Trendy hipsters. Burgeoning artists. Working class ethnic communities. Williamsburg, located on the northern part of Brooklyn between Flushing Avenue, Bushwick, and Kent Avenue, is a neighborhood in flux, full of contradictions. The area has historically been known for its high crime and working class, ethnic neighborhoods, which were primarily settled after the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan, which made Williamsburg for a time the most densely populated neighborhood in the country. Beginning in the 1970s, and accelerating in the 90s, artists and musicians began entering the area to take advantage of low rents and warehouses converted into lofts, so that today Williamsburg is considered the hippest place in New York. The area has produced innumerable indie bands such as Interpol or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and is the best place in New York to hear live music from new groups.
There is a tremendous amount of development, with both warehouses and current apartments alike being converted into new, often luxury, offerings. The North side area and Greenpoint Waterfront was just rezoned in 2005, primarily for mixed use high rises with residential space. All of this change has created a neighborhood with an enormous social and ethnic diversity. Unfortunately, the area’s long time (less affluent) residents often resent the forced evictions and higher prices that newcomers have brought with them. These tend to be professionals or wealthier artists, making the area no longer ideal for poor struggling artists. Despite the controversy, Williamsburg is as varied and interesting a neighborhood as one can find. To the south one finds mostly Yiddish-speaking Hasidim; to the north Polish, Italians, and (increasingly) yuppies; to the east Italians, African-Americans, and Hispanics; and around Bedford Avenue Williamsburg’s hipster core. Furthermore, residents are able to enjoy this diversity one short metro stop from Manhattan.
Considered to be the nation’s first suburb, Brooklyn Heights is Brooklyn’s crown jewel and most posh (and expensive) neighborhood. Only a five minute subway ride to downtown Manhattan, this prime location is perfect for those who desire the convenience and amenities of living in Manhattan but with lower prices and room to raise a family. And while the subway (an ample nine lines run through the area) may be packed with suits during rush hour, Brooklyn Heights is hardly just Manhattan lite – the neighborhood possesses its own distinct character and neighborly charm. The streets are lined with a splendid mix of brownstones, Greek and Gothic Revival, and Federal-style houses, giving the neighborhood an atmosphere of historic New York that is only enhanced by knowledge of the area’s literary history, which includes one-time residency by Thomas Wolfe, W. H. Auden, Arthur Miller, and currently by Norman Mailer. Brooklyn Heights runs between Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street up to the East River, where the Promenade provides the best view in the city of the spectacular Manhattan skyline, all in the vicinity of three playgrounds and marvelous townhouses. Construction is set to begin this year for an 85-acre park on the shore of the East River, including beaches, playgrounds, and restored natural habitats, all of which is guaranteed to make the area even more desirable than ever.
As suggested by its name, Park Slope’s most coveted asset is its eastern border: the enormous 526-acre Prospect Park, an oasis in the middle of urban Brooklyn designed by the Central Park architects that includes a 60-acre lake and a nearly century old botanical garden that helped to make Park Slope one of Natural Home’s 2006 top 10 best “eco-neighborhoods,” in addition to the neighborhood’s generous supply of farmer’s markets, green space and public transportation. The neighborhood has an abundance of townhouses filled with families and young singles attracted to its friendly atmosphere and diversity, contributing to its recent boom of Zagat-listed restaurants and general trendiness. Park Slope has historically been understood to be the downward sloping area west of Prospect Park, with borders at Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Expressway, and 3rd Avenue. As locals succinctly put it, “if it don’t slope, it’s not the Slope.” Most of the recent development in Park Slope then, has ironically taken place in what locals would characterize as Gowanus, a quainter, more industrial neighborhood to the west of Park Slope. Given its huge desirability and the strict preservation of green space, look for most of Park Slope’s development to take place here and on its northern border on Flatbush, where a greater array of subways and amenities make it perhaps more attractive.
DUMBO, the popular acronym for the less scenic sounding “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” is a rapidly changing neighborhood that stretches in one section between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and another from the area east of the Manhattan Bridge to the Vinegar Hill area. Historically an artists’ haven because of low rents, the area has recently started to become gentrified as prices rise in other areas. Nonetheless, it has managed to maintain its artistic, experimental spirit (although not necessarily the poor artists themselves). The area’s cardboard factories and empty warehouses of years past have been transformed into fantastic lofts and creative spaces where independent manufacturers or artists craft furniture or design clothes. Situated directly on the East River, DUMBO boasts spectacular views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, which can be viewed publicly from Fulton Ferry and Empire-Fulton State Park, both named after Robert Fulton, who introduced steamboat service to the site in 1814 from a pier that is still preserved here. This, combined with the aforementioned iconic warehouse architecture, has made the area into a set for The Sopranos, Law & Order, and Sex in the City. DUMBO’s quiet streets are hugely appealing to families, and the neighborhood is set to become more so with the imminent expansion of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, complete with children’s playground. DUMBO offers an eclectic and enticing dining scene, such as Pete’s Downtown Restaurant and Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, as well as specialty shops such as Jacques Torres Chocolate.
Although many locals resist attempts to refer to the three neighborhoods as the more trendy-sounding BoCoCa, these areas’ close proximity and similar character make a combination tempting. They were all first heavily developed in the late 19th century to serve the burgeoning Brooklyn maritime commercial industry, and since the 1960s have transformed into a lovely, upscale historic area filled with unique shops, restaurants, and broad, tree-lined streets with brownstones and row-houses that make this area one of the best places to live in Brooklyn. Most of the action takes place on three major routes that transverse the entire area, each with its own character: Smith Street, known for its restaurants, night life, and French influence; Court Street, with a wealth of Italian shops; and Atlantic Avenue, studded with antique stores and Middle Eastern cuisine and specialty shops.
Visitors to Carroll Gardens find a vibrant, eclectic neighborhood alive with character derived from the area’s history of immigration from Ireland, Norway, and Italy. Named after the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, this area is distinguished by magnificent brownstones and their 30-40 feet long front lawns, the best examples of which can be found in the Carroll Gardens Historic District, a block-sized area located between Carroll Street, President Street, Hoyt Street and Smith Street. Carroll Gardens has an undeniable Italian character complete with the chance to hear the language spoken on the streets, although the one-time dominance is fading as more outsiders move into the area. Al Capone was married in 1918 in the St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, and the nearby Gowanus Canal is rumored to have been the burying place of many of the mob’s victims. Such doings are now far in the past of this upscale neighborhood, in which its Italian character means primarily shops and great restaurants. Carroll Gardens borders Cobble Hill at Degraw Steet and Boerum Hill at Warren Street and extends south to Hamilton Avenue and Red Hook.
Cobble Hill lies adjacent with Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill and north of Carroll Gardens, with borders on Atlantic Avenue, Smith Street, Degraw Street, and Hicks Street, to the north, east, south and west, respectively. This prime location allows for a quick commute into Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn, with slightly lower prices than those found in Brooklyn Heights. Attractions include Cobble Hill Park, designed with 19th-century materials such as blue stone, cast iron, and herringbone-patterned brick walkways, as well as its exceptional schools, including the Brooklyn School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies. Well known for its unique family owned restaurants and shops with names such as Stinky Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens offers a sophisticated and convenient lifestyle.
Between Smith Street and Third Avenue, Degraw Street and Atlantic Avenue and centrally located near Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill has slowly transformed itself from a blighted district in the 1960s to a chic area sporting French bistros and trendy restaurants, although a few undeveloped patches still exist juxtaposed directly against graciously renovated homes. The extensive presence of Middle Eastern shops, mosques, and culture on Atlantic Avenue, taken together with the Brooklyn High School of Arts and the neighborhood’s annual “greening day” pay tribute to the area’s diverse past and present. Those looking for deals should look towards Gowanus, where the number of trees falls and the number of warehouses rises.
Hiding in the shadows of its pricier neighbor Park Slope, Windsor Terrace is a slightly secluded and decidedly residential piece of authentic Brooklyn. Having largely escaped the skyrocketing prices of neighboring districts, this neighborhood has preserved its traditionally Irish and Italian character while in recent years adding more Hispanic (and yuppie) families. Residents have deep roots, with many homes having remained in the same families for generations, making available real estate scarce. The area has just begun to be discovered, attracting buyers with its small town atmosphere and rows of porch-fronted one-family homes, which can allow families to attain their dreams of home ownership that would be otherwise unattainable in pricier areas. Windsor Terrace stretches between Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park east to west (at its widest eight blocks) and Prospect Park West to Fort Hamilton Parkway north to south, with the choicest real estate found near Prospect Park, a magnificent 526-acre space complete with a botanical garden and children’s ball games in the summer. Those, however, who are drawn to the area’s feel of seclusion will have to be ready to pay the price: the commute to Midtown Manhattan lasts a crowded 35 to 40 minutes on the F line, on which both of the area’s two subway stations lie, and the neighborhood has few big retailers or especially noteworthy restaurants.
Clinton Hill is a small, fashionable, and wealthy neighborhood located to the east of Fort Greene, west of Bedford-Stuyvesant, north of Atlantic Avenue and south of Wallabout Bay. Its prosperty and affluence has deep roots; by the 1840s it was already a fashionable neighborhood, and the late 1880-90s oversaw the construction of many mansions, including four by millionare Charles Pratt, who built a mansion for himself and three of his sons as wedding presents. The Pratt Institute of Art, a world-famous art and design school, also bears his name, and is located along with St. Joseph’s College in this district. Students from these institutions, as well as a diverse mix of those with Italian, African, and Caribbean backgrounds live in the area. Besides mansions, Clinton Hill contains magnificent brownstones and churches. Residents justly take great care and pride in their neighborhood and its historic district, as demonstrated by the Society for Clinton Hill, “a 30 year-old organization dedicated to preserving our wonderful neighborhood, its architectural history and structures, its friendly environment, and the safety and progress of all our residents.” Clinton Hill is about 40 minutes to Manhattan, with convenient car access over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
Those who can no longer afford the skyrocketing prices of Park Slope have been discovering neighboring Prospect Heights, a small, triangular neighborhood with borders on Fort Green and Crown Heights. While lacking the posh restaurants and scene of Park Slope, Prospect Heights also borders on Prospect Park, giving residents the same close access to this landmark’s wide spaces and Botanical Garden (read more under Park Slope). Although at times criticized for its lack of a distinctive culture – a charge levied more often in the last 5 years as young, mostly white refugees from more expensive areas flood in – Prospect Heights has a Caribbean character, and hosts a portion of the West Indian Day Parade, New York City’s largest parade. The neighborhood is also home to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Grand Army Plaza, with its Saturday farmer's market.
Homes in the area are mostly brownstone residential buildings that rarely exceed five stories, with some multi-unit apartment buildings. Aptly named, Prospect Heights is one of Brooklyn’s highest neighborhoods and contains Mount Prospect, an approximately 8-acre park that was formerly a Continental Army lookout post. Views of Brooklyn and Manhattan are especially spectacular from the top floors of some buildings. Some of those views might be threatened by the Atlantic Yards development project, an enormous 22 acre project that will include a new stadium for the New York Jets as well as office and residential space. Construction began in February 2007, despite continued litigation over concerns of eminent domain abuses and over its possible destruction of Brooklyn’s character. The project has caused prices in Prospect Heights to rise, but will also increase the area’s importance and especially congestion, as no new major public transportation will be added to deal with the increased flows.
Fort Greene is one of those neighborhoods that manage to combine it all without the outrageous prices of others – for now, at least. Architecturally it impresses with rows of the coveted brownstones, mid-19th century Italianate and Eastlake homes, tree-lined streets, and two beautiful churches, St. Michael and St. Edward. Thirty acre Fort Greene Park, the first urban park in the United States, founded at the urging of Walt Whitman by the designers of Central and Prospect parks, Frederick Law Olmstead & Culvert Vaux, is equipped with tennis courts and playgrounds and offers a popular gathering place for concerts and other events.
The area is culturally packed with institutions such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Music School, the Brooklyn Technical High School (one of New York City’s most competitive public schools), and the Paul Robeson Theater, as well as the world-famous Pratt Institute located only a few blocks away in Clinton Hill. Fort Greene has weathered gentrification well, preserving an eclectic racial and socioeconomic mix whose diversity has been preserved despite rising rent prices - and whose rarity in the city is a major draw for newcomers. This diversity has a long history, with Fort Greene being the site of Brooklyn’s first school for African-Americans and the site of much abolitionist work. To top it all off, the neighborhood is not only extremely well served by subway lines, but lies concurrent to Downtown Brooklyn, which is emerging as an alternative to Manhattan in its own right. More specifically, Fort Greene encompasses the area north of Atlantic Avenue, south of Nassau Street, and between Flatbush Avenue and Washington Avenue.
The neighborhood of Midwood extends from the Brooklyn College campus of the City University of New York in the north to Kings Highway to the south, and from Ocean Parkway to Flatbush Avenue from west to east. It is a fantastic area to raise a family, with a secluded country-suburban feel created by the rows of shingled two-story houses with driveways and front lawns with flowers and over 18,000 shade trees. Midwood schools are top-notch: Midwood High School is distinguished for its numerous Intel science talent search awards; Murrow High School admits outstanding achievers from all over Brooklyn, with a special preference for Midwood residents; and Brooklyn College, which also includes the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, has a community membership project which allows residents to take advantage of its library, athletic, and fine arts facilities.
Midwood has a healthy share of famous one-time residents, including Woody Allen, Arthur Miller, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Marisa Tomei, and three US Senators. The area boasts vibrant racial diversity, with an established Orthodox and burgeoning Sephardic Jewish population, as well as new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Pakistan, and India. As a result Midwood contains more than a dozen yeshivas, numerous kosher restaurants and shops that observe the Jewish Sabbath, and a large mosque. The selection, while diverse, may be found insufficient by those who enjoy the more refined cuisine found in Park Slope or Manhattan. For those who can’t live without certain amenities, Midtown is 45 minutes away on the Q express.
Located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, the neighborhood of Riverdale is the most affluent in the Bronx - to the extent that many Bronx locals do not even consider it a true part of the borough. Here, bordered by Yonkers, Westchester County, Van Corltandt Park and Harlem River, it is true that residents could not be further removed from the television-inspired portrayal of Bronx violence and grime. The area is simply breathtaking, filled with stately Georgian- and Tudor-revival mansions and homes along winding tree-lined lanes near views over the Hudson River. Multi-story apartment buildings, co-ops, and condos tend to be more plentiful further from the river, where numerous mid- and high-rise condominiums were recently constructed.
This choice neighborhood has been home to dozens of influential Americans, including Ella Fitzgerald, John F. Kennedy, Mark Twain, and Lou Gehrig. Riverdale offers its residents an excellent quality of life. Elite education is available at all levels, with excellent private and public high schools, such as Horace Mann and the Bronx High School of Science, and the two Roman Catholic colleges of Manhattan College and the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Wave Hill on the Hudson River contains a botanical garden and outdoor art gallery with views of the river. The area between the Hudson River from 252nd to 254th Streets and Independence Avenue and Riverdale Park, and Fieldston, a private, leafy community, were both designated New York City historic districts in 1990 and 2006, respectively. Riverdale hosts significant Irish American and Jewish communities. Transportation is heavily car-based, although the Grand Central Terminal is reachable in around 22 minutes with the MTA No. 1 train, and access to Westchester County and New Jersey is especially convenient.