Thursday, September 1, 2011
Learning from Brooklyn
Before I got co-op approval on my rental in Forest Hills, Queens (where I now live), I spent a week or so sharing apartments and houses in Boro Park and Canarsie. These are two very different neighborhoods, but from a planning perspective both are of some interest.
I spent the weekend of August 4 sharing an apartment in Boro Park. Boro Park is a heavily Hasidic neighborhood teeming with large families in a zip code with over 75,000 people per square mile, almost three times the NYC average. Some commentators argue that density and large families are inconsistent- but Boro Park shows otherwise. In Boro Park, the average age is 29, well below the statewide average (35).
Then I spent a few days at a bed and breakfast in Canarsie, at the eastern edge of Brooklyn (that is, the part furthest from Manhattan). Canarsie has been hit with many of the major bad urban planning ideas of the 50s and 60s: it includes a couple of housing projects, is not too far from another, and is mostly cut off from the water by an expressway. And because it is so far from Manhattan, it is not appealing to people looking for short commutes.
Not surprisingly, Canarsie has never been a wealthy neighborhood; at some point in the late 20th century it transitioned from a Jewish/Italian working class area to a Caribbean-American working class area. But it is by no means one one of Brooklyn’s worst neighborhoods. Canarsie's poverty rate is lower than the Brooklyn average, and I was willing to walk through the public housing on the way to the subway; even though I wouldn’t do it at night it doesn’t seem threatening during the day.
To me the interesting questions in Canarsie aren't what went wrong: they are: what went right? And given the decline of many inner suburbs, does Canarsie have a future?