"Why would I visit Brooklyn when I live in the center of the universe." A popular refrain of many Manhattanite friends and a view I shared up until recently. Having been a West Villager for many years, I am intimately familiar with the ethnocentrism bred by living with cobblestone streets, hip restaurants, celebrity neighbors and uber-fashionable friends. My ignorance of the outer boroughs made it easy to believe that I'd actually reached the promised land. But once I moved across the river that view was challenged and ultimately obliterated.
Here is the thing about living in Brooklyn. It's only once you've lived here that you truly understand why people love it. Although what initially drew me to Brooklyn was more apartment for less money, what keeps me in Brooklyn has more to do with what fills the space outside my building.
Rats cramped in a small cage tend to scurry around haphazardly trying to find a resting spot. I think I mistook Manhattan's 'vibrance' for people just trying to get out of each other's way. Rats with a bit more space have a chance to sit still, quietly contemplate being rats, and glance at the over-crowded cage next door. Not only did moving to Brooklyn give me a chance to live on the 'outside' and look 'in' but it also gave me a chance to peel back the layers of 'outside'.
Layer #1 - A Progressive Food Movement. From Bushwick pizza joints to Red Hook eateries that source their own produce or that of local gardens, to organizations like Slow Food in Dumbo that promote ideals directly opposite to factory-raised fast food, to a shockingly long list of restaurants in Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Fort Greene that take great pains to source humanely-raised, organically-produced meat, Brooklyn is light years ahead of Manhattan. Not only do Brooklyn restauranteurs appreciate that closer to nature is better but they also are happy to discuss it. In the past couple of months, I've made it a point to ask about sourcing of products in both Brooklyn and Manhattan restaurants. In Manhattan, more often than not, I'm met with an angry glance or an empty stare whereas in Brooklyn, local, organic, sustainable is the common response.
Layer #2 - Chock Full of Creatives. Whether I'm grabbing a coffee at Dumbo General Store, sitting in Fort Greene park or grabbing a bite at Jack the Horse Tavern in the Heights, I seem to run into a lot more writers, bloggers, filmakers, entrepreneurs, etc...than when I lived in the prized West Village. I suspect its simply a function of affordability but whatever the case its an aspect of Brooklyn that keeps my attention piqued and that is saying a lot from coming from an ADD-afflicted soul. I've also noticed that there is less talk and more action. It seems to me that Brooklyn is a place for people who are less concerned about looking the part and prefer to actually play the part.
Layer #3 - A Dot-com and Tech Hub. For various reasons, tech start-ups and dot-coms have a better shot at getting off the ground in places like Dumbo. Commercial rent is much cheaper than in Manhattan and there is access to serious tech talent. Drop.io (online storage/sharing) and Etsy.com (vitual storefronts for creatives) are great examples of these successes and many others now call Dumbo home.
Layer #4 - A Reason to Compose. While living in Manhattan, I never felt compelled to write an ode. But surrounded by fulfilled neighbors, I feel happy and sometimes that manifests itself in song. (Think Julie Andrews singing A Few of My Favorite Things in the Sound of Music):
Park Slope's Gorilla Coffee and Frankie 457's progressive kitchen, Dumbo's Powerhouse bookstore and Brooklyn Bridge Park picnickin', Greenpoint's rooftop gardens and the deliciousness that home-brewing brings, these are a few of my favorite things.
When the trains stall, when the traffic builds
When Manhattanites refuse to visit and I feel sad
I simply wallow around in my reasonably-priced 2000 square feet
And then I don't feel so bad.
In jest, my Manhattanite friends regularly ask whether they need their passport to visit me. Although they can in fact travel ID-free across the three bridges and one tunnel that lead to Brooklyn, perhaps we should set up border patrol and interview people before letting them roam our streets. Created anything unique in the past month? Know what the term 'pastured' means? Happy? Perhaps we can weed out the tortured and fancy 'city' dwellers and fill our streets with the worthy.
All of this said, I'm officially retiring one of my 'Somedays' 'Move Back to the West Village' and instead am going to baske in the satisfaction of having made the right move. Yes, I have to cross a body of water to get home from work but as I breeze across the Manhattan Bridge (yes, a version of Manhattan that I prefer over Brooklyn) on my scooter and watch the sunset behind Lady Liberty, I am reminded that in the present, as in the past, giant leaps of faith are occasionally met with giant size contentment.