If one neighborhood were chosen to exemplify Brooklyn’s and New York City’s pleasing urban qualities, Park Slope would top of the list. (After all, it was named the city’s most livable neighborhood.) Situated on the flank of magnificent Prospect Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (the same team who created Central Park), Park has been home to Brooklyn’s gentry since the 1870s.
The legacy is a series of leafy blocks filled with brownstone row houses and mansions, plus and array of churches, temples, and civic buildings like the Montauk Club, which resembles a Venetian palace. (Remember, Brooklyn was dubbed the “borough of homes and churches.”) Subtract the vehicles Park Slope easily serves to film as it has for filming of period TV shows and movies like The Age of Innocence or Boardwalk Empire.
Park Slope’s history of civic activism reflected in the movement for a historic district, the annual house tours originally established to lure new residents, and the lively (if sometimes mocked) Park Slope Food Co-op, the largest cooperative grocery in the country. Even the push for a bicycle lane provoked lawsuits and international attention.
Today, Park Slope even serves as a node of power in New York, as it’s home to Mayor Bill de Blasio and senior Senator Charles Schumer. It’s long been the spawning ground of or home to writers and actors like Pete Hamill, Paul Auster and John Tuturro. And it borders Brooklyn’s cultural center, including Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Our tour begins near the museum and garden, in fact, allowing you to visit one or both before the tour.
The tour proceeds past the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library to Grand Army Plaza, a magnificent memorial to the U.S. Civil War, then to Park Slope’s northern flank, Flatbush Avenue, a spine of Brooklyn. We’ll zigzag through the North Slope, touching on the two blocks with the most spectacular architecture, as well as Prospect Park West, the grand boulevard flanking Prospect Park.
We’ll dip into the park and learn about its origins and design, as well as the post-1970s fundraising and activism that revived and repaired a dangerous, moribund park. After that, we’ll proceed south, visiting both major shopping streets: the established Seventh Avenue, and the more recently revived Fifth Avenue. The latter has a greater variety of indie shops, and places we can stop for coffee or a snack.
On the neighborhood’s western flank, we’ll see the very mixed consequences of a rezoning: bland new taller buildings on the boulevard of Fourth Avenue, only some of which come with below-market housing. Nearby, we’ll visit the Old Stone House, a key location for the Battle of Brooklyn, the first fight for American independence from the British.
We’ll proceed into the South Slope, once a working-class bastion and home to a former clock factory and wood-frame houses, now experiencing the real estate boom that has suffused Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods in general and Park Slope in particular. By then, Park Slope’s charms–scale, greenery, accessibility, neighborhood spirit, and amenities should have come into focus.