Sunday, December 16, 2007

from Burlingame to Brooklyn, part II.

This is the post that will now also be known as the "Trying not to rough it" post.

Here's the thing. What’s hard about moving back to an urban area is where we’ve been living for the last year. Burlingame is called “City of Trees,” based on 18,000 trees that grow within its limits. It is pretty with its tree-lined streets, its boutiques and restaurants, the Library and its elegant Spanish architecture and brand-new lion statues.* It is lovely, it is neighborly, it is bourgeoisie, and it has a gentle, plodding pace to it that is not unwelcome.

Fastforward to the last three days. The whole move is happening so fast. We have to scout places to live, sign some lease, pack, and move all within the next month … in addition to two work deadlines, my graduate school applications, and a weeklong sojourn home to Hawaii for the holidays. So, Dave and I decided to take a quick trip (under 48 hours) to New York to at least scout neighborhoods.

It was immensely helpful. We rented a car and drove the streets of Brooklyn, mapping out with pencil the areas we liked, literally down to the street or avenue. Fort Greene seemed cool east of the park to Washington Avenue, south of Myrtle, and north of De Kalb. We ruled Bed-Stuy out completely. We loved Cobble Hill, liked parts of Boerum Hill, and were so-so on Carroll Gardens. We had an absolute crush on Park Slope, and some parts of Prospect Heights. And for us—by far—Brooklyn Heights took the award for charm.

We also spoke with a couple different friends about which neighborhoods in Brooklyn they would recommend. We were also extremely lucky to be staying with two friends--a newly married couple, in fact--who have a lovely apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and over two nights of dinner got to pick their brains about what they liked about living in Brooklyn.

‘Course if you know Brooklyn at all, you probably have your own opinions. Keep in mind we were doing this within the confines of one day’s time.

And, finally, we don’t really like to “rough it.” It’s the truth.

I know that it is politically correct to disparage gentrification,** that urban renewal is hotly contested, that it is unfair to push low-income residents out of their homes to make room for yet another neighborhood of boutiques and brunch spots, and that it is even more unjust that the new residents of these neighborhoods often despair of those who are displaced, left homeless, or who turn to crime because they lack better, equitable options. I understand that the history behind neighborhoods and the diverse peoples that built them are what make the neighborhoods. I know these things and I agree with them.

Academically I agree with them. But, well, call us bourgeoisie, call us snobs, but we just don’t like to “rough it.”*** We don’t particularly care if a neighborhood has an equitable distribution of ethnicities, we just want to feel safe to walk the streets as a lone woman, or as a man coming home from work at all kinds of weird hours. Sometimes I think that the people who can afford to really take a stand about gentrification are the ones that grew up without the experience of being poor. Like the example of many of the flower children of the 1960s, children of privilege who chose to reject their backgrounds and upbringing. But if you’ve gone without and can afford better, you take every opportunity to remove yourself from that kind of environment.

We’re due back in Brooklyn sometime in early January, to finish scouting about and sign a lease. Hopefully our recon mission will help us make a more informed decision.

Now if only we could map our way around winter and find something in Brooklyn Heights for less than $1800.

* Indeed, after the NY Public Library’s iconic lions.
** Whoa. I found a dude who was anti-anti gentrification:

*** It is okay if you kind of hate me for this. I kind of hate this about myself, but nevertheless there it is: the truth.


Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

I lived in Park Slope for 13 years and can attest to its charms. And when it came time to look for something to buy, there was no way I could afford to continue living there. Rents are highest closer to the water and Manhattan. I can't imagine finding anything in Brooklyn Heights for $1800, except maybe a studio. Our rent in Park Slope before we moved was way more than that. You may need to look farther afield.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods you've mentioned fall within the larger area of "Brownstone Brooklyn" for their similar architecture and streetscapes. If you think you'll miss the trees, check out other areas as well. Brooklyn is diverse. Where I live now, Flatbush, has thousands of detached, free-standing Victorian homes on tree-lined streets, as well as brownstones and other townhouses, large apartment and condo/co-op buildings, and new construction underway.

In Brooklyn, real estate is a contact sport. Rely on objective sources of information. The OASIS Mapping Service is a good online resource. It consolidates numerous public sources of geographic information. You can create your own thematic maps and get information at any level, from the entire Borough down to individual properties. For example, this map provides an overview of Brooklyn neighborhoods along with the landcover: dark green shows you which neighborhoods have more trees.

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