In the past decade, Brooklyn has experienced incredible growth. It now plays host to a local postmodern art revival and is the location of choice for newly developing businesses and tech startups. This evolution in Brooklyn is now making is one of the most desirable places to live in New York. As a result, it’s now one of the most populated and diverse boroughs in the city. One of its biggest draws still remains the fact that it neighbors the boroughs of Queens and Long Island. Meaning you can see the cities incredible skyline from its shores. Living here means you’re just a ferry ride or subway stop away from easily reaching the rest of the city.
Brooklyn is no monolith. As NYC’s largest borough, Brooklyn is comprised of dozens of individual neighborhoods. Each one with its unique characteristics, demographics, and flavor. What we know today as the borough of Brooklyn has a fascinating past worth telling.
When the Dutch settled Brooklyn (then known as Breuckelen) in 1636, the original six towns were Bushwick, Brooklyn, Flatlands, Gravesend, New Utrecht, and Flatbush. Over time, these “towns” fanned out to include adjacent neighborhoods with new names. For example, Bushwick often encompasses parts of Bed-Stuy and East Williamsburg. Flatbush has grown to include Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Kensington, and Ditmas Park, where opulent Victorian mansions regally reign.
A Native American tribe known as the Lenape were the original inhabitants of Brooklyn. At the time, the Lenape were an agricultural people who occupied much of the New England area. When the Europeans arrived, the Lenape became very active in the fur trade, a massive source of profits at the time. As more and more settlers came into their territories, the land began to trade hands, and the population moved westward. The largest remaining communities of Lenape peoples can be found today in Ontario, Canada.
In 1624 the Dutch were the first to plant their flag and colonize the area now known as Brooklyn. In the same year, the settlements of Midwout (Midwood) and Vlacke Bos (Flatbush) were established. Over the years, the Dutch population continued to grow along with the rest of what was then called New Netherland. In 1646, the Dutch West Indies Company authorized the Village of Breuckelen. Naming it after a Dutch city in the province of Utrecht. At that time there were several other villages in the area, like Boswijk (Bushwick) and Nieuw Utrecht (New Utrecht). These villages and several others would eventually form into the borough we know today.
By the end of the 17th century, the Dutch had lost New Netherland to the British who then went about reorganizing and renaming the area. The British turned New Netherland into the Province of New York and divided it into 12 counties. One of those counties was Kings County, named for King Charles II of England. The name “Brooklyn” was the product of an evolution that took years. Derivations such as Brockland and Brookline came and went before settling on the final and current spelling. There are still some buildings and cemeteries in Brooklyn that reflect this period of the borough’s history. Street names also indicate many of the influential cultures and individuals that resided in the area. All of which helped it develop and grow into the thriving borough it is today.
Brooklyn also saw the first major battle of the Revolutionary War after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On August 27, 1776, the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn) was fought. George Washington may have lost that battle, but he did get his men off the island intact. Thus keeping the Continental Army alive to fight another day and win freedom for our country.
The early 1800’s were a time of tremendous growth for Brooklyn, especially along the East River waterfront across from Manhattan. The population rose steadily, and in 1854 the City of Williamsburg was annexed by the City of Brooklyn. The building of rail links, like the Brighton Beach Line (1878), added another boost to the growth of the area. Over time, Brooklyn added several more neighborhoods to its boundaries. By the end of the 19th century, it had reached its municipal limits at the edge of Kings County.
The last part of the century also saw the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, which began operation in 1883. The bridge allowed residents to travel easily back and forth to Manhattan, something many Brooklynites still do every day. In 1894 the residents voted to take part in the consolidation efforts and become a borough of the City of New York. Along with Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, and Richmond (Staten Island). This took effect in 1898, but Kings County remained a county of the State of New York.
Today, Brooklyn’s rich historical background is preserved by the Brooklyn Historical Society. They operate a museum, library and educational center devoted to furthering knowledge about the area’s importance. Both in the founding of the United States, and the people who have inhabited the land we now call Brooklyn.
There’s Something for Everyone
Brooklyn can appeal to people of many interests in any stage of life. Whether you want a morning jog in Brooklyn Bridge Park or an easy walk along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Among its iconic locations is the historic Coney Island that still draws in thousands of visitors since its heyday in the 20th century. Brooklyn residents can also take it easy at a Brooklyn Cyclones game at the newly revamped MCU Park baseball stadium.
Other memorable landmarks include the Brooklyn Borough Hall which emulates the sophistication of neoclassical architecture. Not far from there sits the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Arch, which recalls the majestic arches of ancient Rome. Lastly, you can’t talk about landmarks without mentioning the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge. By making it possible to travel by car over the East River into the city, this bridge is not only an impressive piece of architecture. It’s also one of New York’s arterial roads for daily traffic and commerce.
A True Melting Pot
Brooklyn embraces diversity, as evidenced by the motto of its seal and flag. Eendraght Maeckt Maght — which translates to “Unity Makes Strength.” The residents of Brooklyn come from many parts of the world and are proud to call Brooklyn their home. Many nationalities, faiths, and ethnicities are represented here. From the American Jewish community that is over 500,000 strong, to the many Latinos who have set up successful businesses in the area.
The wealth of cultural exchange is priceless. Brooklyn offers the unique ability to taste the authentic cuisines of many countries in a single place. From the thriving Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Borough Park to the African American cultural hub of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn is a perfect example of the melting pot that is America. You can find pockets of a specific culture here and there. All this makes Brooklyn a credit to the ability of people from all over the world to come together and live side by side in peace and harmony.
When people immigrate they bring with them little pieces of their homelands, and we are all the better for it. Especially when it comes to finding something different and delicious to eat. In Brooklyn, you’ll find the best kosher delis serving up mountainous piles of corned beef. Then there’s the choice of probably hundreds of mom and pop Italian delis and diners that are just the beginning. Brooklyn’s Chinatown is growing steadily, so if dim sum and hot pot sound good to you, you’re never far away.
There are too many different ethnicities and nationalities who call Brooklyn their home to list, but these must be mentioned. Russians and Ukrainians have made Brighton Beach into a new home (some call it “Little Odessa” or “Little Russia”). There is a large number of Caribbean peoples in Brooklyn, and at certain times of the year you might hear the cheerful sounds of a steel drum and see a colorful parade. Italians, Puerto Ricans, Irish and so many more heritages are represented in the cultural melting pot of Brooklyn. You can practically travel the world by subway and never leave the borough.
Today, many people look to Brooklyn as a beautiful place to live because of its proximity to Manhattan’s commerce. It’s true that many residents of Brooklyn spend their days working in Manhattan. But that doesn’t mean Brooklyn is a bedroom community. The borough has an ever-growing population of 24/7 residents who have no problem in finding everything they need to live and work in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the Manhattan day, Brooklyn is a natural choice. The number of transportation options, available both within and heading out of the borough is astounding.
The New York City Subway system has an extensive network of trains operating. Some of which can get a commuter from certain parts of the borough to Manhattan in a matter of minutes. Commuters also have the romantic option of taking a water taxi. Such as the one that operates from Fulton Landing in DUMBO. Finally, for public transport, several local and express buses can be utilized. If you’d rather drive, just one tunnel and three bridges can get you there.
Brooklyn Real Estate
Of course, before you can decide where to eat or where to put the kids in school, you have to decide what type of housing you need. You can find many different neighborhoods in Brooklyn, each with their atmospheres and architectural styles. The one kind of building that most people associate with Brooklyn is the ever-famous brownstone. You’ll find no shortage of these Brooklyn icons on the streets. They can be located in just about every part of the borough. Whether you’re renting or buying, you’ll have plenty of locations to choose from until you’ve found the perfect brownstone.
But Brooklyn is so much more than brownstone buildings. European people have inhabited Brooklyn for hundreds of years and that long history has left its mark in architecture. Italianate, Neo-Greco, Victorian and Renaissance Revival are just a few of the styles you’ll find spread across the borough. During the last decade, there has been a movement in Brooklyn of people purchasing and completely restoring these old homes to their original beauty and glory. The result has been street after street of lovingly restored old houses.
You can find many historic districts throughout the borough. But because of the influx of people willing to buy and refurbish some of these old gems, some areas rival the historic charm of the original historical districts. These townhouses may be detached single or multi-family homes, semi-detached or attached row houses. Once again, buying or renting, you’ll have your pick of a piece of history to call home.
There is no shortage of apartments and condos in Brooklyn either. Condo buildings range from renovated industrial buildings to luxury high-rises. To attract tenants, these buildings make themselves competitive by offering the utmost in amenities. Parking and 24-hour security can help you feel safe. A private balcony with stunning views of the water and Manhattan skyline can greet you in the morning or give you a place to relax at the end of a long day.
Condominium developers know what people are looking for in a home, Which has been reflected in many of the condos on the market today. Hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, tall ceilings, and natural stone countertops are now the expected standards in a new condo development. Another feature favorite in Brooklyn condo buildings is the shared rooftop terrace. So even if you find a perfect unit that only lacks a balcony, you can always take in the air from the roof.
Brooklyn is a borough with an industrial history. Many of those industries have come and gone, leaving large empty buildings that go into disrepair because of simple neglect. With the rise in demand for housing in Brooklyn and other parts of the city, developers and real estate speculators looked to those old buildings and saw an opportunity. Now we have a multitude of fantastic loft apartments in these industrial-cum-residential buildings.
Popular with artists as working and living spaces, the typical industrial loft apartment has the floor to ceiling windows to allow natural light into the cavernous space. If a loft apartment is not exactly what you have in mind, don’t’ worry. In Brooklyn, you can find an apartment in every type of style. Whether it’s a small walk-up building or a high-rise luxury development with two or more bedrooms.
Parks and Green Spaces
Another important aspect of choosing a home is access to parks and green spaces. Living and working in the concrete jungle can be stressful, leaving us in need of open space with grass to walk on and trees to admire. It’s a good thing so that Brooklyn’s parks are second to none.
Every neighborhood has its unique parks with playgrounds, athletic fields and more. But the crown jewel of Brooklyn parks is the expansive and verdant Prospect Park. Prospect Park is 585 acres of natural beauty designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. The same designers as Central Park in Manhattan. The park has several attractions, such as a zoo, the Picnic House, which is open to parties, and the historic Litchfield Villa. But the central attraction at Prospect Park is the Long Meadow. A sprawling 90 acres of grassy meadow to while away the day in.
Near to Prospect Park is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Brooklyn Museum. Two of the most extraordinary cultural outposts in the borough. The Brooklyn Museum, a world-class icon, includes local lectures about gentrification in its programming and hosts outstanding art exhibitions. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is well known for its annual spring Cherry Blossom Festival as well as its spacious grounds.
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Acadamy of Music
Now that you’ve settled in and done some shopping you can begin to look into the culture available. Brooklyn has long been a haven for artists, and that trend is not showing any signs of slowing down. Artist enclaves like Williamsburg and DUMBO have been producing visual arts for the public’s enjoyment for years. You can see some of the creativity going on in those big loft apartments by visiting galleries in Williamsburg and Brooklyn Museum in Prospect Heights. If great theatre is your passion, you’ll have an opportunity to see internationally acclaimed productions at the Brooklyn Academy of music in Fort Greene.
If the visual arts don’t do it for you, there are plenty of opportunities in Brooklyn to hear the music of all kinds. Many of the artistic neighborhoods have venues for local and big acts. With the growing popularity and notoriety of Brooklyn in the art world, more and more big artists are making stops to play in Brooklyn’s clubs and theaters. But you don’t even have to pay the price for a ticket to a concert if you don’t want to. There are places where you can catch free shows in parks and other venues in the borough. Prospect Park has a summer concert series that is free to the public, and Fulton Landing features Bargemusic, a free classical music concert series that also runs during the summer months.
So there you have it. Brooklyn is a place with a history that remains a vibrant part of the present and promises to be an essential part of the future of New York City. Move to Brooklyn, and you’ll be living in the midst of artists and scholars. You’ll be insulated from the hectic Manhattan streets while enjoying every convenience and luxury a person could want when living in the greatest city on Earth, New York.
The number and quality of the parks make Brooklyn an excellent choice for families. Those families who call Brooklyn home also have several educational options open to them. New York City Public Schools operate in all parts of the borough. Many of these schools have consistently performed at or above the city and national averages on standardized tests like the SAT. One highlight of the public schools in Brooklyn is Brooklyn Technical High School, often called Brooklyn Tech. The largest high school specializing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in all of the United States. Brooklyn Tech has been in its current location across from Fort Greene Park since the early 30’s and is known for producing successful and famous alumni, including two Nobel Laureates.
You’ll also find many different kinds of private educational institutions in Brooklyn. There are many Yeshiva’s as well as other religion-based schools. The number of choices a student and their parents face is daunting. But it also ensures that every child gets the best opportunity to excel and meet their potential.
Higher education is also abundant in Brooklyn. Several institutions in Brooklyn cater to all different sorts and receive national recognition year after year. Princeton Review has ranked Brooklyn College, a liberal arts college, in the top ten of America’s Best Value Colleges several times. Other top Schools include; Brooklyn Law School, Kingsborough Community College (named one of the best community colleges in the United States by the New York Times), Pratt Institute, a leading school in art, design, and architecture, Polytechnic Institute of NYU and St. Francis College, one of the most diverse colleges in the United States and ranked by Forbes Magazine as the best baccalaureate institution.
Shops and Amenities
Once you’ve settled into the place, you’ll no doubt want to venture out and explore everything your new neighborhood has to offer. Where better to start than with some shopping. Brooklyn has become a shopping destination for many people. There are streets in all areas that are growing more and more densely populated with boutiques and specialty shops for the shopper’s perusing pleasure.
You can find some truly unique items for your new home and your closet in the many shops in Brooklyn. Some of the more exciting areas to go for a little shopping stroll include Chinatown in Sunset Park where goods from the Far East can be found and haggled over. Then there’s the neighborhood of Borough Park with its many shops specializing in Jewish goods like books, wigs, clothing, and other necessities, not to mention the kosher delis.
Brooklyn has a vast number of small businesses. Some run by the third and fourth generations of a family, which gives the neighborhoods a small-town feel. But that doesn’t mean Brooklyn is without big name chain stores. One prime example is the Ikea located in Redhook. Here you can pour over what seems like acres of home goods and stylish yet straightforward Swedish furniture.
What would shopping trip be complete without a trip to the grocer to fill the refrigerator? You could always go to a big chain grocer, but that won’t give you the same intimate feeling of shopping in a store where you can get to know the owners, the man cutting your meat and the lady baking your bread. Brooklyn has kept its old-world charm in the sense that most people still buy their food from small markets. It may be easy to go to a place where you can get everything in one stop. But it lacks the ambiance and enjoyment of making more stops to get the best of whatever one could desire. Most neighborhoods anyway in Brooklyn have farmers’ markets. There you can get locally sourced and grown produce and other goods straight from the source.
As the number of residents with expendable income has grown, so has the restaurant and bar scenes in many Brooklyn neighborhoods. New spots, both big and small, are popping up all over Brooklyn. New York Eater has a guide to the latest most celebrated restaurants while Foursquare provides a list of the best coffee shops in the borough.
Other Perks of Brooklyn
Though living in New York is not cheap, apartments and property values in Brooklyn are more affordable than what you can find in Manhattan. On top of this, there are currently nine subway lines that run through Brooklyn, and they can take you nearly anywhere in the city.
If you’re looking for a neighborhood that is rich in history and undergoing exciting growth, then Brooklyn is for you. Living there situates you near the excitement of the city in an incredible community where you can take in sights and have experiences that are difficult to find elsewhere.
Brooklyn real estate is in the news almost every day. It’s in; it’s out, it’s overpriced, it’s cool, it’s overrated, it’s the place to be. Then there are the trend pieces coming out of the New York Times, and other outlets, on a regular basis. For example, in 2010, the NYT called Bushwick the most cooling pace on Earth. But even with ongoing and ever-increasing interest in the neighborhood, in 2016 the NYT declared Bushwick officially over. Bushwick comes to mind because of its meteoric rise from the apex of the gang and drug activity to the most desirable – and written about – a spot in Brooklyn.
Then there was the story from late 2016 that Brooklyn is the most unaffordable place to live in the U.S. The attitudes toward Brooklyn, from the vantage point of Manhattan, change daily. But the borough weathers each trend-storm just like the tough Brooklynite it is. Meanwhile, a wide variety of buyers and renters alike continue to explore, fall in love with and settle in Brooklyn.
All of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are a mix of longtime residents. There are those who have lived there for generations, raising families, operating or working at local businesses, and claiming their native Brooklynite status. And there are those who’ve moved there in the last 20 or so years. For many longtime residents, English is not their first language, and their sense of family and community has been thrown into chaos by the influx of newer residents. Newer additions to Brooklyn neighborhoods tend to have higher incomes and be entrepreneurs, artists, or business people. Some newbies own their own homes, including apartment buildings, condos, or shares in a co-op while others prefer to rent.
Are you the Type?
Whether you can live in Brooklyn or not depends on various factors. There’s the commute to Manhattan for work or a Broadway show, the cost of living, and your tolerance for “up-and-coming” status that may last for decades. For instance, Bedford-Stuyvesant has been “up and coming” for about 20 years. Other neighborhoods, such as Park Slope and Williamsburg, have already been thoroughly redeveloped. Others, such as Greenpoint, Crown Heights, and parts of Flatbush (Kensington, Ditmas Park), have been on the rise in recent years.
Brooklyn is very culturally diverse, safer than ever, and some of the best public schools in NYC are in Brooklyn. The borough is also very family-friendly and community-oriented. Take a ride over one of the three Bridges to Brooklyn to find out if it’s the place for you.