Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New frontiers - we look north

We are exploring.

Bumped out of my Cobble Hill comfort zone by the rapacious landlord, I am feeling twinges of provincialism as I begin to discover parts of Brooklyn so other they may as well be new countries. I think it is Elizabeth Strout - novelist - who says that New Yorkers are provincial. They just don't know it.

We are so attached to the neighbourhood. Its borders, its manners, its sounds, its commodities.

Yesterday I visited the southern edges of Bushwick. It was a flawless day, which helped.

A sixteen block walk north from the C, with the northern edges of notorious Brownsville at my back, took me through an area I would not negotiate at night. I passed some projects, three schools letting out, people sitting on the sidewalk in folding chairs, some offering a friendly greeting as I passed, a community garden, some drug dealers, a police station (83rd Precinct), and countless storefront churches and tiny nail salons.

I walked with my New Yorker rolled into a nice, aggressive-feeling tube. Later, the Frenchman found that very funny, and recommended keys as a first line of defense and gave me a brief tutorial (the Frenchman's more French father was friends with foreign legionnaires and Marseilles hoodlums). I exaggerate the threat level, but I hardly blended in, and my skin tingled. So that part of the homework was done: Don't take the C.

[Doing more homework on the neighbourhood, later, I learned about the Brooklyn Bike Patrol, a group of volunteers who escort women home safely at night. It has a good reputation in the neighbourhood. Its founder recently suffered from two heart attacks and needed help raising money to pay his hospital bills.]

Once I reached and crossed Broadway and its thundering overhead subway, I was officially in Bushwick - though neighbourhoods have no set borders, rather, they align roughly with zip codes and community boards. Did I feel a stirring of my colonial roots? French and Huguenot settlers made a village here in 1660. The houses were suddenly and unexpectedly beautiful. It was in one of them (not pictured here) that new apartments were being advertised, after a gut renovation, which has given them all nice, new finishes. We are tired, really tired, of old, dirty and derelict (ironic in genteel Cobble Hill). What we will lose in terms of neighbourhood luxuries like Sahadi's and cheese shops and wine shops and waterside parks, we will gain in the domestic bliss of a clean building, new appliances, touch pad entry systems, a real laundry and more space. Indoor and outdoor.

Still...not sure. Crime is barely an issue where we live, but it would on our radar at this address. And the green spaces...

It was promising. Not perfect. But promising. And the prospect of a new living experience is potentially exciting. I toured a local supermarket, oohing like a slack-jawed tourist at the guavas and strange tubers and roots, and cactus paddles. And the staple organic salad leaves and eggs and milk and butter were there, as well as buckets of Cafe Bustelo. For serious food - organic poultry, say - we'd have to shop elsewhere.

After my long walk there, I took a short one, to a different subway, the J, and was in Manhattan in ten minutes, right beneath the wonderful Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side - more food shopping potential.

Today's place had the major flaw of no outdoor water source. Which was vexing. And I'm not sure how soon the thrill of the different would wear off. There is the added complication of being viewed as gentrifiers, more affluent than long-time residents.

Who knows. We are still looking. But I am now hopeful, rather than bereft. Although I suppose that could turn on a dime, too.

It's a speciality of mine.


  1. Good luck in your search. We live in Sunset Park and while the corner store doesn't carry organic meat, there is a meat store nearby that does. Perhaps you'll also find one in Bushwick. I always keep in mind that while my neighborhood has higher crime statistically, the only place I've ever seen a couple robbed at gunpoint was in Brooklyn Heights.

    1. Nice crime observation :-) Sunset Park appeals very much, too.

  2. Hope you find something good soon. Both sons lived in Bushwick for a while, and older son now lives near Sunset Park -- neither place was anywhere that you (or I) would want to live. When I visited I reminded myself of what my own first apartments looked like. But older son has put us up in his place, where he seems very happy and has cooked us some fabulous meals in his tiny kitchen.

    Remember, you will make any place you go beautiful.

    1. Just to clarify, by "place" I meant their actual abodes -- not the neighborhoods.

  3. Yup, what Ms. Ross said. Anywhere you move to, you will make beautiful.

  4. don't underestimate the threat of crime (however [un]realistically you define/perceive it). i lived in a so-so part of boston, with great neighbors, but the relief i felt (after moving to place where my sunning houseplants --or car-- would less likely be stolen) surprised me. i still take my city-ish precautions (because people are everywhere :)

    my new place was much smaller, with no outdoor space, and i did not have such wonderful neighbors there, but i still remember the relief. just my observation.

    1. We will not do anything that feels wrong, certainly. It's not question of crime = outdoor space, luckily.

      My need for outdoor space is non negotiable :-)

  5. May you pioneer our inevitable move. There are many new renos in bushvick because of the rapid gentrification has made that investment profitable. You may feel like the gentry but you are a late comer. Besides, my maternal lineage comes through bushvick. I'll pass on to you my credits. I always look for children and old people on the block. If I see those, it's safe enough for me. If all I see are young men, teenage boys -it's not.

    1. Different parts vary so widely. I was expecting herds of hipsters and artists, but not in this bit. And yes, the young dudes at the street corners had been behind me for about 12 blocks by the time I got to the one where we looked.

  6. We've chatted a bit about this elsewhere, but I'll chime in here as well. Mike and I were in Bushwick, half a block from the J/M at Broadway and Myrtle, and not far from where you are looking, from about 2004-2008. All the gentrification was happening along the L at that time, though it was starting to creep down and over along Flushing toward Broadway, and in the loft building across the street from our apartment.

    From what I've heard from the friends we still have in the area, a lot has changed - for the better - in terms of access to services, groceries, etc. There's a decent Korean produce market that opened up a month before we moved. One of our old neighbors took over a vacant lot and turned it into Bushwick City Farm. Other friends opened Cafeteria La Mejor, which we haven't made it out to yet but is well-reviewed.

    Mike and I actually enjoyed going out on "food safari" to gather our provisions at the Essex Market and elsewhere nearby (via bus, usually, into Williamsburg, or down to Fort Greene, or up into Ridgewood). The availability of FreshDirect was also a big help when we were there - when the weather was bad and we didn't feel like venturing out, or when we needed a lot of stuff in advance of a holiday or a backyard cocktail party.

    As for crime, I can't say I felt any less safe in our Bushwick neighborhood than I did in Hunters Point or even Somerville, Mass., where I had lived pre-NYC. To be quite honest, the majority of crime that we encountered was primarily due to loft-dwelling kids behaving badly - leaving their security gate open, leading to theft of property; or walking back from the L train late at night, drunk or otherwise inebriated, and yelling that fact out for anyone around to hear, then getting chased down the street and jumped or worse by people who were probably just waiting for some such idiot to prey upon. Lack of common sense. Nobody to blame but themselves, really. The vast majority of police calls to our block were for noise complaints, loud, late loft parties, or the night late in our time there when some kids threw a Sunday night, amplified ROCK SHOW (yes, really) in the backyard of a house down the block. There was also that one time that we had a car alarm going off on some kid's Volvo for 9 1/2 hours, until the cops finally pried open the hood and removed the car battery.

    I'm not saying crime doesn't happen in Bushwick or anywhere; I just think that some people have this idea that Bushwick is SCARY, and it's not, really. Like anywhere, you have to keep your eyes and ears open, and use common sense. I walked home from the train alone after dark (or before sunrise) many times, without incident. We kept our doors locked, but we also sat out on the front stoop and chatted with our neighbors almost daily.

    There's a lot of beauty there, and honestly, I think we'd look there again if the public schools were better.

    1. Thanks so much, Jen. I didn't have a bad feeling about Bushwick - the walk from the southern end on the other side of Broadway gave me pause, but during the day it was fine. I just wouldn't approach from that end, and the J is a skip away.

      We are lucky that we don't have take to schools into account, on top of all of that. And yes, like the New Yorker cover, we are casting our eyes across the Hudson, too!

      I have to add that Staten Island St George's intrigues me, too. But the daily herding onto the ferry could drive Vince to murder.

  7. Oh, good, you're going to take us along on your apartment hunt! I was hoping you would..a little mini-tour of NYC.

  8. I formed a great fondness for the J when "line improvements" had us herded over to J by bus from(I forget)And a lovely gentleman at the J handed out helpful, hand-drawn maps and warned us about some messy patch on a street.Even the grumbling passengers shut up and thanked him.
    I found a lot of that in NY. :-)

    The lack of outdoor water puzzles me.S'pose it could be arranged...

  9. Looks like you're looking in my old neighborhood judging by your photo of the lovely house on Goodwin Place. I lived in a huge loft on Gates for five years. It's a hard neighborhood for books, movies, organics, good cheese and coffee. Bustelo was my brew (for economic reasons as well) while I was there and it grew on me. Ms Hess covered some food alternatives above and there are more options walking up to Ridgewood as well-- there's the remnants of an Italian neighborhood and a newer Polish community that way. However, after living in such a convenient quality food nabe it will be a bit of a shock at first. You will have to schlep.
    As far as crime if you keep your street radar alert it's pretty much O.K.. And you are tall--it helps no kidding! Sadly, the crimes I witnessed/heard about while living there were people of color hurting other people of color. And there is a subtle color line: south of Broadway is mostly black while north of Broadway is more mixed, but mostly is Latino/Latino immigrants, who account for the live poultry place up by Myrtle I'm sure. I almost never walked south of Broadway, aside from some pretty blocks there was no reason: no stores or services for blocks and blocks.
    I loved the unexpected mix of architecture on and around Bushwick Ave. And the feeling of not being crowded. The J got new cars a few years ago and is a very short commute into Manhattan. And you get to look out the windows! Especially loved it going over the bridge.
    Also there are some folks out there who share some of your interests. Bucolic Bushwick blog lives somewhere on Bushwick Ave (I recognized the ell in one of her photos) and EcoStation:NY was started by someone in my former building.

    Happy hunting!


Comments on posts older than 48 hours are moderated (for spam control) . Yours will be seen! Unless you are a troll. Serial trollers are banned.