What's it Like in Flatbush? (Part II)
Anne Pope, sound editor and founder of Sustainable Flatbush, gives us her take on her home of the past five years.
You were reluctant to be interviewed. Why?
Because I would hate to provide fodder for the black versus white, new versus old, renter versus owner arguments that occur on some of the local blogs. One of the things I like so much about this neighborhood is that there are homeowners and renters of all races and ethnicities, so you’ll find Guyanese landlords with their white tenants living downstairs, and similar situations. This gives me some hope for the neighborhood maintaining its diversity even as it gentrifies, which it has in a big way since I moved here.
When did you move to Flatbush?
I moved to this general area in 2003, I lived in the home of some friends of mine, who had a basement apartment, close to Brooklyn College, near what’s called the Junction. By then my goal was to buy an apartment somewhere in Brooklyn. I knew I was not going to be able to afford to buy in Clinton Hill [where I'd lived twice before], because it had already changed so much. If I had bought in 1986, I could have bought a place for $30,000. Although at the time I didn’t have $30,000. Funny how that works.
So I was very fortunate that when I started looking for places to buy, Brownstoner and the Cocoran Group had not yet discovered the apartments in Flatbush. I was able to get a really good deal on my apartment in 2004, and if I were to try and buy it today I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Do you want to share the price?
I don’t think so. But suffice to say that it’s somewhere between doubled and tripled in four years. Which is pretty crazy.
But it was living near the Junction that sold you on the neighborhood?
Well, a big part of it was the affordability, but also I started exploring the area a lot on my bike, and one of the things I discovered was that the part of the neighborhood where I was living is served by the 2 and 5 trains, the Brooklyn College stop, and it’s just a long time to be underground, going into Manhattan. But one of my favorite things about Brooklyn always has been the subway trains that go over the Manhattan Bridge. So I decided I wanted to live in the part of the neighborhood where I could ride the Q and B trains.
How long is the ride to Manhattan?
It’s about 25 minutes to Canal Street.
So you’re in Victorian Flatbush now. What’s the difference between it and the Greater Flatbush?
Victorian Flatbush encompasses basically from Coney Island Avenue to either Ocean or Bedford Avenue (west to east), and from Parkside or Caton Avenue down to about Avenue H (north to south).
And Flatbush as a whole just extends beyond Victorian Flatbush?
I would say to the east. The part where I lived before, to me, it’s more like East Flatbush — East of Bedford Avenue.
What specific neighborhood are you in?
I’m across the street from the Ditmas Park Historic District. But I’m not technically in it.
The names of these micro neighborhoods [originate from] developments created around the turn of the 20th century. From what I understand, Ditmas Park, Ditmas Park West, Beverley Square, Beverley Square West, Prospect Park South, South Midwood and Fiske Terrace, had different teams of developers, and were geared towards slightly different economic strata, although they were all basically for wealthy people. This had been farmland, but it was turning into a commuter place, because they were just building the subway round that time.
Then in the Marty Markowitz Flatbush era, it was heavily Jewish and middle class. And then around the time of the city’s big economic decline in the 70s, I think a lot of the Jewish population left, and different immigrant communities started to move in, mostly people from the Caribbean, but people from all over really. There’s always a dispute as to whether this area or Jackson Heights is more ethnically diverse. But it’s close.
What do you think?
I mean, it’s amazing. If I just walk around, I see a storefront mosque, a little Mexican bakery, a jerk chicken place, kosher food placesâ€¦If you look at the food places alone, there’s a pretty wide range of populations that they’re serving.
Which is important to you.
I love the diversity of the neighborhood, and I hope that that’s something that will continue. It feels strange to say that, being in some ways part of the leading edge of gentrification.
But one of the things that I love is what I said at the beginning — you have homeowners here of all ethnicities, so kind of defies that stereotype of, oh, all renters are black or Asian or Mexican, or whatever, and all the owners are white. It’s not like that at all. You see South Asian families tending their gardens, and black people fixing their roof, and white people sweeping the porch. These are all people who have roots in the neighborhood by virtue of being homeowners and then having a particular stake in what goes on.
And I like how pretty it is. Even though I can’t imagine ever owning one of these Victorian houses, they sure are nice to look at. But, strangely enough, there’s very little public land here. There are very few public parks and places, yet when you walk around the neighborhood, you’re like, wow, it’s so green. And it’s true. There are all these beautiful old trees, and people have beautiful yards and gardens, but they’re private. There aren’t really many places you can go to just spend the afternoon with your friends, outdoors, without going to Prospect Park.
And how far is that from you?
Maybe a mile and a half. It’s not a casual tumble out the door. Even on a bike it takes me ten minutes or so to get there. But that’s something we wanted to draw attention to by doing Park(ing) Day. I think it really gives some visibility to the fact that we don’t have enough [public] places like that here.
Are there any other drawbacks aside from the lack of public spaces?
Well, for the most part, Victorian Flatbush shuts down pretty early, and that can be a pain. Like when I get off the subway after midnight there’s one little mini mart in the subway station that stays open late, bless their hearts. When I lived by the Junction, there was a lot more open at night. There’s starting to be a kind of restaurant and bar scene happening up on Cortelyou Road, and for me that doesn’t feel so far, because I ride a bicycle. I can be up there in five minutes, if some friends of mine want to meet there for a drink.
Do you ever feel unsafe?
I’ve never had any problems. But I don’t really let my guard down. I guess that’s because I lived through the 80s in New York City.
What has changed since you’ve lived there?
Well, when I moved into my building, I was one of the very few white people living here. And I used to be able to predict with certainty who would get off the subway at Seventh Avenue, and not continue past Park Slope. I find I can’t make that prediction with any accuracy any more. It’s more “professional people”, of all races, and mostly younger, who can pay the higher housing prices.
I think a lot of people who used to live maybe in Park Slope, Fort Greene, or Carroll Gardens, and were renting, found that they couldn’t afford to buy there, but wanted to buy a place big enough to have a family, and found themselves here. I can’t even tell you how many babies there are in my building now. Probably at least five so far this year, and more coming. It’s like, whoa, baby boom right here.
Do you fear Victorian Flatbush will become another Park Slope?
I hope not. I think if the real estate market had continued to grow and grow and grow, it probably would have been inevitable. But if we’re able to maintain some of the affordable housing that’s here, then hopefully that won’t price a lot of people out.