw Rent - Dunham and Broadway

Abandoned Car - Union and N.10th

Fences Down - Broadway and Wythe

Abandoned Foundations - Kent and S.8th

Trapped Dirt Mountain - Union and Withers

Boulders, Condo, Row Houses - N.7th near Roebling

Frost Field - Frost and Union

Domino Field - Kent and S.4th

Kent Avenue Powerhouse Desert - Kent and Division


  1. beautiful. the durham field ones especially hit home. i knew great people living in amazing spaces on that street. i helped them move out so that their homes could be torn down.

  2. Domino Field is not from abandoned construction -- it's a parking lot from the Domino Sugar factory, which closed down close to 20 years ago. The reasons for its closing have more to do about larger economic issues than Williamsburg development.

  3. Actually Domino closed in 2003 and the development plan has been on hold working its way through approvals.

  4. The term I have for this kind of thing is "Bloomblight".

    Miss Heather

  5. the site in the first photo just got financing ...

    patience my friend, everything now will just be happening at a slower healthier pace.

  6. Nice work Nathan. I found your blog on I am a fellow NY photographer and I photograph many of the buildings you have photographed. If you want to take a peek at some of my work, please visit Maybe I'll see you on a site one day. Thanks, have a nice one.

  7. Shortly before I moved to NYC, I was in the Middle East. When you travel from Israel to Egypt, you pass tons of partially-built resorts on the Sinai Peninsula. Apparently, there was a boom period in the Sinai that abruptly ended when there was a terrorist attack about ten years ago. During the boom, practially any Egyptian could get a loan to build a resort. Now they all look like ancient ruins. I thought that this kind of unchecked speculation in development was a third-world thing. Then I moved to NYC. Whenever I walk past these condo foundations, I feel like I'm in Egypt again!