Editor’s Note: The Real Estate presents Brooklyn, The Borough, a weekly column by Observer staffer and native Manhattanite Nicole Brydson about her return to Brooklyn after nearly a year in Hell’s Kitchen.
For three years I lived in Greenpoint, the northern Polish colony of Brooklyn. Though I wasn’t part of the first wave of gentrification, the wheels of which were long turning–fast–my indigenous neighbors didn’t necessarily seem thrilled with the influx of youthful college graduates. But, over the time I spent living there, the process completed itself. Greenpoint, close to Williamsburg and now home to hip bars, natural markets, galleries, brunch spots, fashion-forward boutiques and even a book store, became the convenient and affordable choix de la jeunesse.
When I had to move out of my lovely floor-through one-bedroom on a quiet tree-lined street last spring, I began to consider what Brooklyn neighborhood I might embark on next. I was outgrowing Greenpoint’s 22-24 crowd–a new crop of whom seemed to lay roots every year after graduation, forcing up prices–and the drunken Polish men cat-calling me on the way to the G train. Williamsburg, with a slightly older demographic thanks to unattainable rents, was out of my league. And the unkempt demographic–the huptser (Hip Urban Professional) as my friends and I like to refer to them–began to procreate. Though the ‘burg isn’t quite the pretentious mommy-daddy colony that is Park Slope–yet–I’m still young enough to resent even minimal stroller traffic.
Fort Greene seemed just about perfect–full of late 20s/early 30s professionals and creative types–and thankfully far fewer babies. With its Cosby-esque brownstones, rising rent and enormous competition for apartments it was just out of reach. One two-bedroom apartment–decently priced at $1,350–on Clifton Place was newly restored, but tiny–the living room was more like a dead-end hallway–and competition for a cheap place on a brownstone-lined block was steep. Neighboring Clinton Hill was decent enough, but once again I would have found myself surrounded by college types (from nearby Pratt) and on the G train–aptly dubbed the “ghost train” for it’s tardiness. Since I’m often out late, I wasn’t ready to reacquaint myself with the only major train line in the city that doesn’t ferry passengers into Manhattan. I needed a demographic that suited my maturity, with an express train nearby.
I considered the up-and-coming areas–that is, up-and-coming for white gentrifiers–like Bedford Stuyvesant, Lefferts Gardens and the area of Flatbush that surrounds the southern tip of Prospect Park, full of enormous and relatively cheap brownstone and pre-war apartments, but I deemed them still a bit too unsafe. I considered Bushwick as well, and went to see a newly renovated first-floor apartment with a backyard for $1,600 off the DeKalb L stop. The amenities were great–two bathrooms, brand-new fixtures–but adjacent from my potential backyard was another full of barking pit bulls, clearly protecting the inhabitant’s questionable activity.
I had fallen for Prospect Heights. Just far enough away from the stroller alleys of the Slope, but still close enough to enjoy their amenities, including the Q express train as well as Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum and Botanic Gardens. The gorgeous brownstone-lined streets, I feared, would also be out of my price range. Very much a member of our city’s creative underclass, I didn’t want to get locked out of the borough that I had fallen in love with since returning from college to find myself exiled from my home borough of Manhattan.
I scoured Craigslist ads for the area, hoping that some little dump would be waiting for me to show it the love and attention it deserved. I had a roommate lined up with the same price range, and after the tiny apartment in Fort Greene had fallen through, our hearts were broken, but we continued our search.
The first place I had seen in the area, a big two-bedroom for $1,450–a steal!–was dirty, had uneven floors, and hovered above what is formerly one of Washington Avenue’s most frequented fried chicken spots–not to mention a wall in the living room was covered in ’70’s era beveled glass. I hesitated. But upon a second visit I saw it’s potential: big rooms and an enormous outdoor space just beyond the kitchen window. All it needed was a good scrubbing and a few amenities from the Home Depot. I was sold.
Unlike the previous areas I had visited, Prospect Heights is a very evenly mixed neighborhood of different ethnicities, families, professionals, and young people. I didn’t feel ostracized by my neighbors, and since taking over my new apartment this month, people have actually said hello to me on the street. Now I’ll embark on finding my neighborhood’s gems–Soda, a nearby bar on Vanderbilt Avenue, and Chevella’s, authentic Mexican on Classon Avenue–are my first scheduled stops. That is, once I finish cleaning, painting and organizing my little box in the sky.