Free app offers guided audio tours of Brooklyn neighborhoods

The Prospect Park walk takes strollers through some of the yards most iconic landmarks, such as the Boathouse.
Photo by Susan de Vries

A Kings County-based company is offering audio tours of Brooklyn neighborhoods through their free-to-download app, giving Brooklynites a chance to explore their own backyards through a new lens.

Gesso, which specializes in creating audio guides for museums, pivoted to creating guided walks through New York City neighborhoods during the coronavirus pandemic, while travel has halted and New Yorkers are stuck exploring their own city.

“We wanted to recreate this joy of putting on your headphones and going for a walk and learning about where you are, without having to pull out your phone and Googling the building that you’ve always been interested in,” said Gesso co-founder Henna Wang..

The company has spent the summer zeroing in on their home city, creating local walks in Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

“We were asking ourselves what it’s like to be a travel company during these times when it’s so uncertain and no one can travel,” Wang said. “We sort of doubled down on creating content here in New York for New Yorkers, so that we can unearth the hidden gems that are all around the city.”

In Brooklyn, the app offers three guided audio tours for the Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg and Prospect Park, with an emphasis on giving listeners a thorough understanding of the past and present of the areas. 

Backyard travelers can embark on self-guided tours through neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Park Slope, and Fort Greene, with short audio guides to most important landmarks in the area. 

The Bedford-Stuyvesant tour focuses both on the neighborhood’s vibrancy and architectural significance, and on the shameful history of redlining in the 20th century, when the area was deemed not worthy of investment by large banks.

The walk over Brooklyn Bridge focuses on the building of the historic span, while the stroll through Williamsburg takes a sociological look at hipsterism, and examines independent businesses that have managed to thrive there despite rapid gentrification. 

In Prospect Park, walkers will hear a more meditative tone, encouraging listeners to soak in the lawn’s natural beauty while considering the history of the land through the years — from its time as home to the Lenape people, as the estate of “father of Park Slope” Edwin Clark Litchfield, and green haven to generations of Brooklynites since the mid 19th century. Even those that have traversed the park hundreds of times will learn new information, and be forced to see the iconic green space through more contemplative eyes, fully appreciating Brooklyn’s Backyard for the green oasis it is.

We realized during lockdown Prospect Park was such a sanctuary for us locals,” Wang said. “So this walk was really made as an ode to this treasure.”