What you’re missing about Park Slope
Once in a while we’ll feature the perspective of someone who strongly disagrees with one of our posts. Today, a Columbia alum/Park Slope native takes issue with our jokes about his neighborhood.
When I was still in school at Columbia, a distant year ago, and people asked me where I was from, the response “Park Slope” inevitably elicited a laugh or a groan. I also heard, “well, that’s not really Brooklyn” a lot.
Look, I am and will probably always be Park Slope’s harshest critic. The neighborhood has changed a lot since I was a little kid playing with Super Soakers out on the front stoop. It sounds silly to say, because Park Slope was already a very middle-class neighborhood when I was born (in Park Slope, at Methodist Hospital, by the way), but it’s true.
Today, there are many more strollers and a lot fewer junkies on the block where I grew up. That’s probably an improvement, but it also has meant middle-class people (and working-class people) can’t afford to settle down in the neighborhood anymore.
My parents, a teacher and a professor at a public university, would never have been able to raise a family in the Park Slope of today. That’s not a tragedy (it’s a universal fact of New York at this point), but it’s maybe a bit disappointing.
Still, Park Slope has a tremendous amount to offer. It’s bougie (this is actually my mom’s block, no joke) and overpriced, but there is no shortage of things to do or see.
Park Slope is a tiny residential enclave, not Midtown, but it’s not devoid of “intellectual stimulation.” As others have pointed out, it’s walking distance to the Brooklyn Museum. It’s also walking distance to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, as well as BAM (the oldest continuously operating theater in America). Red Hook and its art spaces aren’t far away. Within the neighborhood proper are tons of restaurants and a few places to hear live music. There’s also local favorite Community Books—one of the city’s most important bookstores.
“Celebrate Brooklyn” brings out huge crowds in the summer for movies and music, and the Met and the NY Phil come to the park in the summer, so there’s also opera or classical music to be heard.
There’s also Prospect Park, which—as many a dyed-in-the-wool Brooklynite will proudly remind visitors—Frederick Law Olmstead considered his masterpiece. I’m glad Sara’s post mentioned that the neighborhood is scenic, but to go to Park Slope and not visit (or at least not mention) Prospect Park is no small sin of omission. You might also consider hopping over to Greenwood Cemetery, which is gloriously verdant and peaceful, not to mention full of famous dead people such as Leonard Bernstein, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henry Ward Beecher, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Also Boss Tweed.
Grand Army Plaza, particularly when it’s lit up at night, is one of the more beautiful open spaces in the city, and for those folks who care about such things, the equestrian statues of Grant and Lincoln under the triumphal arch were sculpted by Thomas Eakins (in collaboration with William Rudolph O’Donovan).
One might visit the Park Slope Food Coop and ask for a tour. It’s the largest member-run food cooperative in America, so if you’ve ever been curious how a large-scale cooperative (it has 15,000 members) operates, it’s worth checking out.
You can also see the block where Al Capone was born (Garfield Place) and the building that had its cornice sheared off when a plane fell out of the sky over Sterling Street in 1960.
The Old Stone House on Fifth Avenue is a reconstructed Revolutionary War site (a significant part of the Battle of Brooklyn was fought in what is now Park Slope). In front of it, a park that was a popular home to the neighborhood’s drug dealers when I was growing up is undergoing a major renovation. Everyone knows that before the Dodgers left Brooklyn, they played at Ebbet’s Field. What most people don’t know, though Wikipedia could tell them, is that before Dodgers played at Ebbet’s Field, they played ball on the land that is now Washington Park.
While you are on Fifth Avenue, grab a burger at Bonnie’s Grill. It’s one of maybe three places left in the city to get a great burger without maxing out your credit card. I always ask for extra pickles, as they have excellent burger pickles. Al di La is popular for top-flight Italian cuisine, and Miriam has solid Israeli fare, with an affordable combo deal. There are, of course, dozens of other good restaurants.
Park Slope is worth exploring. After almost 25 years in New York, I still believe that on a clear, warm spring day, there is no greater pleasure than wandering past rows of stately brownstones on its tree-lined streets.
So hop the train down to the Slope and spend a day there, or even a few. No one will think you’re cool for having visited. But coolness is, when you think about it, overrated.
Raphael Pope-Sussman, CC ’11, is a former Spectator Editorial Page Editor.
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