10 neighborhoods that lost their identities
10 neighborhoods that lost their identities
Community makeovers sometimes occur organically as new immigrants pack old nooks or young entrepreneurs see potential in decaying city corners.

Often, fresh infusions of big money and innovative blueprints fuel these urban comeback tales.

Here are 10 neighborhoods that have shifted, adapted or completely transformed themselves.

Williamsburg, New York

Where: Bordering the East River on Brooklyn's west side.

Was: New York City's most crowded nook and setting for the 1943 novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." After World War II, Hasidic Jews, including Holocaust survivors, streamed into Williamsburg with other immigrant groups. Later, poverty and crime escalated. In 1971, police officer Frank Serpico was shot here during a drug bust.

Now: Rezoning in 2005 turned vacant factories into lofts and condominiums. Riverside residential towers rose. Higher prices pushed out many former residents.

"It's young, hip, expensive," says Richard E. Hanley, director of the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center at New York City College of Technology.
Georgetown, Seattle

Where: Five miles south of downtown Seattle.

Was: An adult playground at the beginning of the 20th century and home to the Seattle Brewing and Malting Co. — later called Rainier Brewing Co. Locals grew hops, and they ran saloons and brothels.

But the oldest settlement in Washington's King County also had a long, sour history of fighting city hall — and losing. Its residential core was squeezed by railroads, Interstate 5 and King County International Airport.

Now: No longer solely defined by its beer-making roots or loser reputation. In 2003, for example, Georgetown's leaders fought to keep the Hat 'n' Boots gas station, a roadside attraction and an area landmark since 1957. With help from the city, neighborhood organizers relocated the structure to a park. The area's affordable housing also has lured entrepreneurs and first-time homeowners in recent years. Median home prices have climbed 30% in the past year to $325,000, according to Zillow, a real-estate data website.
NuLu, Louisville, Ky.

Where: Near downtown Louisville and just south of the Ohio River, this section, also called the East Market District, is nicknamed "NuLu," as in "New Louisville."

Was: Anchored by a city park in the mid-1800s and home to scores of German immigrants. By about 1900, the neighborhood's stockyards and tanneries helped turn it into the city's commercial core, according to LouisvilleHomesBlog.com. But from the 1970s through the '90s, as developers pumped their money elsewhere, the district's neglected buildings first showed their age then displayed gang graffiti.

Now: The taint and blight are gone. A row of former homeless shelters has become a home-d├ęcor boutique, a tech startup, a record store and a jewelry shop, says Gill Holland, an award-winning filmmaker. Holland also helped redevelop the Green Building, an 1890s dry-goods store that now houses a cafe, offices and event space. It has helped fuel NuLu's hip rebranding and re-emergence.
University Village, Chicago

Where: On Chicago's Near West Side, bordering the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Was: Home to the massive Maxwell Street Market. Many black musicians — including Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley — came from the segregated South to play outdoors on Maxwell Street in the '30s and '40s. mixing with local musicians to form the "Chicago blues."

Now: The University of Illinois at Chicago took part of the neighborhood in 1965. About 10 years ago, the college began redeveloping an area west of campus, renaming it University Village. A middle- and high-income area bloomed. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment or loft now can run $1,800 per month.
Park Circle, North Charleston, S.C.

Where: In a northern section of North Charleston, South Carolina's third-largest city.

Was: Until the Civil War, this area seven miles north of Charleston was mainly plantation land. In 1915, Park Circle was designed as an English-style community, a roundabout from which streets radiated. Its character turned distinctly military when a naval base and shipyard opened. But when the base closed in 1996, the neighborhood's commercial district nearly emptied. Crime soared.

Now: The snap salutes are long gone, but North Charleston's crime rate finally dropped in 2007, down 6.7% from 2006, the North Charleston Police Department says. Replacing the area's transient, military feel was an influx of young professionals. In 2006, the half-mile East Montague Avenue corridor was revitalized into a lively, pedestrian-friendly space filled with restaurants and shops.

Boeing chose North Charleston for its new 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in 2009, and many of its new workers were drawn to Park Circle's historic homes, according to CharlestonPreferredProperties.com.
Northern Liberties, Philadelphia

Where: Just north of downtown Philadelphia

Was: Created in the 1680s by William Penn, who offered "free estates to the north" of Philly's original city limits. Eventually, it was home to tanneries, mills and cigar factories. By the early 1900s, it had drawn German, Slovak and Romanian immigrants. In the 1970s, Eastern European and Latino immigrants remained.

Now: Artists replaced factory workers during the '70s and '80s, turning the area trendy and attracting younger homeowners.

"We've got 60% more residents  and dozens of new businesses. We've preserved our green spaces, even added a piazza. But we've lost some racial and class diversity," says Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association.

Even so, he says, the neighborhood is "not just hipsters and yuppies."

"Lots of working people still live here, and lots of young families have moved in," he says. "More of them are staying even after their kids reach school age."
Asian District, Oklahoma City

Where: About two miles northwest of downtown Oklahoma City.

Was: A neighborhood with southwestern character just south of Route 66 and marked by a giant milk bottle atop a dairy business.

In the mid-1970s, thousands of Vietnamese refugees — many from nearby Fort Chaffee, Ark. — began arriving. But the neighborhood itself was "sketchy," says Ba Luong, son of refugees. The area was largely void of sidewalks and upkeep, he says. As a new Asian community bloomed, the city installed new sidewalks and restored streets in the 1990s.

Now: "You see people jogging (and) walking their dogs at night," says Luong, co-proprietor of the family-owned Super Cao Nguyen market in the neighborhood. "You never saw that before."

The Asian District is now touted as "the center of Asian culture and international cuisine and commerce for the state of Oklahoma," according to the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau's website. "Scores of restaurants, travel outlets, supermarkets and Asian-oriented service outlets appeal to Oklahoma City's large Asian populace and tourists."
Village at False Creek, Vancouver, British Columbia

Where: Just north of downtown Vancouver on the shore of False Creek.

Was: Once a prime salmon-fishing spot and, later, the last stop for westbound Canadian trains. By the early 2000s, it was a semi-polluted, aging, industrial swath with a warehouse, a salt-shipping company and several empty buildings. Bike riders zoomed through on their way to downtown offices, but there was little reason to stop.

Now: When Vancouver landed the 2010 Winter Olympics, the city turned the hardscrabble area into Olympic Village. After the Olympics, the cluster of new glass and brick towers was slated to become a high-end residential area. Some dubbed it a "ghost town" after slow sales, but Canadian news magazine Maclean's reported in March that price cuts and new condo buyers brought "signs of life." It's now called the Village at False Creek.
Uptown, Oakland, Calif.

Where: North of downtown Oakland.

Was: In the early 20th century, Oakland's top shopping hub, featuring a department store, jazz clubs and theaters. The Bay Area Rapid Transit heavy-rail project and its "cut and cover" redevelopment leveled many residential and commercial buildings in the 1960s, however. Consequently, much of Uptown became laced with parking lots for city, state and federal workers. The area was busy by day, empty at night. In the late '90s, then-Mayor Jerry Brown kicked off his "10K" plan, a push to attract 10,000 new residents downtown.

Now: The restoration and 2009 reopening of the long-shuttered, 2,800-seat Fox Theater was a first step in breathing life into Uptown. City officials, developer Forest City and architecture firm MVE & Partners also created a "walkable, urban, infill, transit-oriented development" here called the Uptown, says Ernesto Vasquez, a partner at MVE.
Riverside, Jacksonville, Fla.

Where: On the St. Johns River, just south of downtown Jacksonville

Was: Former plantation land developed after the Civil War. By the early 1900s, Riverside Avenue boasted tall oak trees and rows of mansions. Classic architecture dotted the area, including Colonial Revival, Georgian and Tudor homes. By the 1950s, the area had lapsed economically. Old mansions became boarding houses.

Now: A movement to protect the old homes and some of the cobblestone streets began in the 1970s, eventually guiding the area's recovery. Riverside Avondale Preservation has led the rebirth of the neighborhood, which CNNMoney.com has called "a funky arts haven." The median sale price was $127,850 in March, up 4.4% from March 2010, Trulia.com says.