Monday, October 12, 2009

Coolness Across the Bridge

Manhattan gets a lot of credit for being the center of the universe. Everyone who is anyone has an apartment here. Most every major magazine has its headquarters or an office somewhere downtown. Tourists flock by the double-decker busload and people looking to live their dream come here without enough in their bank account to pay two months' rent for a studio in south Harlem. But it's Manhattan. In the minds of many, Manhattan is New York City.

I was one of those people until a few weeks ago.

Then I started venturing out to see all that this city has to offer. I wandered across Manhattan, saw the things the tour books tell you to see and even some that it didn't. Tons to see and do. Rarely a dull moment. But one thing about Manhattan struck me as odd: No one seems to be from Manhattan. They come here for work, entertainment, spare change, but for the most part, you don't cross too many born and raised Manhattanians. Not necessarily a bad thing, just makes for an interesting dynamic. No home town pride. Everyone from anywhere is a Yankees fan, but what did the people of Manhattan boast as their own? I still don't know the answer.

I found a strikingly different dynamic just across the Brooklyn, Williamsburg or Washington Bridge. B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N. After a few trips (and an intent to continue to return), it's my contention that it's the most eclectic and interesting of the five boroughs. No, Brooklyn doesn't have the sights that Manhattan boasts or the Yankees like the Bronx or the, uh ... um ... I'm not yet sure what Staten Island or Queens have as claims to fame, but Brooklyn offers a lot in charm and personality. As reflected in its rowdy borough president, Marty Markowitz (see him in action here), the array of vintage shops along Bedford Avenue, and the self-starting Brooklynites who've retaken the way their food is grown and distributed (here, here and here), from subway stop to subway stop, neighborhood to neighborhood, it's really quite a unique melting pot of what's really happening in the world. And soooooo much hometown pride. Based on the people I've met, people do tend to leave, but there tends to be a compulsion to return.

Brooklyn isn't nearly the burgeoning area of industry that you have in Manhattan, but there does seem to be an increased sense of sustainable living, art and innovation. As one person put it: "There seems to be something about the people in Brooklyn, something about people who are used to having less money, having to figure out how to get by and becoming designers. They design their whole lives, their food, their house, everything."

Supposedly Brooklyn is experiencing a renaissance of notable proportions as more and more people are realizing that surviving in Manhattan is a bit farfetched in this economy. So, to Brooklyn they go. Rents are cheaper, space is easier to come by and a can of soup doesn't go for $3. Plus, there's a Target. Pretty much everything one could need.

Take this tid-bit for what it's worth: get shiny lights and overpriced knick-knacks in Manhattan, find some of real/new New York in Brooklyn.

And someone please let me know about Queens and Staten Island. Thanks.

Image taken from

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