Sunday, March 13, 2011

Park Slope, 1978: "The Myth of Neighborhood" and the fear of blight (and some appearances by the "Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn" author)

I wrote recently about Suleiman Osman, author of The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York. He will appear at the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene on March 14, the Museum of the City of New York March 15 (discount admission of $6 if you mention this blog and reserve at 917-492-3395 or programs@mcny.org), Community Bookstore in Park Slope on April 6 (I will moderate), and the Brooklyn Historical Society on April 30.

And then I found the article referenced below.


Park Slope-raised (and Queens-residing) Daily News columnist Denis Hamill may do some lazy work these days (as with his softball interview of Bruce Ratner), but he used to be a superb street reporter, and this 2/13/78 article in New York Magazine, Park Slope: The Myth of Neighborhood, paints a chilling portrait of a very divided district:
Park Slope has luxury homes, slums, commercial strips, heroin supermarkets, working-class enclaves, ethnic hamlets and pockets of successful--and unsuccessful--integration. There is safety, as there is serious crime, struggle for urban survival, and pure apathy.
Hamill describes a series of dividing lines, with an affluent section along Seventh Avenue from Flatbush Avenue to Third Street, a working-class zone to Ninth Street, and below that "mostly a slum." There's an Italian zone, and a Puerto Rican one.

And while some in the more affluent section had raised their voices for civic betterment, Hamill observed that "there have been no great turnouts to protest the destruction of other parts of Park Slope.

Hamill was wrong in predicting that the scourge of abandonment and blight--starting just west of Garfield Place and Seventh Avenue--would move east toward Prospect Park, rather than be subsumed by gentrification, but it's notable that such was a credible prediction.

Things changed in a decade or so, and now, of course, even Fifth Avenue--once full of boarded-up stores--has gentrified.

So the corner of Fifth Avenue and Second Street, once "a bustling heroin bargain basement," is now home to a Thai restaurant named Song.

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