Brooklyn’s Grand Boulevard in New York Times

Ocean Parkway is featured in Today’s New York Times:

Elegant and sketchy, welcoming and insular, the striated band of roadway, trees and people called Ocean Parkway both reflects Brooklyn and divides it with a thick green line. It was designed about a century and a half ago as a place to promenade, to socialize, to pleasure-drive or to settle, on a street that looks like a park. The architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were inspired by the grand tree-lined boulevards of Europe, like Avenue Foch in Paris and Unter den Linden in Berlin.
A Tree-Lined Boulevard That’s a Park and a Living Room, Kareem Fahim, Brooklyn Journal, New York Times, online: 2008-10-10, print: 2008-10-11

Ocean Parkway held the first bike path in the country … in 1894. Its northernmost extent was lost to the Robert Moses’ Prospect Expressway in the 1950s. While it once extended to Prospect Park, at Park Circle, it now ends at Church Avenue. The City designated Ocean Parkway a scenic landmark in 1975. Today, the Parkway is managed in part by the Parks Department.

Five and a half miles long, it stretches from Prospect Park to Brooklyn’s beaches at Coney Island. The parkway is divided according to function. The center lane is only for private vehicles, and was intended for pleasure driving, originally for horse-drawn carriages. It is flanked by two greenswards, planted with trees and grass, which lend the road a park-like atmosphere and provide a place for pedestrians to stroll. Outside the greenswards are service roads for local and commercial traffic.

The City of Brooklyn acquired the land for Ocean Parkway in 1868. When the Parkway was built, between 1874 and 1876, it started at Park Circle, which is now known as Police Officer Robert Machate Circle, at the southern entrance of Prospect Park. The Parkway’s central drive quickly became a popular place for impromptu horse and carriage races; jockeys referred to it as the Ocean Parkway Speedway.
Ocean Parkway, Parks Department

Brooklyn’s Raccoons in the New York Times

Update 2010.01.03: Removed all links to the old Gowanus Lounge domain, which has since been appropriated by some parasitic commercial site.

Flatbush Raccoon, June 26, 2008
Flatbush Raccoon

Last week, I was interviewed by reporter Ann Farmer for the New York Times about my experiences with raccoons. The article is published in today’s Times:

Raccoons have long been widespread in New York City, and there is no way to say with any statistical certainty whether there are more now. But Capt. Richard Simon of the Urban Park Rangers, which is part of the city’s Parks Department, said a rise in the number of 311 callers reporting sightings, encounters or interactions suggests that “the citywide population of raccoons has increased.”

One thing seems clear. In the leafy neighborhoods surrounding Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery, residents have been flooding the Internet with raccoon stories.
The City’s Latest Real Estate Fight: Humans Against Raccoons, Ann Farmer, New York Times, July 8, 2008

That pesky Internet! Ms. Farmer cites the Brooklyn blogosphere as one source for the reports:

Chris Kreussling, a computer programmer who lives just south of Prospect Park in Flatbush, posted pictures on his Flatbush Gardener blog recently of several raccoons in his backyard. It elicited a quick round of similar testimonies.

Another Brooklyn blog, the Gowanus Lounge, chronicled multiple raccoon sightings in recent days (link defunct) in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace and Red Hook.

When contacted, many bloggers recalled raccoons rooting around in gardens and compost piles, traipsing into children’s wading pools and sometimes rearing up on their hind legs when startled. Many expressed awe at seeing the nocturnal mammals so close.

“People need access to wildlife in urban areas,” Mr. Kreussling said. “I consider it a bonus.”

That last quote is a reference to biophilia, literally “love of life or living systems.” I think the way I expressed it in the interview was something like: People need nature around them.

Ms. Farmer also interviewed several of my neighbors. Check out Nelson Ryland’s cautionary tale of the hazards of cat doors!

Thanks to my neighbor Brenda of Crazy Stable and Prospect: A Year in the Park for putting Ms. Farmer on the trail!

Related Posts

Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures
Summer Nights, June 26, 2008


The City’s Latest Real Estate Fight: Humans Against Raccoons, Ann Farmer, New York Times, July 8, 2008

Albemarle Road in Prospect Park South featured in the Times

Albemarle Road, just east of Coney Island Avenue, April 2008
Albemarle Road, Prospect Park South

Tomorrow’s New York Times Real Estate section provides a brief history and profile of Albemarle Road in Prospect Park South, a block from my home:

Grandest of all the streets in Prospect Park South is Albemarle Road, a broad, esplanaded boulevard of stately neo-Classical, Queen Anne and Colonial style mansions. In fact, for the three blocks from Argyle to Buckingham Roads, Albemarle is one of the grandest residential streets in the whole city, even with some dings and dents.
Streetscapes | Albemarle Road: Brooklyn’s Stately Esplanade , Christopher Gray, New York Times, June 22, 2008

I’ll say. Prospect Park South is the most photogenic neighborhood I know in Brooklyn. I’ve got over 100 photos of Albemarle Road alone on my Flickr site.

The greenscape is as impressive as the architecture:

Mr. Alvord created Albemarle Road as his main boulevard, with a planted strip down the middle and a dozen imposing houses east of Argyle Road, most built from 1899 to 1910. They created a most unusual place and were made grander by his main requirement — that no fences, hedges or plantings extend beyond the house lines, so the front yards combine into a unified majestic sweep.

Albemarle Road, looking west from Rugby Road, Prospect Park South, November 2007
Albemarle Road, looking east from Rugby Road, Prospect Park South

The Times fails to credit the man responsible for designing and planting these grand grounds, John Aitkin (or Aiken, I’ve seen both spellings):

Thousands of Shrubs, Plants and Trees to Be Set Out in Flatbush

Dean Alvord, owner, and John Aitkin, landscape gardener of Prospect Park South, the new residence park of Flatbush, have just returned from a tour of the nurseries [of several cities], where selections were made of over five thousand five hundred [5,500] ornamental shrubs, plants and trees for planting this fall. The list comprises rare evergreens and deciduous varieties chosen with reference to symmetry of form, color of foliage and beauty of flower. A foreign order has also been placed for 10,000 Holland bulbs of early spring blooming flowers, tulips, hyacinths, crocus and narcissus [Daffodils].

The form of street decoration carried out in Marlborough, Rugby and other north and south roads in Prospect Park South, will be varied in Albemarle road, where the unusual width will admit of a parkway through the center, with an asphalt driveway on either side. The more dwarf growing ornamentals will be planted in the parkway, and rows of shade trees will line the inside of the sidewalks.

Altogether, this fine residence section will contain the widest variety of hardy ornamentals and herbaceous plants to be found outside of city parks.

Suburban Ornamentation, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 17, 1899, page 10 [Note: The same item, with slight variations, appeared with the title “Beautifying the Suburbs” on September 4.]

The Flatbush Malls sit within the area known as Victorian Flatbush, named because of the dominant architectural style. In the early 1900s, private developers constructed malls like this one to make the neighborhoods they built more attractive. Malls are common in New York’s outer boroughs. Dean Alvord bought 50 acres of farmland in 1898 to develop Albermarle and Kenmore Terraces. He hired the Scottish landscape architect John Aiken to create a rustic suburban neighborhood within the constraints of the Brooklyn street grid, and the result was largely achieved through the creation of these malls. Extending down the center of Albemarle Road, the Flatbush Malls run from Coney Island Avenue to Buckingham Road, then round the corner and continue one block north on Buckingham Road.

Aiken looked to Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts for inspiration. His mall on Albemarle Road is narrower than the malls on Commonwealth Avenue, as it does not include a central promenade like the one along the Boston street. The original landscaping of the malls featured shrubs and flowers, but did not include trees. The malls are now lined with a mixture of pine and oak trees, holly bushes, and other trees and shrubs, as well as seasonal flowers that grace the intersections. As part of the streets, the malls are owned by the New York Department of Transportation while Parks is charged with the planting design and maintenance.
Flatbush Malls, Historical Sign, Parks Department

1305 Albemarle Road, Prospect Park South
1305 Albemarle Road

The Times article highlights a handful of individual homes, including 1305 Albemarle Road, the house I picked out as a good place for a haunting last Halloween:

The most unusual of these dwellings is the one built in 1905 for George E. Gale at 1305 Albemarle, at the northeast corner of Argyle Road, in white clapboard with a colossal two-story Ionic portico. Designed by an architect known only as H. B. Moore, the Gale house has a striking assortment of windows, among them roof dormers with a kind of webbed sash, topped by ebullient broken pediments. On the second floor, there are spider-web-type windows with Gothic-style sashes, and on the rear are leaded glass windows.

Related Content

Good Place for a Haunting #2, October 30, 2007
Fall Color along Albemarle Road in Prospect Park South, November 21, 2006
Conservatory Envy, September 10, 2006
Albemarle Road, Prospect Park South (Flickr photo collection)


Streetscapes | Albemarle Road: Brooklyn’s Stately Esplanade , Christopher Gray, New York Times, June 22, 2008
Flatbush Malls, Historical Sign, Parks Department
Suburban Ornamentation, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 17, 1899, page 10

Times City Room defends its treatment of “South Brooklyn”

Several of us bloggers in Flatbush, at least, feel at best bemusement when the Times casts its gimlet eye upon our fair neighborhood. They sometimes seem to view us as some quaint suburban enclave, linking to a post about, say, raccoons, while ignoring local coverage of a rezoning proposal that will shape development for decades to come.

At least one reader of the New York Times City Room seems to feel the same:

Question: … There is no doubt, that when The New York Times writes about Brooklyn, one would think that Brooklyn is Park Slope, the Heights, Cobble Hill, Dumbo, and those environments basically north of Prospect Park. When areas such as Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Bay Ridge, Flatbush, and Sheepshead Bay are ever mentioned in your publication, they are usually treated in a condescending, disparaging, misinformed manner … Why the obvious slant, and why the ignorance from a publication that claims to be a bastion of serious and knowledgeable discourse?
Answers About City Room, Part 3, Sewell Chan, New York Times, June 19, 2008

The Times responds:

Answer: I’m not sure I agree with your rather harsh assessment. … The Times has devoted a lot of coverage of neighborhoods like Greenpoint and Williamsburg [still north of Prospect Park!], where young college graduates have spurred a housing boom over the last decade, and projects like Atlantic Yards, which has provoked fierce discussion about the future of economic development in Brooklyn and the preservation of small-scale neighborhoods. But I don’t think that coverage has meant that other neighborhoods receive “condescending, disparaging, misinformed” coverage. In recent months, The Times has written about a kosher soup kitchen in Borough Park, the history of Victorian Flatbush and access to the Sheepshead Bay waterfront. We’re always open to suggestions for news and feature stories in the city’s diverse neighborhoods, and The City section, published each Sunday, is filled with local updates on community news.

Related Posts

The Times discovers Kensington, May 24, 2008
Times admits past errors: We are not all Ditmas Park, March 15, 2008
Where is Flatbush, anyway?, December 1, 2007

The Times discovers Kensington

“Pink Shell”, Coney Island Avenue, Kensington, Brooklyn
Pink Shell
The “Living In” feature of tomorrow’s NY Times Real Estate section focuses on Kensington:

… a quiet, verdant area, just below Windsor Terrace, straddling McDonald Avenue and Ocean Parkway. The neighborhood, which is almost one square mile in size, has several long-established immigrant groups among its roughly 70,000 people.
Name From London, People From Everywhere, New York Times, May 25, 2008

Even though it’s right across Coney Island Avenue from me, I have been neglectful of Kensington and haven’t spent much time there in the three years I’ve lived in Flatbush. Kensington and Flatbush both enjoy a rich diversity. With 7 lanes and no median, Coney Island Avenue serves as an (un)natural barrier between our neighborhoods. I have visions of more pedestrian-friendly streetscapes fostering streetlife along C.I.A. Maybe I’ll live to see that.

Once part of Flatbush, Kensington was developed after the completion of Ocean Parkway in 1875, according to the Encyclopedia of New York City. It was later named for the borough in West London; much of its housing was built in the 1920s. The wave of immigration that brought the neighborhood much of its ethnic diversity began in the 1980s.

Besides Church Avenue, smaller shopping districts can be found along Ditmas Avenue and Cortelyou Road, though the latter is not as developed in Kensington as it is in Ditmas Park, the neighborhood of Victorian houses to the east, where it is a major commercial street. A Food Town supermarket on McDonald Avenue recently expanded, to accolades from many residents.

Most of Kensington is a short walk from the southern tip of Prospect Park, including the park’s Parade Grounds, with its tennis courts and baseball and soccer fields. Prospect Park Lake is also close by. Kensington Stables, just outside the park, offers riding lessons.

Individual Plots, East 4th Street Community Garden, Kensington
Individual Plots, East 4th Street Community Garden

Related content

Other posts about Kensington
My photos of Kensington

Some Kensington Blogs and Bloggers

Bad Girl Blog
New York City Garden
Porochista Khakpour


Name From London, People From Everywhere, New York Times, May 25, 2008

Times admits past errors: We are not all Ditmas Park

A House in Caton Park
House in Caton Park

I am astonished to find that tomorrow’s New York Times City Section has an article on Victorian Flatbush, not “Ditmas Park,” which they finally realize only applies to one historic district in this large area. And in this article, they focus on the “forgotten” neighborhoods, those which don’t have landmark protection, and which are in danger of being eroded and lost forever to “development”:

The neighborhoods of Victorian Flatbush are of particular interest to historians because in many respects they were the first suburbs. With the newly built Brooklyn Rapid Transit rail line stretching out to Coney Island, the farmland of the Dutch village of Flatbush became a prime location in the early 20th century for what was considered commuter living.
Peaked Roofs, Crossed Fingers

315 East 18th Street, Beverly Square East
315 East 18th Street, Beverly Square East

All the neighborhoods featured houses built in the most fashionable of Victorian-era styles, among them Tudor, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Georgian. These houses, adorned with carved moldings, fluted columns, copper trimmings and wide, open porches, evoked a lifestyle that went beyond architecture. Exclusive social clubs flourished in the area, as did community associations, many of which have been the driving force in campaigns for historic protection.

457 Rugby Road, Ditmas Park West
457 Rugby Road

House in South Midwood
House in South Midwood

“We don’t want the Manhattanization of Brooklyn,” said Ron Schweiger, the Brooklyn borough historian and a longtime resident of Beverley Square West. “We don’t want high-rises coming into residential areas. That’s why we want all of Victorian Flatbush to get historic district status.”

And though the neighborhoods of Victorian Flatbush have distinct characters, nearly all of them have one thing in common: residents eager to protect what is a remarkable and in some cases irreplaceable architectural history.

Beverley Square West

341 Rugby Road, Beverley Square West
341 Rugby Road, Beverley Square West

209 (Left) & 215 (Right) Stratford Road, Beverley Square West
209 (Left) & 215 (Right) Stratford Road

There’s a little bit of hand-waving around my neighborhood of Beverley Square West, resulting in several inaccuracies.

Beverley Square East and West, nestled between Prospect Park South and Ditmas Park [and Ditmas Park West] and completed just after the turn of the 20th century, were Ackerson’s major projects. The developer also got certain streets that run through Beverley Square West rechristened with upper-crust British names: East 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th Streets became Westminster, Argyle, Rugby and Marlborough Roads.

Somehow the Times lost one-fifth of Beverley Square West, omitting Stratford Road (East 11th Street) from their description of the neighborhood. Stratford Road is both the westernmost block and the one most at risk from inappropriate zoning in Beverley Square West and Ditmas Park West.

The street names originated in the development of Prospect Park South by Dean Alvord. Ackerson’s early advertising for developments here still used the numbered designations of East 11th, 12th, and so forth, not the names. By 1902, the named designations were extended south to what would become Beverley Square West and Ditmas Park West. Our bill from Con Ed, which was around before this building boom of the early 1900s, still uses the numbered designation for our street address.

All the original homes of the Beverley Squares were individually designed. Ackerson himself lived in a house in Beverley Square West, and the developer Pounds, a future borough president, lived in Beverley Square East.

From what I’ve learned of the history of the development here, this is not accurate. The houses on Stratford and Westminster Roads are stylistically different from those on Argyle, Rugby and Marlborough. Although no two houses are exactly alike on Stratford and Westminster, neither do they feature much of the architectural details – turrets, round oeil de boeuf (ox-eye) windows, unusual dormers, and so on – visible on nearly every house on the other blocks.

I think the houses on these two westernmost blocks were built largely using Victorian pattern books widely available at the time; they were mostly “builders’ specials,” not designed by architects. They were built earlier, and not by Ackerson. Early Ackerson promotional photos show houses already standing on Stratford and Westminster while Argyle and Rugby are nothing more than empty lots.

The earliest neighborhood name I’ve found for these five blocks is Matthews Park. Matthews Court is one of the short side streets joining Stratford Road and Coney Island Avenue. Not that long ago, “Beverley Square West” referred only to the Ackerson-developed blocks of Argyle, Rugby and Marlborough Roads. Stratford and Westminster had their own neighborhood association, called Westford Park. These two neighborhood associations joined forces to form the current, five-block Beverley Square West Association.

Street Sign, Matthews Court

Related Posts

Victorian Flatbush at risk from inappropriate zoning, October 23, 2007
Landscape and Politics in Brooklyn’s City Council District 40, February 14, 2007
Matthews Park, September 29, 2006


NoProPaSo, Kneel Before Your Creator, Crazy Stable
Victorian Flatbush: An Architectural History (Warning: contains intrusive popups)

Where is Flatbush, Anyway?

Update 2007.11.04: For others’ reactions to the Times piece, see the Links at the end of this post, or check out the list on Brooklyn Junction. Also added a link to a 1998 letter to the editor about their invention of “Greater Ditmas Park.”

Map of Flatbush in 1873
Map of Flatbush, 1873

Today, the “Living In” feature of the Real Estate section of the New York Times looks at Flatbush:

More than a neighborhood, Flatbush often refers to a sprawling community in central Brooklyn comprising multiple smaller ones.
… But many smaller neighborhoods traditionally under the Flatbush umbrella, including Ditmas Park and Prospect Park South, have asserted distinct identities. So, the character of what might be called Flatbush proper — a rectangle anchored at the south by Brooklyn College — has come into sharper focus.
Note to City Dwellers: Steals Available Here

The article claims “the borders of Flatbush are ambiguous”:

Neighborhoods once considered part of it have reclaimed their more specific names. Today, its western border is generally considered Ocean Avenue, beyond which are the various parts of Victorian Flatbush. Its eastern border is New York Avenue, beyond which is East Flatbush. The northern boundary is Parkside Avenue; on the south it is the Long Island Rail Road tracks, just above Avenue I.

This is not the first time the Times has gotten confused about the boundaries of the area. In 1998, they invented the term “Greater Ditmas Park” to cover several other neighborhoods, and a West Midwood resident took them to task for it:

Ditmas Park, along with Prospect Park South, Beverley Square West, West Midwood, South Midwood, Fiske Terrace, and the other neighborhoods in the area discussed are not part of ”Greater Ditmas Park” but of Flatbush.

Maybe that’s where Corcoran picked up their bad habits.

Part of the ambiguity is that the name “Flatbush” is used at two different scales, at least. There was the old Village, then town, of Flatbush, located along what was a trading trail and became the Flatbush Avenue of today. There was also the Township of Flatbush prior to consolidation, with Brooklyn in 1894, then with New York City in 1898. The township included the farmlands to the west of the town of Flatbush. These were developed at the turn of the last century into the “many smaller neighborhoods” the Times mentions.

The Township of Flatbush also extended north of the Times designation, bordering the Township of Brooklyn. In the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a few hundred feet in from its southwestern entrance near the Carousel in Prospect Park, is a brass line and plaque marking this boundary:

Brooklyn-Flatbush Boundary Marker

Brooklyn-Flatbush Boundary Marker

Brooklyn-Flatbush Boundary Marker

The only substantial community garden in the area also gets a mention:

In 2002, the couple bought a one-bedroom co-op on Glenwood Road with an eat-in kitchen and spacious foyer … They started meeting neighbors through a residents’ association and the Campus Road garden, a community garden at Brooklyn College. In addition to the pleasure of tending their 10-by-13-foot plot, they enjoy summer social gatherings in the garden.

Related Posts

Forgotten Flatbush: The Albemarle Road Pedestrian Bridge


Across the Park
Brooklyn Junction
Ditmas Park Blog
Fading Ad Blog
Hawthorne Street

Letter to the NY Times, Science section

[Updated 2006.09.14 20:41 EDT: Added Why I Wrote the Letter. Minor corrections.]

I wrote a letter last Wednesday to the New York Times in response to an interview with ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw, a world expert on parrots, in last week’s Science section, “A Passion for Parrots and the Fight to Save Them in the Wild”. They published an edited version of it (under my “real” name”) today. Here it is in its entirety:

Monk parrots are now established in 14 states and spreading north in New York. In their native ranges, they are sometimes serious agricultural pests of fruit crops. We will see what economic damage they cause here as their numbers expand. We don’t know how much environmental damage they’ve already caused by competing with and displacing native species.

As the ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw noted admiringly, “Parrots are such wonderful generalists.” This is a common trait of invasive species, including other generalists that New Yorkers are all too familiar with: starlings, pigeons, rats and roaches. Our admiration of these birds should not blind us to their potential impact.

I’m proud and excited about this. This is only the second time in my life I’ve had a letter published in a newspaper. (The first was a letter I wrote to Newsday when I was 16 years old in opposition to the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island. I wrote a letter to NPR several weeks ago. They were interested in it, but I don’t know if that ever aired.)

I’ll be coming back and updating this entry with the back-story about why I wrote the letter, and what I learned about writing letters!

Why I Wrote the Letter

The article, published in last Tuesday’s New York Times, was an interview with ornithologist Joseph M. Forshaw. Forshaw spoke about his experiences with parrots and humans’ relationships with them all over the world, and the dangers they face from exploitation and habitat destruction.

The photos accompanying the article showed Monk Parrots from Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. I already knew why those photos were there. Forshaw had accompanied Steve Baldwin on one of his “Parrot Safaris”, and Baldwin had blogged about it on his blog site, Brooklyn Parrots:

I recently had the pleasure of meeting an amazing Australian naturalist … His name is Dr. Joseph Forshaw and he’s widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on parrots. I had the honor of serving as his “guide” when he came to see the wild parrots of Brooklyn. … The New York Times wrote up a nice story on Dr. Forshaw … I am glad to say that there are some great shots of the “Brooklyn Boids!”

The problem was, the photos accompanying the article in this way associated an introduced species with the important issue of conserving parrots in the wild in their native habitats. The Times identified the parrots as “feral monk parrots.” A caption to one of the photos identified them as “nonnative New Yorkers,” but provided no further explanation.

Feral” is incorrect to describe these populations. Neither the species nor the individuals are domestic parrots “escaped” into the wild: they are breeding and reproducing in the wild. So I wrote the letter hoping to address, and correct, a misleading absence of information about their status here.


Related posts

My other posts on Parrots and Invasive species.


The letter as published