Brooklyn, Divided


Today, the Daily News exposed what is perhaps Brooklyn’s worst kept secret; this is a borough divided. Which is a fact that we would like to think most people were pretty cognizant of already. After all, this is a borough where the summer has brought story after story of children getting shot in the playgrounds of Brownsville alongside articles featuring the news that the most expensive place to live in all of New York City is not the Upper East Side or Tribeca, but DUMBO. Four miles makes a world of difference in Brooklyn.

Despite our general awareness of the reality of the situation—a reality that I think is evident nowhere so much as the public school system, where certain elementary schools have waiting lists dozens of kids long and selective middle schools have Ivy League-like acceptance rates, while others have abysmal literacy and math proficiency scores—the News highlighted certain Brooklyn dichotomies to great, and shocking, effect.

A few of the disparities they pointed out include:

“Nearly 20% of Brooklyn households have an income of $100,000 or more per year; more than 20% of borough residents live in poverty.”

“The prix-fixe dinner at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare in downtown Brooklyn is $225 per person plus tax and tip; Brooklyn households receiving food stamps get an average $277.70 worth to buy food for a month.”

“The Brooklyn Heights-Fort Greene area contributes over 10% of Brooklyn’s income; more than one-fifth of the area’s residents receive food stamps.”

“Real estate broker Corcoran peddles $1 million-plus Red Hook apartments; Red Hook is home to the borough’s largest New York City Housing Authority development.”

“Brooklyn ‘has more writers per square inch than almost anywhere else in the country,’ Borough President Marty Markowitz likes to say; 30% of the borough’s third- graders cannot read at grade level.”

“Brooklyn has 113 colleges and universities but only 29% of borough residents have college degrees.”

Even with prior awareness, these facts are stunning. They are meant to stun. And, obviously, the News is more likely to publish the grimmest of the grim statistics and the most glamourous of facts than the more middle-of -the road numbers. But these are real numbers. And they are extreme. New York has always been a place of extremes but the lack of a place for the middle class has never been more noticeable. Even traditionally middle-class neighborhoods like Windsor Terrace and Ditmas Park have experienced huge spikes in their housing markets and relative cost-of-living expenses.

Marilyn Gelber, president of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, told the News, “We have more poor people in Brooklyn than the entire population of Detroit; we have more people on food stamps than the entire population of Washington, D.C. Yet there are more wealthy people than in Greenwich, Conn.”

This is not, of course, a problem limited to Brooklyn. Some could say that this is a battle that Manhattan has already fought, one that is over with a decisive victory in favor of wealth. But that kind of outcome is not certain for, and definitely not wanted in, Brooklyn. There are many reasons that there has been such an influx of new residents into Brooklyn over the last couple of decades and one of them was the desire to escape the homogeneous place that Manhattan had become. It would be a tragedy if the same thing happened to Brooklyn, a wealthy blandification of much of the borough, while pockets of poverty and crime remain untouched and languishing.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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  1. Brooklyn: a borough divided.
    Was e’er a borough to be?
    A vintage shop surely supplied it
    From Williamsburg out to the sea.
    Lookout! these landed “sailors” come
    Who’ve never touched a booted toe
    To frothing ocean foam or scum:
    Avast ye, hipster Romeo!
    What have ye in yon barrels bred:
    A crunchy pickle, local grown?
    A crunchy mattress for a bed?
    A budding band of scant reknown?
    Gather-ed rush this heady lot
    To settle in yon gentrifi-ed tract
    To test out what they think they’ve got
    Some tendeth bar, and some will act.
    Still, some—not all—will bridge that rocky stream
    In gleaming hopes that swell them most
    —Attain-ed flair Bohemian—
    By living off York’s southern coast.
    Come one, come all, ye churlish knaves,
    Ye Brooklyn-boys most bitter-brave
    Have e’er ye really ever crossed
    Thro’ Prospect Park, not getting lost?
    O the branches! O the leaves!
    …that compose-ed your tattoo-ed sleeve!
    To settle neath the sainted eaves
    Of Park Slope and those highest heights
    The street signs, black.
    The faces, white.