This is the fourth of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about Brooklyn.
Brooklyn’s basketball courts are as much a part of New York’s landscape as are its regal brownstones, where each is often within close proximity to the other. Pick-up games have long been a way to get to know the neighborhood and to play and be friendly with neighbors and strangers.
At Coffey Park in Red Hook, Carmelo Anthony honed his game. Marine Park is where Chris Mullin played, and every Saturday there’s serious pick-up.
But development since the 1990s has meant more brownstones are renovated and basketball courts are removed, pointing to the loss of something that’s intrinsically Brooklyn. In fact, this last June conflict in the well-off Brooklyn Heights enclave rose when residents attributed Brooklyn Bridge Park’s basketball players—coming from as far as the Bronx and Queens—to “damaging the character of the neighborhood.” Who and what defines that character is up for discussion.
In his essay, “Empire of Brownstone and Brick,” Thomas J. Campanella traces the formation of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and the history of its brownstones. Here’s an excerpt:
In an era when Brooklyn has become a global “brand” beloved by British celebrities who name kids for the borough, it is the iconic building type of the moraine—the brownstone—that people think of. Like New Orleans with its shotgun houses or San Francisco with its Victorian “painted ladies,” Brooklyn is among a handful of American cities essentialized in the popular imagination by a particular kind of residential architecture. The brownstone townhouse signifies Brooklyn as much as the borough’s eponymous bridge or Coney Island’s Parachute Jump—perhaps more so. . . . But the brownstone represents only old Brooklyn, the city of the terminal moraine. Outwash Brooklyn has a signature style of residential architecture all its own—the Tudor-revival home, with its faux half-timbered walls and slate tile roofs. This style may not be popular among creative-class elites who clamor for brownstones—at least not yet. But it too is saturated with significance and speaks to the varied and ever-changing ways that our homes can suggest longing at once for the future and for some imagined past.
And perhaps Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts describes Brooklyn’s development and changes best in her essay, “Freed But Not Free”:
The city, we’re sometimes told, is composed of villages. Fruits of segregation or identification, shaped by the churn of developers’ schemes and capital’s march, some of the places now called “Villages”—those cubic blocks called projects—evince the city’s old will to push those it doesn’t wish to see to the margins, where they’ll remain (unless of course those projects sit in now-rich neighborhoods and are doomed, too, to be sold off ). All sit atop settlements that came before. . . . Visiting these sites now, we’re reminded that when building on unsteady ground and stolen territory, perhaps the most important material is time, and the ability to inhabit an expanded idea of history like the one that Columbia professor Saidiya Hartman offers us when she asserts, “I, too, live in the time of slavery, by which I mean I am living in the future created by it.”
The images above and below are details from the map “Brownstones and Basketball,” which locates notable brownstones and public courts throughout Brooklyn. You can find the map and both essays in full in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.