On a (luckily) not-so-cold December day, I set out on a long walk through Brooklyn. I circumnavigated its biggest park, Prospect Park, by following the blue line I had previously drawn onto the map. It has surprised me from the beginning that neighborhoods here have such distinctive characters and demographics. While Brooklyn is an incredibly diverse borough, that diversity comes in little pockets that continue to exist in largely separate ways. I decided to walk around Prospect Park to observe the surroundings change as I made my way through the different neighborhoods and the borders between them, where they meet, mix and part again.
I took 7th Ave with Prospect Place as my starting point and headed into the neighborhood of Prospect Heights, which borders the Northern side of Prospect Park. This area is relatively quiet and residential, with beautiful tree-lined streets and brownstone houses that are so typical for Brooklyn. I passed by local Deli’s, children’s playgrounds, elementary schools and young couples with strollers. I also entered a small coffee shop called ‘Café Eloise’, which turned out to be a place where they encourage people to bring their dogs inside. All the pet-owners inside clearly knew each other and they invited me to contribute to their community puzzle. One of them accompanied me a few blocks further down the street, to show me the beautifully painted Haitian houses that he was proud to call his home.
When I reached the crossing of Prospect Park with Franklin Ave, I took a turn to the right and started heading down through Crown Heights, now moving along the upper right side of the Park. Franklin Ave is full of trendy coffee places, restaurants and small boutiques. As I’ve been explained, this is one of the most gentrified parts of Crown Heights. I entered another coffee shop here, the Breukelen Coffee House, where I took photos of some customers and Nyasia, the barista. As she grinded beans, she greeted regular visitors and prepared them their coffee.
Further along and back out on the streets, I started to smell spices in the air. Following a strong scent of cinnamon, I found an old spice factory. As I took photos, a woman came up to me and asked what I was doing. I asked her about the smells and she said that ‘probably this is the best-smelling part of NYC’ – I couldn’t agree more! She told me she is originally from Barbados, but that she has been living in the City for over twenty years now. She works as a home nurse and care taker, and was just now on her way to meet her daughter and two-year-old grandson. We walked further down Franklin Ave together, until I stumbled upon a Christmas tree-stand. Here I met Tristan, a cheerful and smiley guy with long blond dreadlocks underneath a red Santa hat. he came all the way from Montreal with his best friend to take this seasonal job as a Christmas tree seller.
Heading further down along the Eastern side of Prospect Park, you come through Prospect Lefferts Gardens and eventually Flatbush. This is probably my personal favorite of all the Brooklyn neighborhoods I have gotten to know so far. It is home to many members of the West Indies community in New York City. The energy here is vibrant, the people are warm and welcoming, the shops are colorful and the food is simply fantastic. Every so often, reggae music comes blasting from big speakers put up front of local stores, accompanied by the smell of jerk chicken or freshly baked Jamaican coconut rolls. I went inside one of my favorite Jamaican bakeries to buy some sweet potato pie and I took a picture of Tracy. She is one of the cousins that run this family-owned business, a most warm-hearted woman that insisted on introducing me to the other customers in the shop.
Prospect Park South
After passing by the King’s Theater in Flatbush, I took a right turn onto Beverly Road and made my way into Prospect Park South. This area forms a large contrast to the previous ones, because the houses here suddenly turn into massive mansions. Similar to castles, some of them have towers, pillars and large verandas with big gardens around them. I walked through the streets admiring the architecture, but simultaneously asking myself the question: ‘who lives here?’. Or perhaps even: ‘who can afford to live here?’. There seems to be a large income gap between Flatbush and Prospect Park South, and that economic disparity is reflected demographically. While in Flatbush, inhabitants are predominantly black, this part of Brooklyn is a lot more white.
My visit to the Southern side of Prospect Park took an unexpected turn when I came by a restaurant called ‘Madina’ at the crossing of Beverly Road with Coney Island Ave. Hungry from all the walking, I ordered mango chicken curry with rice and ate it quickly. Malik, the man who I photographed behind the counter of the restaurant, looked at me in surprise and asked: ‘is this food not too spicy for you’?, which made me laugh and shake my head. Malik is from Pakistan and works as a cook together with colleagues that are from India and Bangladesh. They cater to the South-Asian communities that live in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Kensington, further down south from Prospect Park South.
A street View in Windsor TerraceI took another turn to the right at Ocean Parkway to continue my circumnavigation of Prospect Park and started heading back up along Prospect Ave. Windsor Terrace, the neighborhood at the lower West side of the park, appears to me to be one of the strangest and most intricate neighborhoods of Brooklyn. This is the only area of NYC where I have seen so many American flags! Gardens, porches, flower pots and gates are decorated with them or painted in white/red/blue, and more than a few doors display signs warning of surveillance camera or dogs that will bite if you trespass private property.
The highlight of this part of the walk was meeting Sabina. This older woman was born and raised in Korea, she then moved to Germany with her husband for eleven years, before resettling in New York City. She has now been here for over thirty years, working at first as an employee at a German Delicatessen store, which she eventually took over entirely. She tells me that Germans from all across the city come to her store in Windsor Terrace for some hard-to-find delicacies. This is what she loves most about New York: you can eat your heart out, as Bratwurst is found right next to Korean Barbeque. Sabina has been in Windsor Terrace for so long that she knows everybody in the surroundings. When a schoolkid came in to her store to buy some candy, she pointed at him and said: ‘I’ve seen him grow since he was still in his mother’s stomach’.
When I reached the crossing of Prospect Ave with 7th Ave, I made my final turn to the right and entered the neighborhood of Park Slope. Coming through the Southern part, I passed by some very colorful houses and a few of the many churches that can be found in Park Slope. I also found a shop that dedicated itself to cooking and selling different kinds of soup. Park Slope has gone up in terms of housing prices and general living costs. While the area used to have a large Latin community, the gentrification has caused them to move further down to Sunset Park while newly successful (mostly white) thirty-somethings have moved into Park Slope’s brownstones to settle down.
Going for dinner at Mr Falafel on 7th Ave, I met Tamer. Originally from Egypt, he came here a few years ago to start a new life in America. He prepares falafel sandwiches with much love, and proudly told me that the mayor of New York City used to come with his family to Mr. Falafel when they still lived in Park Slope. He disappeared into the back of the restaurant, only to come back after twenty minutes with a glowing face and a dusty group photo of the restaurant team and Bill de Blasio with his wife and children.
Evening had already fallen when I completed the loop around Prospect Park back at my starting point at 7th Ave with Flatbush Ave. The walk had been long, but full of inspiring interactions with people I am very glad to have met. Walking through all of these neighborhoods made Brooklyn’s diversity really stand out, and allowed me to connect faces to places that would otherwise only exist anonymously on the map. So stay tuned for more walks around Brooklyn and other boroughs of New York City!
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