Downtown Brooklyn has a vast history. Brooklyn was incorporated into an independent city in 1834 due to its growing commercial, industrial, and residential presence spurred by Fulton’s new ferry service. The city was home to many prominent abolitionists at a during the Civil War. Many Brooklyn churches agitated against slavery in the 1850s and 1860s and some acted as safe houses as part of the Underground Railroad movement.

Historically, Downtown Brooklyn was primarily a commercial and civic center, with relatively little residential development. Since the rezoning of parts of Downtown Brooklyn in 2004 to allow for denser residential growth, the area has seen the development of new condominium towers, townhouses, and office conversions, which all have spurred population growth. The New York City Department of Planning later approved significant rezoning for portions of Downtown Brooklyn, including the Fulton Mall area, which resulted in expansion of office space and ground-floor retail. A combination of geography and constant industrial updates and developments makes Downtown Brooklyn the third largest central business district in New York City.

The rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn caused gentrification in nearby neighborhoods. Affordable housing was created in the area after the 2004 rezoning. There is a strong juxtaposition with the affordable housing on the outskirts of the neighborhood and the modern shops and centers in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn. Ultimately, many long-time business owners are losing their shops to this gentrification. Further unrest was caused by these dramatic changes. In 2007, the city government was to acquire the houses on Duffield Street via eminent domain. This caused historians to protest over the planned demolition of the historic houses because of their importance to abolitionists during the American Civil War, so some areas were preserved.