[Note: My friend and neighbor Doug Rushkoff was mugged on Christmas eve here in Park Slope (a fact I learned about, as it happens, via outside.in, which is pretty bizarre in itself.) The event triggered a long thread both at Doug's blog and his wife's blog at Babble about leaving Brooklyn. I thought I'd post my contribution to my blog since it gets to many of the issues we talk about here regularly...]
Doug (and Barbara)
I've said it before in private to Doug, but I'll start by saying it publicly: I'm so sorry you had to go through this ordeal, and you've both done an amazing job trying to work through all these issues in public. It's precisely the kind of conversation that should be happening in venues like this, because it's all about the clash between our public and private lives.
You guys sound like you've already made up your mind to leave, which is completely understandable, and some of the towns you're talking about are wonderful places to live. But I wanted to make the case for Brooklyn, if only because some of the reasons you cite for leaving are central to why we've decided to raise our kids here. If we can't persuade you not to leave, maybe we can persuade you that Brooklyn is not "a crock."
First, the crime issue. There's no question that Park Slope -- and Brooklyn more generally -- is more dangerous than living in a small town upstate, though of course you're likely to be more endangered by the extra driving you'd do in a small town, even one where you can walk to the downtown. But if you're going to live in an economically diverse urban area, you're not likely to find a safer place to live than Park Slope. In one of your posts, you said: "Getting a knife pushed into your ribcage now and again is just part of the price we pay to live in a city, and New York is supposedly one of the safer of the bunch." That's seriously understating the current crime scene here: it is THE safest city in the country, by a fair margin. You cited an NPR report about a recent surge in violent crime in the Northeast, but in fact, once again NY bucked the national trend: crime here was down 5 percent in 2006.
Barbara talked on her blog about feeling much safer in the east village in the 1980s. If you look at the precinct data on the NYPD site, you can see that the there were literally FIVE times as many crimes committed in the east village in 1990 than in the Park Slope precinct in 2005, even though the east village has only about 20% more people in the precinct. (Exact numbers: 5,991 crimes in the east village in 1990 vs. 1,138 in the Slope in 2005.) Interestingly, the east village in 2005 had slightly more crime per capita than Park Slope.
As I said, there are obviously places to live that have lower crime rates. But none of those places has anywhere near the economic and cultural diversity that Brooklyn has (at least in the U.S.) Which leads to the gentrification problem you raised as well. And this is the more complicated point I think -- one we discussed at that Gowanus event last year.
Let's start with the fact that the overall wealth distribution problem in the U.S. is not a problem neighborhoods can solve. There are going to be rich people, for better or for worse, and while I think we both agree that the high-low wage ratios in this country are seriously out of whack, that's a whole other question. The question for us is: given that there are going to be rich people, where should they go? Is it better to have them all leave the cities for the suburbs the way they did in the sixties and seventies and live in gated isolation from everyone else? Or is better for them to live -- they way they do even in the fanciest blocks of the North Slope -- within walking distance of housing projects in two directions, and pressed up against a public park that is shared by an amazingly diverse population from every major ethnic/religious/economic group imaginable. Yes, when movie stars and famous writers and people like you and me move into the neighborhood, prices go up and some folks get squeezed out. That's not reason to give up on figuring out ways to preserve economic diversity in city neighborhoods. But I'd rather have the movie stars and bankers taking their kids to the 9th street playground on a summer weekend than having them play in their private backyard pool in Westchester.
And this is why I think Brooklyn is such an extraordinary place right now. Take a walk from the North Slope across Grand Army, then down Eastern Parkway. Where else in the country can you go from the houses of world-famous authors and movie stars to Hasidic Jews and working-class African-Americans all in the space of about twenty blocks? And all with the lowest crime rate of any big city in the country.
Yes, I suppose if the current trends continue it could all look like the Upper East Side in thirty years. But that's not what it looks like now, by any measure.