What's it Like in Crown Heights?


For the third installment of our “What’s it like in?” series, we picked Crown Heights, the predominantly Caribbean and African-American neighborhood that hosts the West Indian Day Parade every Labor Day.

chn.jpgBounded roughly on the north by Atlantic Ave., the south by Empire Blvd., the west by Washington Ave. and the east by Ralph Ave., this central Brooklyn hood is known largely by its past — as the one-time home of Ebbets Field, the site of the 1991 race riots, and the much-adored Empire Roller Skating Center. But its recently landmarked Crown Heights North Historic District is drawing a new wave of residents, and the neighborhood as a whole is in the midst of serious cultural development. The Brooklyn Children’s Museum unveils its new, green renovation next month, and Weeksville, Brooklyn’s first free African-American settlement, just broke ground on a massive, LEED-certified arts and education center.

To get a good, but by no means complete snapshot of this diverse hood, we spoke to two women — one a 12-year resident, the other a relative newcomer — living on opposite ends of Eastern Parkway. We start with the longtimer, Tikeshia Pierre:

How long have you lived in Crown Heights?

Since I was 18. I’ll be 30 this year.

And why did you move here?

I wanted to leave my parents’ house [in East Flatbush]. And every place that I looked at, it was either too much money or it was too far away — I wanted something where I could be in the middle and have access to everything. I saw this one bedroom [on Eastern Parkway between Rochester and Utica], and the rent was about 600 dollars.

How much are you paying now?

$864.72. Still not bad but a lot of things’ve happened over the years that makes me wanna move. The landlords don’t fix what they’re supposed to fix. I live on the fourth floor, and my kitchen, when it rains, water [seeps into] my walls. That happened in the first few years and to date it still hasn’t been fixed.

What do you like about the neighborhood and what do you not like about it?

What I really like is, mass transportation is right here. Labor Day has its perks, the [West Indian Day] parade starts here.

What I don’t like is the fighting — I could be lying in my bed and hear shooting down the block. There are times when I go to work I have to step over someone who doesn’t even live in the building because they passed out.

I guess I’ve grown out of it. I mean 18 to 30? It’s time to move on.

How has the neighborhood changed in the 12 years you’ve lived here?

When I first got here it was mostly Caribbean people. Right now you see some influx of Hispanics. The violence has come down a little bit. But there’s still those moments… I always know when something’s going on because of [points to a helicopter overhead] helicopters, you hear sirens, and I believe my building is on watch right now because the boys are selling drugs in the hallway. So it’s more younger people coming in and I guess their mentality is different than mine. I have to work the next morning and they’re having a party next to me — [with] like an actual DJ.

It seems like a little further down, on Eastern Parkway between Franklin and the Brooklyn Museum, that section of Crown Heights is changing faster.
It is changing faster. It seems like they’re trying to convert everything into condos.

There’s a bar [Franklin Park] that just opened on St. John’s between Franklin and Classon — very upscale — it’s got an outdoors, palm trees. I went there with my sister and it was really laid back. And all I kept saying as I was sitting there was like, how long is it going to take for the people who don’t want to see the neighborhood change, to tear this down?

park1.jpgDo you feel safe in the neighborhood?
Um, yeah. I mean, I mind my business. Most things only happen on this side of Eastern Parkway I would say… The kids in the neighborhood just hang out and cause trouble or something happens in Lincoln Terrace Park. A couple of years ago someone got raped in the park. But it definitely feels safer [now].

Is there any advice you’d give to people who want to move here?

Pick and choose your building carefully, and the area, because Crown Heights is very big, and some parts are OK, and other parts aren’t.

And if you could sum up your neighborhood in one word?

Unique: because you never know what you’ll see out here. Ever.

A snapshot of life further west on Eastern Parkway, continues here>>

Sent by Annaliese and Nicole. Crown Heights North photo courtesy Crown Heights North Association. Tikeshia Pierre photo by Jacci Leslie; parade photo by Forota on Flickr, Lincoln Terrace Park photo by Melissa Sands.

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