Living in Brooklyn

I’d like a dollar from everyone who’s said to me, “I wish I lived in Brooklyn!” But what’s it actually like to live in Brooklyn? Part of the answer can be found in photos I’ve taken during rambles in my area. Let’s start up the hill from me, in downtown Brooklyn. On the left is a brand new apartment building. A studio apartment on the 12th floor rents out at $2,857/month; a 1 bedroom on the 20th floor is $3,346/month. It has a residents only gym on the 29th floor and a sundeck on the roof. Currently, there are just 4 vacancies:

300 Ashland Place and One Hanson Place

The clock tower building is One Hanson Place. It was completed in 1929 as the headquarters for the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, hence its grand and solid style. On the sidewalk level, the walls and doorways are covered in medieval-ish carvings of wise owls and fierce lions protecting strongboxes. The original bank is absolutely beautiful, now used for film shoots and special events, and the basement has its massive walk-in safe still intact. Above the bank lobby, it’s now entirely a residential building; a 2 bedroom apartment just sold for $1,590,000. Want to rent that 2 bedroom instead? It’ll set you back $4,400/month.

Walk ten minutes down the street from One Hanson Place and you’re in Clinton Hill. Back in the mid 1800’s, a wealthy man named Mr Pratt decided to move to the top of the hill and build mansions for himself and his children. There’s a nice view of Manhattan, and as this was in the days before the Brooklyn bridge (or any bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn), Mr Pratt was living in the countryside; if he wanted to go to Manhattan, he’d have to take a stagecoach down to the river and board a ferry. Other wealthy families joined him, creating a ritzy neighborhood filled with houses that still look great to this day. (In 1887, Mr Pratt founded the Pratt Institute, currently a renowned NYC art college and his house is now part of St Joseph’s College.)

Walking down the hill towards the East River and Manhattan you come to the historic district of Wallabout, filled with pre-Civil War wooden framed houses and other buildings from the 19th century. There are some apartment buildings but mostly this is an area of treasured single family homes:

Ok, that’s the good stuff. Now let’s look at the buildings for people who don’t have wise owls and lions protecting their strongboxes full of money.

Everyone thinks of Williamsburg as hipsterville, and it is. If you own one of its restaurants or bars, I bet you can live in the building with the cool plant architecture thing on its wall. But the mural artist who makes the neighborhood look hip, the musician in your local bar, the twenty somethings working in your fave clothing shop, well, they’re living with roommates in the other buildings pictured above. And it’s pretty noisy living next to the elevated JZM subway line.

A few more photos: the light brown brick building with extra large balconies and big cages around the windows is a standard apartment building for Hasidic Jewish families who live in Williamsburg and Bedford Stuyvesant. The balconies become Sukkot huts in the autumn and the window bars keep their children safe. (They have large families.) The grisly warehouse is what starving artists realistically rent if they want cheap studio or rehearsal space. And the street with the broken sidewalk and overgrown vacant lots is north Bedford Stuyvesant.

Bed Stuy, my neighborhood, has a dual personality. The south side has undergone rapid gentrification in the past 5 years because it is close to the A and C subway lines into Manhattan. Where I am, on the north side with all the public housing and the G train (that goes to Queens instead of Manhattan and comes every 8 minutes, an eon in subway time), the houses are not so family oriented and renovated. Witness the fate of a century old, wooden framed house around the corner from me. One day it started to bulge in the center, and bulge, and bulge…


So what’s it really like to live in Brooklyn? Depends on your budget.


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