Because everyone we know is constantly arguing about the best places to live in Brooklyn (not really), we thought we’d come up with a mathematically foolproof system to rank the borough’s neighborhoods. And so we did: we devised seven livability categories and graded each out of 10. Here’s how it all added up.
Photo David Brandon Geeting
The nice thing about Gowanus is that it has remained zoned industrial, which allowed a lot of artists to move in and build studios and provoke the cozy, divey bars—like Canal Bar and Lowlands—to service them. There’s also this part of Brooklyn’s best rock venues, the Bell House and the Rock Shop, plus the Brooklyn Lyceum with its adventurous theater programming. But especially at night it’s grim as hell on many blocks, with the many giant faceless warehouses, plus little but that stinking canal to call outdoor space. And though Littleneck is wowing patrons with its seafood, not much else in the way of notable cuisine has opened up. It’s reachable by the R train—whoop-de-doo.
Above Build it Green by Joe Hume
Brooklyn 20: Build It Green Makes it Big in Gowanus
Man, Dumbo’s got a heck of a lot of culture: St. Ann’s Warehouse, all the art studios on Front and Jay streets, plus powerHouse Arena (and used books at PS and sci-fi at Singularity & Co.) And there are all the media and publishing companies (like ours!) bringing smart young people into the neighborhood every day by the F, A and C trains, not to mention the ferry. And the neighborhood has those old Belgian-bocked streets with elegant, retrofitted brick warehouses, the towers of the Manhattan Bridge (and that jaw-dropping sightline on Washington and Front) and Brooklyn Bridge Park along the waterfront. The few bars aren’t bad, though there’s not a hell of a whole lot to eat (especially for lunch), but the real problem is that the average monthly rent is $16 million.
Photo Manhattan Bridge in 1974 (Danny Lyon’s DOCUMERICA series)
The Creatives of the Navy Yard
Windsor Terrace suffers from being “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Residents are known to explain where it is by saying, “Well, you know Park Slope? It’s next to that.” But, despite this neighborhood inferiority complex, the Windy T is actually one of Brooklyn’s better kept secrets. It’s got Prospect Park, Green-Wood Ceme- tery, and some of the greenest blocks in the borough. The architecture is a little uneven, with everything from graceful limestone townhouses to vinyl-sided banalities. And the part of Windsor Terrace that borders Park Slope has more in the way of restaurants and bars than the part that borders Kensington, but you can get a really great burger in the well-named, mid-Terrace stalwart Rhythm ‘n’ Booze. The neighborhood has added many amenities in the last decade while still maintaining a semblance of its working-class character, which isn’t something you can say about many other places in Brooklyn. It might be better to keep this ‘hood a secret, so that prices stay down, people stay out, and no one knows what an amazing thing residents have going here.
Above Green-Wood Cemetery by Grant Willing
We’ll put the lack of mass transit options in the demerit column, because it must be a pain to live there, waiting for a B61 on a cold February evening. But its off-the-beaten-path feel is also why we love to visit—the way certain blocks still seem like snapshots of Brooklyn the way it looked decades ago. Plus, the bar scene is among the borough’s best: bar-for-bar there may be better neighborhoods (maybe!), but every time we visit it’s like being welcomed into a close-knit community that’s friendly and fun, from Sunny’s to Hope and Anchor. Plus there’s Coffey Park, the sizeable ballfields, the vendors who set up there in the summer, the seafood, the key lime pies, the Fairway, the Ikea, and more. We wish the housing stock weren’t so limited and demand so high so that we could afford to live there—and bitch about the dearth of mass transit options!
Still House Group: A Brooklyn Collective Shaking Up the Art World
We don’t know if you’ve heard the word on the street, but Bushwick is pretty “cool” with “young people” these days, and for good reason: the apartments are big, the rents are still cheap-ish, and its already well-known food scene—including Clinton family-favorite Roberta’s, Northeast Kingdom, and Arancini Bros., just to name a few—is getting bigger by the day. With artist studios and bars equally abundant, it’s no huge surprise that the neighborhood has been getting so much attention lately. It may be a little far out on the line, but it benefits from proximity to both the L and the J/M/Z, and easy bus (and very easy bike) access to Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene. The greenspace leaves a lot to be desired, though, with little but the relatively small Maria Hernandez Park. It can also be a little too sprawling if you don’t happen to live right off the Morgan and Jefferson stops, but if the industrial vibe is a “pro” and not a “con” for you, there’s really no downside here.
Above Witches at Tandem Bar by Alli Coates
Bushwickens at Tandem Bar
The Jewelry of Laura Wass: As Easy As WXYZ
The Circus Kids
Brooklyn Heights has two things going for it: the panoramic Promenade and the beautiful old homes. These are no minor virtues, and the access to multiple subway lines, from the R to the 2/3, is a nice bonus. But c’mon: the restaurants aren’t among the borough’s best, the bars are relatively scant, there’s not a whole lot of art, and it’s as expensive as fuck. Plus, residents whine about everything, whether it’s a hot dog cart on Montague Street or a $40 million sports complex. Bonus points for the Brooklyn Heights Cinema—points that will be taken away when it closes this fall/winter.
Above Brooklyn Heights resident Audrey Gelman
At Home with Audrey Gelman
At Home with Jemima Kirke
When Ditmas Park was developed in the early 20th century, the idea was that no two houses would be the same. And so you have this astounding supply of large Victorian mansions, each unique, sharing space with other styles like Swiss chalets. Plus, relative to the rest of the overpriced borough, you get a lot more for your buck down here. Prospect Park is within walking distance, which is a great perk, and there are a few great restaurants and bars, if only a few. It’s more like small-town than big-city living, but that’s its charm—sometimes you don’t want to be right in the middle of everything, but be able to visit (via the Q train, which feels like one of the city’s most reliable lines) and then retreat.
Photo Shane Lee Lyons
Bird's Nest: At Home With Jen Mankins
Oh, Williamsburg. High rises were built and yuppies moved in, pushing the artists east, the natives out, and overcrowding an already overcrowded L train. But you know what? You’re still the go-to neighborhood for interesting people trying to do interesting things, whether it’s open a vegan fast food joint, a free trade coffee roaster, or an art studio for building bicycles. So, we still respect you for that. It’s just that you could use some more parks, maybe? (Sorry you keep getting screwed when it comes to opening up the waterfront.) And also, your architecture sucks.
Above “Queen of Williamsburg” Leonora Russo
The Fashionable Bystander: Leonora Russo
Northside Style Diary: Devon Banks
Williamsburg Fashion Weekend S/S 2013 Lookbook
It would be disingenuous to continue describing Greenpoint as Williamsburg’s idyllic, under-the-radar northern neighbor. And though it might be painful for those of us who live there, the (still) staunchly Polish riverside locale, perpetually energized by the bustling old Brooklyn vibe of Manhattan Avenue, is fast becoming the prime destination for starry-eyed interlopers in search of the mythical new Brooklyn. But that’s what happens when you have a blossoming bar and restaurant scene (and some great boutiques) interlaced through quiet, leafy streets. BONUS POINTS: lots of blintzes, and the impending rebirth of the Newtown Creek.
Home Away from Home with Dirty Projectors
The band takes us into their Greenpoint studio "The End."
At Home with Sofia Takal
Yeah, yeah, we get that Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill have their distinctive characters, but so do Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park—and they’re all still just Midwood to us! So, South Brooklyn: easily reached by the F train, with extended G service now, too, connecting residents to all points between Greenpoint and Kensington. What’s really lacking here is outdoor space: aside from the modestly sized Carroll Park, there ain’t much of it. But the area makes up for that with the food-and-drink scene on Smith Street, one of the borough’s best. There’s also one of our favorite local movie theaters, Cobble Hill Cinema, and BookCourt, with its first-rate bookings. Boerum Hill also has Roulette, one of the most adventurous classical venues in the city. Plus, there’s the historic housing stock in Cobble Hill, and the old brownstones with their spacious front gardens—thus the name—in Carroll Gardens.
Above Verde on Smith
Verde on Smith
Ever just hop off the Q train at Seventh Avenue? It’s so charming over there! That’s, duh, because you’re in Prospect Heights, whose biggest claim to fame is its abundance of cultural mega-institutions: the Brooklyn Museum and the Central Library are here, and arguably the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, too. (Though some of us would put it in Crown Heights.) And that’s not all! There are also the bars and restaurants rapidly taking over Washington Avenue, like the Bearded Lady and the Way Station (which is a nerd Mecca with its Tardis toilet), not to mention the access to Prospect Park and its tiny cousin Mount Prospect Park. We also admire the nice townhouses that have survived on certain streets.
Above Brooklyn Museum
Jenny Slate at Brooklyn Museum
The Sunburnt Calf
Brooklyn Museum Gala
It’s easy to make fun of Park Slope—its yuppies, its strollers, its PC liberalism—but it’s just as easy to adore it: the access to Prospect Park, one of the loveliest urban oases in the world; the copious bars and restaurants on Fifth and Seventh avenues; the access to the D, R, F, N, Q, 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines (depending where in the ‘hood you are; bus service is pretty strong throughout, too). With the opening of the Barclays Center, there’ll be both a new concert venue for A-listers like Leonard Cohen (and perhaps an excess of besotted hoops fans trying to find parking). Then there are the lovely brownstones, particularly on the north and east ends. But who could afford to live in one of them? This ain’t like it was for Obama in the 80s. Your best bet is to move farther south, to the other side of the Prospect Expressway (which oldtimers might still call part of Sunset Park), far from the arena. Even down there, the bar scene is thriving.
Photo Harlan Erskine
Parkslope at Night
Fort Greene/Clinton Hill
Fort Greene just about has it all: two subway lines (though, granted, not the best); the large and leafy Fort Greene Park; the BAM Cultural District, Greenlight bookstore, and institutions like MoCADA; a thriving restaurant and bar scene; and the borough’s stateliest brownstones. (Bored to Death used to shoot there because it looks more like Park Slope than Park Slope.) The only problem is that with such a preponderance of amenities, it’s pretty pricey. So your only option really is to move to its slightly more affordable neighbor Clinton Hill and just live within walking distance to all that the neighborhood has to offer. Plus, Clinton Hill has its share of bars and restaurants and things, too!
Photo Nina Mouritzen
280 Washington: The Notorious BnB
Alek Wek: One of the Beautiful People
The New Hotness or the Old Crankiness?: Bay Ridge
The Ridge is a neighborhood defined by age: its parks, politicians, restaurants, bars and homeowners tend to be old and settled in their ways. But you’re starting to see signs of youth and vigor: a wine bar started by artists, a new taco joint, a fresh-faced Democratic challenger to the old guard Republican state senator. We enjoy the new energy and hope to see it continue to spread.
Gentrifying Hard or Hardly Gentrifying?: Prospect Lefferts Gardens
White people have been moving to this long-time African-American neighborhood for years to take advantage of the spacious and affordable pre-war housing stock and the access to Prospect Park. But it still feels like a diverse community when you visit: most signs of gentrification—the bars and cafes and organic grocers—have been confined to a single block around the Prospect Park subway entrance, while Flatbush Avenue has retained its hair salons and Caribbean eateries.
Most Radical Recent Transformation: Crown Heights
When we told our friend who moved from the Soviet Union to Crown Heights in the 1990s that we were going to a literary reading on St. John’s Place, she told us we were crazy. And when she came with us, she couldn’t believe that places like Dutch Boy and Franklin Park existed. And the neighborhood hasn’t just changed in the last few decades: it seems like every day some new trendy shop opens on Franklin Avenue. We can barely keep up.
Where Hipsters and Immigrants Can Coexist: Sunset Park
Last time we walked around Sunset Park, we passed the 45th Street subway entrance and saw a couple of strikingly crazy-hipster-looking people getting out. Not that they were pioneers: artist-types have been moving down here for years, attracted to the space and low rents. All the Chicken Littles predicting gentrification doomsday have been proven wrong year after year. We don’t know, maybe it’ll still happen, but for now there’s still a long-standing peaceful working-class coexistence with the Chinese and Latino populations.
Best Brooklyn ‘Hood to Own a Boat You Can Anchor to the Dock Attached to Your House: Mill Basin
Our goal in life, from when we were very young, was to be able to walk down our back stairs to our private dock and get in our boat. That is why someday, mark our words, WE WILL LIVE IN MILL BASIN.