In October 1997, just before I moved to New York, I was talking to a longtime friend’s mother on the telephone. I told her about my new job working for one on the public library systems in New York City and my new apartment in Brooklyn. To say she thought I was nuts would be putting it mildly; she thought I was Certifiable. It is easy to understand why. My friend and I grew up in South Florida, where we and virtually everyone–and I mean everyone, probably over 90%–our age was from somewhere else. “Where is your family from,” was a common question on the first day of school, and Brooklyn was by far the most common answer. (My family was from Connecticut.) My friend’s family was originally from Brooklyn and had moved to Florida in the early 1970s. Her Brooklyn was the Brooklyn of the 1950s and 60s, a place of increasing violence and seemingly permanent decline. I remember her words that night vividly: “Nobody moves to Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a place you get out of.” Indeed it was, and for good reason. This trend continued through the 1970s and 80s. Miraculously, for a variety of factors, Brooklyn and the rest of Gotham began turning around in the 1990s. Suddenly young, well educated types began moving to the outer boroughs, making the neighborhoods safer and more desirable. Go into any coffee shop in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, or Fort Green and you will see what I mean. That was Brooklyn to which me and thousands of other twentysomethings moved during these years–and are still moving today desoite the economic crisis.
For the most part the story of Brooklyn over the past two decades has been one of a vitality and rejuvenation that no one could have predicted during the crisis of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The key words are “most part.” The worst of the worst is over, but there are still pockets of the city lagging behind. For every graphic artist who lives in East Williamsburg, shops at the Red Hook Fairway, and jams in an alternative band in DUMBO on the weekends, there is a Brooklyn family living in different circumstances. I saw this first hand in my time at the public library, where I worked in a corner of the borough so far out it wasn’t even served by the subway system. Kay S. Hymowitz of City Journal tells us how this happened.
(images/top, EPA; bottom, Jim Henderson)