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Neighborhood integrity matters

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Brooklyn has always had a distinct culture, vibrancy and an independent spirit not seen in other places. Our neighborhoods — long magnets for immigrants from all over the world — have been safe havens for families that planted roots in one of Brooklyn’s many enclaves and began to design their new lives.

In this context, neighborhood identity is important whether one lives in Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Boerum Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant or Brownsville. These neighborhoods and many others throughout the borough are all unique and are an important part of our history, culture and tradition.

Under state Law, real estate brokers are prohibited from advertising properties in a false or misleading fashion. But some brokers are renaming neighborhoods and redrawing boundaries at will, driven by a desire to make edgier communities seem more attractive in order to artificially inflate housing prices.

Parts of Sunset Park are now being advertised as Greenwood Heights (after the cemetery that bares that name). A portion of Crown Heights is being marketed by some as ProCro. And a carved out block of Fort Greene that sits between new luxury condominiums (but adjacent to public housing) is dubbed DoBro.

Why should any of this matter?

Every Brooklyn resident has a right to call his neighborhood anything he wants. But real estate brokers are obligated to give prospective homebuyers and tenants accurate information about the property being marketed. The consequences of realtors providing misleading information are broad. Working families are pushed out of rebranded neighborhoods as housing prices soar. Newer residents pay more to rent or buy, largely as a result of the deceptive marketing.

This is why I plan to introduce the Neighborhood Integrity Act. This bill will require the city to develop a community-oriented process before brokers can rebrand a neighborhood or redefine its boundaries simply for commercial purposes. These new names rarely result from community input and are often disconnected from a neighborhood’s history, culture or tradition.

The best way to change a neighborhood’s identity is not by inventing names out of thin air. Successful change requires hard work designed to improve a neighborhood’s quality of life. Brooklynites have been doing a great job in this area. We don’t need a few creative real-estate brokers to show us the way.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries’s district includes Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

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Reader Feedback

Bigs from Stuyvesant Heights says:
Assemblyman Jeffries' proposal is a ridiculous waste of our time, plays to lowbrow populist sentiment, and doesn't acknowledge that cities are growing, organic entities.

In his article, he uses the name "Bedford-Stuyvesant" to describe the area where I live, which is itself an compound of two historical village names. The "Bedford-Stuyvesant" tag in itself is and always has been absurd - it is commonly used to describe a massive swath of land as large as Manhattan south of Canal street, with several distinct neighborhoods within it. There is no single "Bedford-Stuyvesant" community - it is comprised of several distinct communities, many of which do not fall neatly along their "historical" borders.

I would argue it is more productive to allow names to change organically - which includes renaming through real estate marketing.

Economics, the real estate market, and development are very real factors in the growth of cities and migration within the city, and along with this, the development of distinct communities and neighborhoods.
May 13, 2011, 8:15 am
Frank from Furter says:
I actually like Hakeem Jefferies. But this is 1.unenforceable and 2. not necessary.
If anyone is buying in a place because of the name a real estate broker gives a neighborhood can you please sent them to me to buy something because there middle name is gullible. Brokers always try to over sell. that is what they do. to rely on them is the height of stupidity(to say the least).
Also would there be a DUMBO? or A Boerum Hill? or Prospect heights/ or a myriad of other neighborhoods? Brokers actually do serve a purpose especially when a name is not given for good reasons....South Brooklyn Gowanus etc.
The name of the neighborhood is not something that effects the truth of what the RE brokers says about the property. You know where it is. Unenforceable, unnecessary but you need to give Assembly member Jefferies credit for raising an issue that underlies gentrification.
May 13, 2011, 11:13 am
kay from fort greene says:
i actually like hakeem jeffries too. but he should be spending his time coming up with constructive responses to rampant gentrification and loss of affordable housing, increasing stratification and segregation of neighborhoods, than controlling what real estate brokers do. who actually believes real estate people anyway?
May 13, 2011, 12:41 pm
Rob Witherwax from Prospect Heights says:
To follow this logic to conclusion, we should have no more than six neighborhoods - Flatbush, New Utrecht, Gravesend, Bushwick, Flatlands, and Brooklyn - the original Dutch and English villages. That would be ridiculous. Equally ridiculous would be letting real estate agents and journalists pull and stretch neighborhood borders to fit the fashion of the day, until Park Slope comes to 3rd Avenue and 21st Street, Downtown Brooklyn comes to Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, and Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.

Neighborhood names are created, change, and will continue to change, based largely on what the people who choose to live in a particular location choose to call it, such as DUMBO or Prospect Lefferts Gardens, or choose to stop calling it, such as South Brooklyn. There is nothing wrong with new neighborhood names or elastic boundaries - so long as they evolve organically from their residents' needs.

To use the most seized-upon example, the area between Atlantic, Washington, Rogers, and Eastern Parkway has seen demographic shifts in recent years, which presumably have supplanted residents who self-identify with Crown Heights, with residents who self-idenfity with Prospect Heights; its main thoroughfare, Franklin Avenue, has seen something of a revitalization of late. Surely this liminal zone between two neighborhoods, this bustling corner of Brooklyn for which no current appellation exists, now deserves a handy name of its own.

What name to use? Ask the residents. Maybe they call it Prospect Heights; if so, fine with me. Maybe they call it ProCro: also fine (but I have never heard anyone except real estate bloggers call it ProCro!). The historian in me thinks Crow Hill is perfectly suitable. But it is not up to me, or a blogger, or an agent, or the city. New York City gains nothing by freezing neighborhood names, or by subjecting them to bureaucratic review, or by letting the real estate and journalism industries dictate names and boundaries.

We should not dampen the creativity that produced not only the sublime DUMBO but the ridiculous BoCoCa. The former has endured 40 years while the latter is evaporating before our eyes, because it was imposed awkwardly on a population that already had names for itself - Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens. It should be pointed out that those names were created and adopted out of necessity to identify different parts of South Brooklyn - which in turn identified the southern part of the Village of Brooklyn two hundred years ago. Times change, and names should change as needed.

Rob Witherwax
Second Vice Chair, CB 8
May 13, 2011, 1:12 pm
tee gee from sunset park says:
for anyone who disagrees with the councilmember - imagine tomorrow you decide to move to Chicago - and you Google "best neighborhoods of Chicago"...you make up a list and then check with brokers. how would you, as a New Yorker, know if you were being lied to? you wouldn't. many new yorkers are under 20 or coming for school...they could easily be tricked -

i commend the councilmember for his vision.

years ago, i made it a practice to send a letter (snail mail days) to brokers who misrepresented their sunset park listings as: park slope, south slope, south south slope and a host of other names. my letter asked how they managed to transport the listed property out of sunset park. i also included a host of positive things about sunset park and told them that SP was a great place to live and they should share that info with clients.

i also checked monthly listings of homes sold in sunset park and sent them a mailed version of the "welcome wagon" - providing them with info about the community and its resources. (sadly, out of over 100 mailings, i never got a thank you, nor did anyone ever say they attended a civic meeting because of the letters).

a sad part of nyc life is it is transient...folks often come and go - kind of like Dorothy's observation in the Wizard of Oz. (a study that i commissioned at the time found that even longterm residents - 8 years - expected to move in the next 3 years - but they had believed that as far back as 5 years earlier...lol)
May 13, 2011, 4:46 pm

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