How Healthy Is Your Brooklyn Neighborhood? 

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We’ve always had a rather complicated relationship with health and wellness, probably because so much of it involves personal responsibility and making difficult decisions that mean abstaining from things that we really, really like to do, even though we know that they’re really, really bad for us. So we thought that instead of internalizing health and wellness, we’d abdicate our own contributions to our well-being and externalize the whole thing by ignoring how healthy we are individually and instead check in on how healthy our surroundings are. After all, what’s the point of declining that third bourbon when you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t even have a park for you to run in if you actually decided to be healthy one day? All we’re saying is—just like people—not all neighborhoods are created equally when it comes to health and wellness. Take a look at just how healthy your neighborhood is and then feel good about the fact that you can blame your bad habits on something other than your own poor decision-making. Blame it on Bushwick. Always blame it on Bushwick.


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Photos by Eric Carden

Park Slope Score: 43/50


Available Green Space: 9

Dude, Prospect Park! The borough’s premier park, 585 acres whose western side starts at the neighborhood’s northern edge and extends all the way to its southern border. If you live at the bottom of the slope, it can be a trudge to walk up there, but, hey, it’s healthy to walk uphill!


Fresh Air: 8

Aside from all that greenspace, most of Park Slope is lucky to be uphill from Brooklyn’s favorite Superfund site, the Gowanus Canal, and away from most highways, except for the Prospect Expressway on its southern edge. As long as you don’t live on the north sides of 17th Street or Prospect Avenue, you should be ok.


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Bicycling Infrastructure: 8

Presently, the southernmost Citi Bike station in Brooklyn is near the Atlantic Terminal, which means it’s inaccessible to most Park Slope residents—but at least it’s within walking distance, unlike in many neighborhoods farther south. But, hey, the neighborhood has what you want when it comes to bike lanes: plenty of east-west access as well as north-south, providing intercommunity access as well as that to other hoods, including the protected lane on Prospect Park West, controversial, maybe, sort of (if you’re a grouchy rich person!), but which feels safe-as-hell when you’re, you know, on a bicycle or a pedestrian or someone who prefers not to be hit by speeding cars.


Gyms: 9

There are two YMCAs less than a 10-minute walk away from each other, so you tell us? Not to mention all the other chain-gyms. Plus, there’s that Prospect Park loop for people who like to run for free outside.


Healthy Food Availability: 9

The Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market is the borough’s biggest, our Union Square. Then there’s the Food Coop, a Brooklyn punchline but still an efficient and enviable way to get groceries. This is in addition to all the supermarkets in the area, which offer fresh produce. Curiously, Park Slope lacks independent green grocers—maybe because with so many other options, its residents don’t need them.


Summary: When the bike-share program expands down here, the neighborhood won’t fall short in any of our categories. It’s a health-conscious Brooklynite’s dream.


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Brooklyn Heights/DUMBO Score: 42/50


Available Green Space: 8

Sure, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO don’t have the massive, 500+ acres of Prospect Park at hand, but who needs that when residents benefit from the recently revamped Brooklyn Bridge Park in all its waterfront glory? Add to that the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn Heights and you’ve got an area of Brooklyn that doesn’t want for verdant beauty.


Fresh Air: 7

Although both Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO benefit from waterfront access, even the wealthiest of the borough’s neighborhoods are impacted by the legacy of Robert Moses. The beautiful Brooklyn Heights promenade might be a great place for a stroll, with unparalleled views of downtown Manhattan, but it also hovers over the BQE and the noxious fumes of the cars and trucks below. And the streets of DUMBO are unfortunately circumscribed by exit and entry ramps to the bridges, making it an easily walkable area only if you make it down to the waterfront.


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Bicycling Infrastructure: 9

Here’s where these neighborhoods really come out on top. Not only do they benefit from many and clearly marked bike lanes, but they’re also replete with Citi Bike docking stations. An added bonus for residents who need to commute into Manhattan is the easy access to both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.


Gyms: 10

What do you need? Yoga classes? Ballet barre workouts? Maybe a visit to a world-renowned boxing gym? Whether you want to do downward dog or wind up face up on the mat at Gleason’s, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO have got you covered. No worries, you’ll break a sweat.


Healthy Food Availability: 8

There’s plenty of healthy food to be had here, from beloved Brooklyn Heights store Perelandra Natural Foods to DUMBO’s Foragers (where we have spent way, WAY too much money on things like chia seed oatmeal). But like a lot of things in these neighborhoods, it’s going to cost you. A cheaper, healthy eating alternative is DUMBO’s Peas & Pickles, which stocks a wide variety of more reasonably priced vegetarian and vegan options.


Summary: No surprise here that Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO have almost everything the health-conscious Brooklynite could crave. The main problem is, it all comes at a price... especially those freshly made juices at Foragers.


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Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Score: 40/50


Available Green Space: 8

Fort Greene Park might not get touted as much as Prospect Park—or even McCarren—but for those in the know, it’s one of the best places in the borough to get in a game of tennis or some pick-up basketball. And while it might not be great for long runs, it’s not so bad for hill sprints. What? Aren’t those part of your workout?


Fresh Air: 7

While not waterfront adjacent, both Fort Greene and Clinton Hill benefit from being old enough that the streets are lined with trees, giving more than just a hint of nature in such an urban setting. But while neither neighborhood is all that close to highway traffic, the nearby presence of both Flatbush and Atlantic avenues mean that heavy car traffic is not far away.


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Bicycling Infrastructure: 8

Both neighborhoods are very bike-friendly, with abundant bike lanes and easy commutes to both Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn. And both ‘hoods are furnished with Citi Bike docking stations, with more to come in Clinton Hill.


Gyms: 8

You’ve got a pretty healthy mix of workout options here, from Crunch gyms to well-priced yoga and Pilates studios. And again, consider doing hill sprints in the park. Those things will murder your hamstrings

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Healthy Food Availability: 9

You want options? You’ve got options. Lots and lots of options. From the gem of a store Green Planet in Clinton Hill to Fort Greene’s well-stocked Fresh Garden, you won’t have a hard time with healthy eating.


Summary: Fort Greene and Clinton Hill benefit from having a beautiful park, lots of health food options, and solid bicycling infrastructure. If only there were waterfront access and a little more distance from Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues! Then this neighborhood would be perfect.


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Carroll Gardens/Gowanus Score: 38/50


Available Green Space: 6

There isn’t much in the way of big parks in either of these neighborhoods, though we suppose that the water of the Gowanus Canal is green enough that it qualifies as green space? These neighborhoods are dotted with smaller parks and community gardens galore, but we wish there were more unfettered access to green space that didn’t double as a Superfund site.


Fresh Air: 5

Right, so, Superfund site. Gowanus is obviously a somewhat compromised “fresh air” neighborhood because of that, even though, we must admit, we think the tranquility of the canal is a beautiful thing to behold, and we like walking in the neighborhood very much. Neighboring Carroll Gardens fares better, but is still troubled by the proximity of the BQE and car traffic for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Sorry! Hugh Carey Tunnel. That will take a while to get used to.


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Bicycling Infrastructure: 9

Bike lanes galore and flat terrain make it a real pleasure to get around these neighborhoods on two wheels. Once Citi Bike introduces docking stations to the area? It’ll score a perfect 10.


Gyms: 8

Many of our favorite yoga classes (cheap and, um, otherwise) are right here in Carroll Gardens/Gowanus. But even better than yoga? Gowanus is also home to Brooklyn Boulders, which is easily our favorite place in the borough to get harnessed up and burn some calories.


Healthy Food Availability: 10

With the recent addition of the Whole Foods on Third Avenue, this area has become a Mecca for health conscious foodies with money to burn. Beyond that, both ‘hoods are home to myriad farmer’s markets and smaller shops that cater to the thoughtful eater.


Summary: Sure, there aren’t big parks or Citi Bike stations, but it’s easy enough to stay fit and healthy in these neighborhoods. Try tackling the big, bad rock wall at Brooklyn Boulders or kayaking down the Gowanus if you want a neighborhood-specific fitness adventure.


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Bay Ridge Score: 38/50


Available Green Space: 9

From Owl's Head to Cannonball Park by the Verrazano Bridge, the neighborhood has 90 almost-uninterrupted acres of waterfront parkland, rife with majestic harborviews and tree-shrouded trails. While this is ample parkland, if you live on the eastern edges of the neighborhood, it's less easily accessed, and there's not much more green space to explore.


Fresh Air: 6

While it has the waterfront access people crave, unfortunately all of the area's harbor-adjacent parkland is also adjacent to parkway. Thanks, Robert Moses, for that redundant road and air pollution! The neighborhood in fact is ringed by highways, giving it its curious guitar-pick shape, but they're avoidable by traveling away from the edges and toward its prettiest suburban residential streets.


Bicycling Infrastructure: 5

The city's bike-share program has spread out to where the tourists and gentrifiers live, but the residents of our farther-flung neighborhoods could use easy access to quick-loan bipedals just as badly—if not more so! Colonial and Shore roads aren't heavily trafficked, which makes their bike lanes ideal for north-south trips, but they're more scenic than practical. What Bay Ridge needs are lanes going east-west, so that people can safely enter and exit. Residents have their own ideas for where those lanes should go, but so does the DOT, which has resulted in a years-long standstill.


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Gyms: 8

Does Bay Ridge got gyms? C'mon, brah. It's got gyms like it's got tanning salons. (No, but seriously, there are a bunch.) It also has several miles of uninterrupted waterfront bike and jogging paths, which make it an ideal place to exercise outside for free.


Healthy Food Availability: 7

The renovated top-floor of the Foodtown has become the neighborhood go-to for the health-conscious with its abundance of organic and veg-friendly offerings. Also, a neighborhood that just a few years ago was crying about having too few supermarkets now seems to have a glut, all of which offer fresh produce, complementing the many green markets and the growing-but-still-storefrontless local food coop. There's a farmer's market on Saturdays (June to November) and health food stores like the old-fashioned Appletree, with its narrow aisles and wooden shelves stacked with vitamin supplements.


Summary: It's not the hippest neighborhood in Brooklyn, but, aside from its lack of bicycling infrastructure and overreliance on automobiles, it still has access to many of the amenities the health-conscious crave.


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Williamsburg Score: 36/50


Available Green Space: 8

Say what you will about waterfront development in the area, but the parks along the river are lovely. Coupled with McCarren Park, the neighborhood is one of the best in North Brooklyn when it comes to public green spaces.


Fresh Air: 6

This varies depending on how close you are to the BQE or the elevated J train, but proximity to the water and a large park go a long way toward clearing things up.


Bicycling Infrastructure: 6

Another neighborhood with multiple bike stores and a generally bike-friendly vibe with relatively little infrastructure—many of the main roads don’t have bike lanes, and the pushback against lanes from the Hasidic community has made headlines several times over the past few years. The area gets extra points for Citi Bike docking stations.


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Gyms: 7

They’re not cheap, but Williamsburg now has multiple gyms (like Chalk and Retro Fitness) as well as endless boutique studios and classes, including Brooklyn BodyBurn, Brooklyn Crew, Syncstudio, and the new SoulCycle location. If you have the inclination and the money, it’s an ideal setup.


Healthy Food availability: 9

It’s hard to turn a corner here without running into some kind of health food store, or at the very least a deli that’ll sell fresh, organic produce and kombucha. The area’s also serviced by multiple CSAs, making it one of the easiest places in the borough to find quality groceries.


Summary: It could stand a few more bike lanes and a lot less noise and pollution from the BQE, but otherwise, there’s just about every health amenity money can buy.


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Red Hook Score: 36/50


Available Green Space: 7

Red Hook, at least east of Dwight, is mostly two things: public housing and parks. From Court to Columbia, Bush to Bryant, there’s quite a bit of open space, including a swimming pool and soccer fields. There’s also the charming Coffey Park in the middle of the small neighborhood, and the new waterfront parks (by Ikea) and pier (in the southwest corner) developed in recent years.


Fresh Air: 7

Red Hook’s northern boundary is the Gowanus Expressway, another Moses monstrosity that cut off the neighborhood from the rest of the borough and its once contiguous communities. Other than that, though, the rest of Red Hook’s boundaries are natural; it’s a waterfront community, and though most of it’s still relegated to commerce and industry as in eras past, more of it’s starting to open up, too.


Bicycling Infrastructure: 6

If ever a neighborhood needed bike sharing, it’s this one, cut off from the subway access most New Yorkers take for granted. That it hasn’t gotten it yet is ridiculous! There are bike lanes to get you just inside of Red Hook, though they don’t extend deep into the neighborhood. That’s ok, though: as long as you avoid the heavily Fairway trafficked roads, Red Hook’s streets are often pretty deserted, making them better for bicycling. Unfortunately, though, many of these can be Belgian-blocked, which makes them, ahem, a pain in the butt.


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Gyms: 7

Aside from housing the popular Red Hook Pool in summer, the parks department’s Red Hook Recreation Center is also home to athletic fields, a gym, a fitness room, a cardio room, a basketball court, even community resources like computers. A yoga and pilates studio just opened on Van Brunt Street (took ya long enough), plus the end of Columbia Street is the longest block in New York City; linking to the ball fields and Ikea park, it boasts great views of the Gowanus Inlet, Sunset Park and the harbor—it’s pretty much the perfect scenic jogging track.


Healthy Food Availability: 9

Fairway. Need we say more? Well, there’s also a working farm that supplies its own CSA.


Summary: Red Hook scores respectably in every category we’ve judged. It just needs a little bit more of certain things: a little more waterfront parkland, a few more smoothly paved streets, and it’d be perfect.


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Ditmas Park/Flatbush Score: 31/50


Available Green Space: 4

While these neighborhoods might not be too far from Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, they can’t claim any decently sized park as their own. It’s ironic, actually, that these parts of Brooklyn once used to be farmland and now have a scarcity of wide open green space.


Fresh Air: 5

Smack in the middle of Brooklyn, these neighborhoods are far away from the noose-like highways that border the borough’s waterfront. Car traffic is relatively light in quiet Ditmas Park, but is much heavier in Flatbush (let’s not even get into the nightmare that is driving on Linden Boulevard, ok?), making the walkability of the area not as pleasant as you’d want it to be.


Bicycling Infrastructure: 6

While there aren’t as many clearly marked bike lanes here as the avid cyclist might want, these neighborhoods are very convenient to get around by bike, due in no small part to the fact that this part of Brooklyn is relatively flat, so a lot of ground can be covered in very little time. Pro-tip: go out of your way to avoid Flatbush Avenue; it is a terror-filled death trap for cyclists.


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Gyms: 7

There are tons of gym options in the area, including a lot of discount gyms in Flatbush that offer crazy cheap rates that would make anyone who pays in the mid-three-figures each month to belong to the Equinox in Brooklyn Heights freak out.


Healthy Food Availability: 9

This is where both Ditmas Park and Flatbush really shine. There are a ton of great, cheap options for healthy vegetarian food in Flatbush, including brightly flavored curries and fresh juices at West Indian restaurants. Plus, the Flatbush Food Coop (all the great prices, none of the weirdness of the Park Slope Food Coop) is located on Cortelyou Road for all your shopping needs.


Summary: It’s easy to eat well and get fit in these neighborhoods, but both suffer from a lack of green space and access to fresh air and easy cycling that would make for the ideal healthy area.


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Bed-Stuy Score: 30/50


Available Green Space: 6

There’s no McCarren or Prospect Park, but there are several good smaller neighborhood options like Herbert Von King, which do nicely when you don’t feel like hopping on the train.


Fresh Air: 7

The neighborhood benefits from its wide streets, which allow for some actual greenery outside of the parks, as well as relative distance from major highways and thoroughfares.


Bicycling Infrastructure: 5

Again, not too many bike lanes, but with several good bike shops including Bike Slug and Fulton Bicycles, a few Citi Bike stations, and generally wide streets that aren’t too heavily trafficked, it’s not a bad place to get around by bike.


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Gyms: 5

The YMCA is generally the biggest game in town here, and it’s likely you’ll have to travel a bit to get to most gyms and classes. We’d be willing to bet, though, that dance and yoga classes at Sacred Studio and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration will prove themsleves to be part of a growing trend within the next year or two.


Healthy Food Availability: 9

Standard grocery chains tend to be hit or miss (not to mention few and far between), but in the summer, more farmers markets seem to crop up every year (Hattie Carthan Community Farmer’s Market and the Malcolm X Community Market are the most reliable). Options like the Metropolitan Market and the newly opened Bed Stuy Fresh and Local seem to be part of a wave of new options, and Bed Stuy Bounty continues to be a cheap, reliable neighborhood CSA-style option.


Summary: Still not a neighborhood where you’re likely to find organic produce or an exercise class right around the corner from your apartment, but new options are becoming available rapidly.


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Bushwick Score: 26/50


Available Green Space: 4

Other than in the comparatively small Maria Hernandez park, seeing trees or even grass in the neighborhood is difficult. For the most part, it’s just warehouses, pavement, and errant trash.


Fresh Air: 4

Traffic isn’t as heavy here as it is in some neighborhoods (meaning a slight break from exhaust fumes), but the relatively high instances of shipping and manufacturing warehouses (and therefore massive trucks), fish and live poultry markets, and the aforementioned problem with free-floating garbage combine to create some pretty unfortunate smells.


Bicycling Infrastructure: 6

Bushwick Avenue, full of gaping potholes and speeding drivers, has become a pretty notorious source of death and injury, and the neighborhood has had some high profile accidents, including the hit-and-run that claimed the life of Total Slacker drummer Terence Connor in fall 2012. Also, Citi Bike has yet to arrive in the area. The neighborhood is packed with bike shops, though, the side-streets are nice and generally unpopulated, and most businesses are bike-friendly and have racks set up outside. Plus, more bike lanes are planned for the Bushwick-Ridgewood border as early as fall 2014.


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Gyms: 5

A new of Crunch just opened off the Flushing stop, but elsewhere the options are mostly limited to the likes of Planet Fitness and Richie’s. The Living Gallery has flexible payment yoga classes once a week, and then there’s Green Fitness, which has a juice bar, spa, personal training, and a huge array of classes.


Healthy Food Availability: 7

Thanks to a big boom over the past few years, nearly every subway stop in the neighborhood now has at least one solid source of organic produce, though the bigger, longer-running chains—Key Foods, Associated, etc.—are still hit or miss. There’s also the Bushwick Food Cooperative, which runs a CSA that’s available to non-members.


Summary: While the neighborhood’s food situation has dramatically improved over the past several years, other hallmarks of health-consciousness are still on their way.


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