Unless you live in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens; visit it because your child attends its progressive Maple Street School; or read Across the Park, this largely Caribbean neighborhood–just south of Crown Heights and east of Prospect Park–is hard for “inner” Brooklynites to visualize. So BB reached out to friends Kelly Kingman and Paul Oâ€™Hanlon, a writer-photographer couple who rent on Ocean Ave. across from the park (not in Lefferts Manor, pictured), to kick off our series of Q&As about life in central and outer-Brooklyn nabes.
While not as fact-filled as the Times’ neighborhood profiles (or recently, the Observer’s), we think our one-on-one interviews will provide a more intimate glimpse of daily living in different hoods. Clearly, this format will never be representative of everyone’s reality, but we intend to interview as diverse a group as possible–whether you rent, own, are a gentrifier or old timer, black, white, Asian, Latino, Caribbean, Russian, gay, straight, single, coupled, whatever!–we want to hear from you. So email us your profile suggestions and thoughts.
When did you move here?
Kelly: I moved here in June of 2006 and Paul moved in with me at the end of last June. We decided he would move into my apartment because of the neighborhood.
Paul: I was [in Bed-Stuy] on Atlantic between Nostrand and Bedford.
Why did you pick PLG?
Kelly: I was in Hell’s Kitchen… And a friend of mine, Esther, had moved into a building here owned by this landlord and was raving about this undiscovered neighborhood.
Had you heard of it?
Kelly: I hadn’t. I was like Prospect what? Lefferts huh? But I was looking because my roommate had gotten engaged and her fiance was moving in… So Esther put me in touch with her landlord and I called — there was no broker — and she said, ‘Oh, something became available.’ It was a dream — it never happens that way.
How much do you pay?
Kelly: $960 a month [for a 450-square-foot one-bedroom]. So the price was right and basically I was willing to go anywhere I could live on my own. I just wanted space and light and I was going to go to any neighborhood in Brooklyn.
What do you like about PLG?
Kelly: The park. The first thing for me was getting off the train, turning the corner, and seeing trees. I was feeling pretty burned out on living in the city, and it just totally took that away, I could go walk in the park, I could go run in the park. It’s like my front yard. Also, K-Dog [the local coffee shop, below] had opened up six months to a year before and made this place feel more like a neighborhood.
And we’re right near the B/Q express.
Paul: We can hear the track announcements.
Kelly: I can tell if there’s been an incident or if trains are running slower.
Paul: And every night just before midnight there’s a pounding sound. I’m not sure what it is.
Kelly: But I’m a pretty heavy sleeper. [Except] I know when it’s 6 AM because that’s when they start making announcements. It’s not quite the rooster crowing, but it’s that kind of deal.
Is that one of the downsides of the neighborhood?
Kelly: Well that’s just specific to this apartment.
What’s the subway commute to Midtown?
Kelly: 35-40 minutes, door to door.
How much is a cab from Downtown?
Kelly: If you’re in Soho, near the Manhattan Bridge, $15. Because you shoot across the bridge, down Flatbush, and you’re here.
Do you feel safe here?
Kelly: I’ve never felt unsafe. Though, Paul — your car.
Paul: Someone once tried to throw a brick through the window.
Kelly: And I’ve heard from people that there have been problems with drug activity. But it’s not like people are dealing on our corner¦. I mean it’s not Park Slope, but I don’t feel like I have to be in my apartment by midnight.
Paul: I’ve never felt threatened.
What’s a typical weekend like here?
Depending on the weather, we go to the park.
But at night?
Ok, that’s one of the drawbacks. There’s no movie theater. Really the only place to go is a restaurant.
And what restaurants do you go to? [Laughter]
Kelly: The weird thing about the neighborhood is that it very much feels like the gentrification problem, which is the new and the old haven’t quite meshed. Except for the park and K-Dog’s–everybody in the neighborhood is there.
But you have West Indian restaurants, and then you have this Mexican one [Cafe Enduro], which just opened and caters to a more gentrified crowd.
Paul: When we eat out in Brooklyn we tend to drive over to Prospect Heights.
Kelly: I would say we donâ€™t have as much to do here as other neighborhoods.
Paul: I think it’s fairly evident that we’re the minority in this community. Like there’s a CSA that we’re a part of.
Kelly: This year was the first year that it happened and one of our initiatives is how to be more diverse and subsidize lower-income families.
So food shopping here isn’t great.
Kelly: There is Western Beef. That’s the major grocery store, around the corner.
But you don’t shop there.
Kelly: We like organic. So we go to Fairway.
Paul: Or do Fresh Direct. Or we’ll stop at Whole Foods in Union Square on the way home.
Kelly: The corner bodega has a small selection of organic products… so I can grab a carton of organic milk. And there are fruit stands up and down Flatbush that have fine produce that I would shop at before I got lazy and we started driving everywhere.
Do you feel a sense of community here?
Kelly: I do, largely because of the CSA and because I picked up a flier for a personal trainer, and started taking her boot camp-style classes in the park, and met a bunch of neighbors and I see them around the neighborhood… I do feel the polarity between the old and the new but there was a community that existed here for a long time before I got here, and it feels like PLG has an identity.
Is there any word you would use to describe the neighborhood?
Kelly: I think we’re Rasta. There’s guys in dreads everywhere and it’s kinda funky.
Paul: Most of the businesses are Caribbean.
Kelly: In Bed-Stuy, I would walk down the street and get cat-called and that doesn’t happen here. Here it feels a little warmer.
Photos by Paul O’Hanlon.