Thursday, October 23, 2008

I love Franklin Ave . . . but where the heck is it?

When I found my place at Dean and Franklin on Craiglist, it was advertised as a one-bedroom in Prospect Heights. The folks at DailyHeights would dispute that claim, (as would my Prospect Heights-living buddy) as Franklin is decidedly east of Washington, but Wikipedia would argue that if you're on the west side of Franklin, you're in. Down the street, the About Time Boutique on Franklin between Park and Sterling proudly flies the Crown Heights flag, but the Wikis would have it that by the time I've made it to Dean from the 4 Train, I've crossed into Bed-Stuy. Most of the Bedfordians I know dispute this, however, claiming that Bed-Stuy doesn't REALLY start until Atlantic Ave, and I'm inclined to agree, based both on the demographic shifts that are visible as you head north to the C train and the fact that Atlantic is a very solid geographic border (with its 6 heavily-grooved lanes of traffic and the LIRR elevated tracks). Sterling and Prospect, on either side of Park (wikipedia's border), look very similiar in these parts.

The closest signpost I have to work with, a hanging canvas sign on the corner, tells me I reside within the boundaries of the Crow Hill Community Association, who in turn purport to serve the "residents and merchants of North Crown Heights." A handful of historic sources also cite "Crow Hill" as the original name of Crown Heights, which was renamed thus when Crown Street was cut in 1916.

Why bother asking, or labeling? If you're in real estate, it's obvious enough, but why as a resident? Two longtime Brooklynites have given me two opposing answers: one told me "say you live in Bed-Stuy--you don't want to saddle yourself with Crown Heights," while the other said "oh, no, you live in Crown Heights. Bed-Stuy . . . no, I wouldn't say you live in Bed-Stuy." Both seem to gesture at various stigmas the two leading candidates for "my neighborhood" status have achieved, Crown Heights as the site of "The Crown Heights Riot" and Bed-Stuy as an urban gangland of the 1980s (which, when spoken of by New Yorkers trying to scare new arrivals sounds like Baghdad circa 2004 with crack). On the other hand, there are great reasons to claim both: Bed-Stuy has a wealth of history to match any neighborhood in New York, as well as being the home of that quintessential Brooklyn home, the brownstone, and Crown Heights once housed Ebbets Field.

As a new arrival attempting to navigate a social conscience, there are other potential concerns: Crown Heights is an historically mixed neighborhood, while Bed-Stuy makes it known that it is the largest African-American neighborhood in New York City (a claim addressed to better-know Harlem, it seems). For those of us whose salaries keep us amongst the shock troops of gentrification, Crown Heights seems the more palatable choice, if only because our presence does less to threaten the historic character of the neighborhood. Both areas are gentrifying quickly, of course, but based on my own very limited observations and some conversations, Crown Heights seems a little less irked by it.

At any rate, I don't need to claim a neighborhood just yet--I'm happy to live on Franklin Ave., which remains my "neighborhood" when I'm asked. But I'm curious to keep learning what other folks call the liminal zone I find myself living in.

1 comment:

  1. you're really great, Nick ... seriously. I see comments that disparage this blog or even your person, and I hope you don't take them to heart.

    Yes, you are one of the gentrifiers, but you acknowledge that role and recognize the issues around that. You open up a conversation. You recognize that even people who may resent your presence in the neighborhood may have a legitimate viewpoint. You are a voice of sanity in this transitional neighborhood. Thank-you.