this is the brooklyn we live in, this is the brooklyn I remember

January 17, 2011 |  Category:   life nyc remembering

When I was in my 20s, moving around from house to house, apartment to apartment, from city to city was a standard way of life. Like many people that age, I don’t think I ever lived in a single place for more than a year. 2 years spent in a single home or neighborhood was rare and by the end of that stint, the itch for a change would be overwhelming and it was time to move again. It’s really hard to fathom settling down in one place when you’re in your 20s.

This year is officially the year that we’ll call our current apartment home longer than any place either of us have lived outside of our childhood homes. We bought our apartment in 2004 and moved in the spring of 2005. We didn’t move far though. Exactly 8 blocks north in the same Park Slope neighborhood we’ve lived in for the last 11 years.

As a New Yorker, I’ve lived in 3 boroughs. I grew up in Queens and spent most of my late teens, 20s, college and grad school years living in downtown Manhattan aside from the 5 years I lived in the Pacific Northwest. Now I call Brooklyn home, but when I was growing up in Queens, we never thought about Brooklyn at all. I don’t recall even ever going there, not even once. It just wasn’t on our radar except that it was where one of the top 3 competitive science and math high schools was located. When you’re a kid growing up in Queens, Manhattan was the place where you planned to escape to when you turned 18 and that’s what I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t like growing up where I did (I actually loved high school), but I knew that I didn’t need to go back. So when Mark and I were looking for a bigger place in 2000 than our tiny East Village apartment that we lived in for 4 years, we knew that we would be headed to Brooklyn.

But I don’t think that I ever told you that I’ve lived in this neighborhood before. Yes, 20 years ago during my 3rd and last year of art school. I have no idea what prompted me and 2 friends to leave the East Village and move to Brooklyn. Maybe it’s because it was the East Village and it got to be too much after awhile. I’ve written a little bit about my life there before, and at some point I think I got tired of having my studio apartment on St. Marks and Ave A be the gathering point and drop in place for every squatter, hippie and vegan anarchist punk I knew. So after scouting around a few apartments in Brooklyn neighborhoods I knew nothing about (My parents thought I was crazy in the sense that if I was leaving “the city”, they thought I should just move back to Queens), we settled on a ground floor, floor-through apartment in a wood frame house in the South Slope. It wasn’t one of those pretty, iconic brownstones that you see in photos here, but the house was built around the turn of the century and had plenty of the same pre-war details that you see in the fancier brownstones 12 blocks north in the landmark preservation zones.

This was 1990. Park Slope back then was really nothing like it is now. I mean, a lot of the same stuff was around, but the gentrification of the neighborhood was only just beginning, but very very slowly and that wouldn’t really blow up until the maybe 15 years later. The avenues where our home is near now were off limits to us back then. Much like we wouldn’t walk past Avenue C and D in the East Village, we never walked below 7th or 6th Avenue in the Slope. Nothing probably would have happened to us or anything, but you know, it’s not something that you did and even we, who knew nothing about Brooklyn, knew that.

Our time in Brooklyn was definitely quieter than our East Village life, though that commute trip back home from the city on the F train to the 15th street stop in the Slope, particularly late at night, was all kinds of long. The middle school kids on our block used to throw rocks at us too whenever we turned the corner from 7th Avenue towards home. They liked to taunt us particularly when we hauled loads of laundry from the laundromat. The friends who mattered to us still made the trip out to visit us so I guess the move worked in cutting out the riffraff from our lives. We still always had a lot of people in the house though. I can still remember our landlord, who lived above us, and I wonder if he still lives in that frame house on 16th Street. Now that I’m older and a homeowner, I can appreciate how patient, and I mean REALLY patient, he was with us considering we had people staying with us all the time and late night music jams into the night several times a week. Geez. Maybe he saw his younger self in us and that’s why he didn’t complain, although I’m sure we gave him plenty of things to complain about. All I remember is that when we told him we were leaving the apartment 1 year later, he just smiled this funny knowing smile and said nothing.

The things I remember most about my year in Park Slope was spending a lot of time in Prospect Park which was 2 blocks away, our obsession with the Eggplant and Broccoli in Garlic dish at this one Chinese joint on 7th ave, selling handmade jewelry at a Flea Market in the neighborhood, and our late night craving runs driving up and down 7th Ave in a friend’s car, stopping at every deli and bodega until we were able to hunt down Tofutti cartons (we were all vegans then). I also remember the long hike up and down 7th going to and from the Food Coop from our place on 16th street. Oh, the infamous Food Coop, one of the oldest and biggest in the country, which is the brunt of so many jokes (though some of it is well deserved). It’s the only time I’ve been a member, though Mark and I go back and forth about joining all the time. Back when I joined the coop shifts were 4 hours long (4 HOURS!! As opposed to the 2.5 hrs it is today) and your shift always felt like it came much sooner than the 4 weeks in between shifts. This was before the expansion and before the coop got all big. Back then, it was pretty much 1 room and the produce was still kept in cardboard boxes that it was shipped in. It wasn’t fancy, but it was dirt cheap and being college students back then, joining the Coop was a no brainer. Plus there were always interesting characters working at the Coop, just like I imagine there is now. We made friends with a very cool and precocious 12 year old kid who worked a shift at the Coop cutting cheese into small cubes. He was raised by a single mother in the neighborhood who was a practicing Wiccan and they had a cat named Hecate. It sounds totally weird, but we hung out with him a lot and he was a really cool kid. I guess being a single mother, she was ok with us stealing him away for picnics in the park and vegan dinners at our house.

When I moved to Brooklyn a second time in 2000 after I graduated from grad school, Mark and I moved to a block and house not too different from that house on 16th street that I left 10 years before. I was back living in the Slope, but this time, below the avenues that we would never walk past in those days. Unlike some of the blocks further north that were really starting to show the signs of gentrification, our old block was still pretty old school in 2000. There were these 2 elderly sisters across the street from us who brought out their lawn chairs and sat in their front yard in their house dresses with their dogs every evening of the year without fail except in extreme cold weather. Neighbors treated alternate side of the street parking like a sport, waiting in their cars a full 20 minutes before it was time to move the cars back, and when it was time, it was a mad race for a parking spot. Our old block was also home to 2 families who may have been the only openly public republican families in the heavily predominant liberal neighborhood. They posted their republican candidate signs at every election. Many of these people on that block had been living there for 15 or more years, including our landlords who we became close with. They had 2 girls and we lived on the top floor of their brick townhouse. We had our privacy even though it was pretty close quarters, but it was comforting to know that a family lived downstairs from us. This was Mia’s first home and even though we vowed that we would keep in touch with them when we moved within the neighborhood 5 years later, we only saw them once.

It’s pretty interesting to live in a place long enough to see a neighborhood evolve, for better or worse. The playground where the girls often play was still sketchy even when we first moved to the neighborhood 11 years ago and I made sure to cross the street and walk on the opposite side whenever I had to walk by those few blocks. Most of the restaurants and shops that line 5th ave today didn’t exist back then. We’ve seen them come (and go). I used to dismiss the notion that I might somehow be part of the movement of people who moved here, gentrified the place up and priced out all the old timers, the Hispanic population in the South Slope, the artists and writers. I used to think, “No no! I’m not a lawyer! I don’t make Wall Street salaries!”; “We moved here pre-2005 when this part of the neighborhood was still kind of sketch and we didn’t live in “fancy” Park Slope proper. Hell, even though we own we *still* don’t live in the fancy part of town up by the Park in a 2 million dollar brownstone”; “I lived here in the 90s when NOBODY moved here. Doesn’t that make me an old timer?” I don’t know if we are part of the gentrifying population or not, if we’re really yuppies or not (um, ergh), if it really matters in the end or not. What I see today is a really nice place to live, where neighbors really feel like neighbors, not just people you pass on the street without acknowledgement, where the community really cares about its schools, where the kids can still play on sidewalks like we did when I was a kid. Brooklyn is our home. It will be for awhile.

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  • Carole January 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    These pictures are beautiful!

  • Kayla @ Exquisite Banana January 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    wow. beautiful description of what it means to be a new yorker. You voice an authentic respect of a dynamic neighborhood and city.

    Park slope is lovely and somewhere I’ve always considered when thinking about raising a family.

  • Nani January 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I have heard about park slope from friend who lives in NY it always sounded like an awesome place to live. I never knew there were some negitive hype around the area (although I did hear it was expensive) I love these pictures and your post about Brooklyn.

  • may January 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    i miss brooklyn. i lived in queens for the last three years i lived in new york, but brooklyn is still the place i think of when i think of moving back. now that we have a kid, maybe that’s the right move.

  • angie January 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    ah. now you make me want to move to brooklyn if i ever have kids. :-)

  • Jessa January 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    when I was 8 I read a book, I have no idea of its title, but the author described a neighborhood in NYC that stuck with me. To this day I still dream of that place. In Jr. High my mini obsession with NYC grew to looking up pictures of it on the internet. . . I saw a picture of Park Slope and my heart jumped. I’ve visited the city several times, making a day trip here and there to Brooklyn, I’ve still never lived my dream of living there or even visiting the Park Slope neighborhood that’s been in my head for almost 20 years. A year and a half or so when I found your blog, I giggled a bit, envyed a bit, and then began to enjoy your adventures vicariously. My husband and I are planning a visit to the city in early september and my number one place to visit is Park Slope.

  • Leila January 17, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Me chamo Leila e sou brasileira. Não nos conhecemos e nem mesmo falo ou escrevo em inglês razoável para poder me expressar com clareza sobre minha admiração por seus posts, suas fotos, sua sensibilidade e, claro, por suas filhas lindas!!!!
    Tenho duas sobrinhas como suas meninas, que também são lindas!
    Parabéns por elas!
    um abraço
    Leila Oliveira

  • veggietestkitchen January 17, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    thanks for inviting us into your neighborhood. i don’t know anything about Brooklyn, have only been to the northeast a handful of times. it’s refreshing to see that areas close to the city have a calm, family like atmosphere.

  • cocopuff1212 January 18, 2011 at 4:04 am

    I’ve never lived in the same place for more than six years, ever. Growing up, it was because of my father’s job; now it’s my husband’s. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in a community when you don’t stay long. I do enjoy the way we live right now, but sometimes I wonder what it’s like to witness a community evolve, to use your words.

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Emma January 18, 2011 at 6:59 am

    New York just seems like such a pretty place, I mean I know parts of it aren’t, like all cities, but the areas you talk about and show in your photos are what I see in movies and TV shows, it’s great!

  • Nicole Franzen January 18, 2011 at 9:19 am

    those photos of summer are making me crave it sooooo bad! I am over this cold crap, bring on the green! I love Brooklyn!

  • Caddy January 18, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Prior to this past week I’d never heard of the term gentrification but this is the second blog post I’ve read that is related to gentrification and it does seem interesting especially because I see it kinda happening in my area but never new there was a term for it. That said, I enjoyed this post Jenna and your photos of Brooklyn are lovely.

  • Fiona January 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

    My boyfriend grew up in Park Slope and his mother still lives there. He has stories of it before gentrification set in, which is always interesting to hear about. Walking around nowadays, it seems like a great place to live. Lovely stories and photos :)

  • Pancakes For Recess January 18, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I had the pleasure of running through it once during the New York Marathon. I fell in love immediately! What a beautiful post.

  • Neighbor Amy January 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Your pictures are gorgeous as always, and I love the one of Mia (or is it C?) skipping over the bluestone slabs. And what a great day that was when the kids played with those stickers from Jonah’s birthday goodie bags. For hours and hours. On the sidewalk, in the late afternoon light. While we drank beers on Joan’s stoop. How wonderful, we are so lucky!

  • tschitschi January 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    what a great post, it is so interesting to hear how the neighbourhood has changed over time!

  • Vanessa January 18, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I’m not a native New Yorker, but I really like Park Slope. People always find a reason to sling mud, but you’re right… All that matter is how YOU feel about the place you live. I’m moving to New York in June and couldn’t be more excited. I don’t know what neighborhood I’ll be living in yet, but your photos and love of the city make the waiting so much harder!

  • Em January 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    I loved this post so much. You’ve given us a real snippet of life in your neighbourhood. Having been to Manhatten many years ago I can remember the sneer of a New Yorker I met when talking about Brooklyn. Ha!
    Thanks for the great journey.

  • Cristina January 19, 2011 at 7:07 am

    no matter what some posh people think about that neighborhood to me it’s sound friendly and cool if children can play safe on sidewalk

  • Dinah January 20, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Hey Jenna, totally behind in posts I know, but what year did your brother graduate? It would be so funny if we were in the same graduating class. (’94 here, shhh…)

  • Jenna January 20, 2011 at 9:37 am

    dinah, you know, I think he did graduate in 94!

  • Dinah January 20, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Ha! I’m gonna have to go drag out my yearbook now. New York is really a small town in disguise.

  • Jenna January 20, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Dinah, I bet there are just pages and pages of “Park”s in the Stuyvesant yearbook. His first name is Ed. NY really is a small world.

  • Kristen January 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Your pictures are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing your little neighborhood, it looks like a great place to live. And in an odd way, makes me appreciate my cute tree lined street in Chicago a little more. Sometimes I don’t give my neighborhood enough credit!

  • Dinah January 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Found him! He doesn’t look too familiar so no incriminating stories on either end, yesss…. There were 8 Parks out of a class of 692 I think.

  • Pat January 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    It was so nice to read this post and see your photos. I’ve lived in Brooklyn my entire life, in fact I bought a house just five houses away from where I grew up. I’m in South Brooklyn near Kings Plaza, which to most of the new Brooklynites might as well be in it was a wonderful place to grow up and I loved raising my family here. My husband immigrated from Italy and lived on 5th Ave in PS with his family for many years until unfortunately gangs made it dangerous, and hey all moved to bensonhurst. He loved PS and often regrets we didn’t move there when we were first married, but in the 70’s it was still a sketchy area to live. I’m so glad a new generation has made it a better place for families and improved the reputation of Brooklyn as a good place to live!