Excuse Me, New York City, Where Do I Live?

New Yorkers have this thing about their neighborhoods; they're like brandnames. "Ooooh, Chelsea, nice," is only a degree or two away in the socio-economic psychology of a New Yorker from "Ooooh, Michael Kors, nice." Real Estate agents toy with this psychological tic by doing stuff like advertising apartments in "East Williamsburg" which is a location as fictional as Tatooine - it's just Bushwick.

Since I've been living in Brooklyn - on Skillman Street between DeKalb and Willoughby - I've been in a bit of a geographical phantom zone. Is it Bed-Stuy or is it Clinton Hill? Fort Greene might make a bid too. And those Williamsburg borders, ever extending, why not "Southwest Williamsburg"?

For the first couple weeks of my Brooklyn life, when asked, I went straight for "Bed-Stuy." After a couple dozen icy side-glances from my then girlfriend (who suspected, not incorrectly, that my desire for Bed-Stuy status was linked to the rapper/arts contributions of the neighborhood) I refined my response to "the Bed-Stuy-Clinton-Hill border." Since then, with the girlfriend out of the picture, my line has leaned back into "Bed-Stuy on the border with Clinton Hill," and I think that's the response my roomates use as well. But if I'm going to buy this E-Bay Radio Raheem "Bed-Stuy Do Or Die" t-shirt straight out Spike Lee's classic flick, I better be certain about my borders. So I did some research.

Until 1930, when Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights merged to form "Bedford-Stuyvesant," our street seems to have been in Stuyvesant Heights territory. The Wikipedia entry for Stuyvesant Heights reads, "Recently the area was again referred separately as just Stuyvesant Heights."

Indeed, the new Kick subway map labels the area as "Stuyvesant Heights" and encompasses the Bedford-Nostrand subway stop (our closest train) and everything around it, including our street. I don't know where else the Stuyvesant Heights name is being used (Rapid NYC real estate?), if anywhere, but maybe it's an "East Williamsburg"-like balm for the McLaren stroller crowd queasy about living in "Bed-Stuy". However the Stuyvesant Heights Wiki entry lists as zip codes for the hood "11213, 11221, and 11233." So it doesn't include our zip code, 11205. Odd.

Further complicating the Stuyvesant Heights scenario is this entry for the neighborhood in the 1939 "WPA Guide to New York City":

"Stuyvesant Heights, a flat region of brownstone fronts and two-story homes lying east of Nostrand Avenue between Fulton Street and Broadway, contains the city's second largest Negro population. A few imposing church structures, the homes of some old families, and St. John's University are all that remain of a once prosperous middle-class neighborhood. The poorer Negroes, many of them on relief, are largely concentrated in such business and shopping centers as Gates and Sumner Avenues, Fulton and Jefferson Streets, Flushing, Lexington, and Myrtle Avenues--districts which for poverty and squalor are as bad as the worst areas of Harlem."

This would leave us outside Stuyvesant Heights as we are about four blocks west of Nostrand Ave.

The Wikipedia entry for Bedford-Stuyvesant defines the region's borders as, "Flushing Avenue to the north (bordering Williamsburg), Classon Avenue to the west (bordering Clinton Hill), Broadway and Saratoga Avenue to the east (bordering Bushwick) and Atlantic Avenue to the south (bordering Crown Heights)."

The entry cites the New York City Department of City Planning, and the Brooklyn Community Board as its sources for the boundaries. That definition leaves our Skillman Street inside the Bed-Stuy borders; we are four blocks east of Classon Ave and four blocks south of Flushing Ave. Notably, the western-most border of Bed-Stuy, in that definition, leaves Pratt outside the Bed-Stuy limits - Pratt's campus starts at Classon and extends west. But doesn't Clinton Hill sound so much better on the brochure for the $30,000/year college? It makes you think of the nineties, Bill Clinton, the internet... rather than "Bring your paint set to Pratt: Bed-Stuy do or die, white boy."

So I suppose we're Bed-Stuy material. I can drop the whole "on the border with Clinton Hill" bullshit, finally. Or, at least, I can do it until the whole deal is re-relabeled "Stuyvesant Heights" for the stroller-and-small-dog crowd. Just like how they chopped up Gowanus to make space for the more cosmopolitan sounding "Boerum Hill."


Anonymous said...

so i'm laughing as i read this... i do not even know who you are (although I had friends who once lived on skillman also between dekalb and willoughby) but I could not agree more with the nomenclature dilemma of the address. My confirmation on the whole issue came to a close today when I realized my part of myrtle is indeed regulated by precint 79 officially the Bed-Stuy police squad and all these years I've been walking right by precint 88 three blocks away thinking they must be my guys. Classon ave that is the boundary.

Anthony said...

I grew in 192 Skillman St. At that time, it was indeed Bed Stuy. We played stickball in the streets until 10pm, and Ringo-lerio on the Myrtle Avenue El.
Families stayed on the "stoops" til all hours of the night. Skillman Street was a great place, and filled with life.

Just thought I'd give you something to think about :-)