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A Slice of Flatbush, Brooklyn (Where Gumbo Was #143)


When I travel, I wander around neighborhoods, looking at where people live, and shop and eat…for me, it’s as important a part of travel as the museums, cathedrals and palaces. Maybe more so. Then I do a bit of looking up to learn the background.

Grace Church, with Tiffany windows, is one of many in the area

I was surprised recently to realize that I don’t do that consciously in my own neighborhood, even though it's in a place that’s now become a tourist magnet as well: Brooklyn. Because I see it in a different way, there are many details and changes I don't see...or think I do.

A block of topiary along Maple Street

So, I decided to take a walk as I might in some other place, catching impressions, taking pictures of what caught my eye, and writing a blog. Not a serious study, not a major history: Just what  you might see in an hour or so of wandering. TravelingCanuck came close to guessing where it was; an internet search misidentified the location of the first wall mural but he found it!

Apartments and stores along Flatbush Avenue

My neighborhood, where I’ve lived for over forty years, is a mixture of small private houses, solid apartment houses, and apartments over stores...and even a genuine mansion or two. It's had a number of names, as part of Flatbush, one of the original 17th century towns that became Brooklyn. These days, it's most often called Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

DSC06537The "real mansion" on Maple Street, once home to diamond brokers and shipowners

Up to the late 1800s it was farmland, belonging mostly to the Lefferts family, who sold it off as house lots for a growing population of businessmen and professionals. In the post-World War I years, it added apartment buildings to the mix of single-family houses and commercial buildings. By the time I moved to one of those apartments in 1973 it was a neighborhood that was more black than white, but not really either, despite a pattern of "white flight" in surrounding areas.

Townhouse rows aren't all "brownstones" in our neighborhood

Over the time I’ve lived here, it’s always been a mixture, both of people and housing types. And there were changes, as people came from different mixes of places; and there's a strong core of very long-time residents. The storefronts on Flatbush Avenue were almost a barometer of what countries and what areas were arriving, including a strong Caribbean presence.

Stores old and new compete for attention...and affordable spaces

As you'll have noticed in the clues, wall art is not uncommon in parts of the neighborhood; some of it is part of youth programs that began in the 70s; some reflects artistic interests supported by some of the local merchants.

DSC06584DSC06596New restaurants and stores have opened over the past few years that have been pleasant to have...but which also raise the specter of gentrification, and the possibility that many who have lived here will no longer be able to afford to.

New restaurant with 'old-time' look, 23-story luxury apartment building, and another new apartment building at the end of my street.

These days, with several new apartment houses going up, some quite large and all with rents that are quite high, the concerns have been growing. There are already signs that the new construction and new "hot" status have begun raising rents in existing buildings.

A small neighborhood supermarket lost its lease recently to this quite pleasant gourmet market...

So,  just as I wonder when I wander in my favorite neighborhoods of Paris or Barcelona: What will this be like in five, or ten years? Will the people I see here still be able to call it home?

In the meantime, let's wander some more...

Our apartment buildings come in many styles, with Art Deco and pseudo-Gothic among the most common. 

DSC06525On our block

DSC06530DSC06534The new tower rises above older houses

DSC06540DSC06543DSC06549Along Flatbush Avenue, a variety of stores, including several serious fruit stands...and a building whose unrepaired condition fuels questions about what might happen there next...

DSC06566Beauty shops and especially hair stores are common on the avenue...

DSC06571DSC06582ehind Flatbush Avenue, the subway emerges from the tunnel; our station is the first outdoor station on a line that connects Coney Island to what we call "the city," meaning Manhattan. Part of a subway art project, 'Brighton Re-Leaf' brightens the station. The circus theme on the station entrance reflects the Prospect Park Zoo (which no longer has elephants) up the street.


And, best for last, at the edge of the neighborhood, we have Prospect  Park!



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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