New York City Culture

The decline of 'bridge and tunnel' and the rise of 'Brooklyn' as a global brand

With gentrification, we're all bridge and tunnel
By Constantine Valhouli  |  August 11, 2020 10:50 AM

For the better part of the twentieth century, "bridge and tunnel" was the pejorative term used to describe those who lived in New York City (or – gasp! – New Jersey) but didn't live on the island of Manhattan. (For our Swedish readers, it's "bro och tunnel"; in German it's "Brücke und Tunnel"; and for the classics majors, "Cuniculum et pontis")

The phrase referred to the necessity of crossing into Manhattan using the bridges and tunnels. The fact that we even need to explain this to readers is a byproduct of gentrification. As more of those who would have fretted at living away from Manhattan have put down roots in the Other Boroughs, the phrase began to lose it's meaning. Over the course of the past twenty years, we've all become bridge and tunnel.

Peeking at Google's Ngram from 1980 to 2019, the decline in the usage of the phrase "bridge and tunnel" seems to track the outward spread of Manhattanites. It seemed to peak in 1997, roughly when the national coverage of Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Park Slope began to happen, and declined steadily since then. To put this another way, the phrase declined in usage as more Manhattanites were priced out of Manhattan.

The decline of the negative connotations of "bridge and tunnel" seem to be inversely related to the global rise of "Brooklyn" as shorthand for cool and innovative.

That's all the etymology for today. Back to data analytics. Unlike the self-centered therapist, this market's not going to analyze itself.