OPINION: The Times gets it right
When you pick up the New York Times’ travel section, you expect to see articles about such far-off locations as Baku, Banff or Buenos Aires. It was a big surprise, then, when last Sunday’s Times travel section led with a full-page article about Brooklyn called “My Borough, Your Destination.”
The writer, Wendell Jamieson, is a native Brooklynite, unlike many of today’s Brooklyn boosters. He grew up in Park Slope during the 1970s and ’80s and said he remembers the neighborhood when it was somewhat down and out, with street crime and prostitution rampant on some blocks. Even then, however, there was another side to the Slope, embodied in the old mansions, the Ethical Culture Society, the charming stores on Seventh Avenue and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. That’s exactly the point Jamieson is making – that there are so many sides to Brooklyn, you can’t neatly pigeonhole the borough and its neighborhoods into one category or another.
The article begins with Jamieson, for the first time in his life, checking into a hotel in Brooklyn with his family to gauge the experience of out-of-town tourists. His hotel, the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, serves fancy, artisanal drinks and snacks in its mini-bars, and registration for the hotel is a somewhat complicated procedure. He contrasts this with his dinner in an “old-school Italian restaurant” where you don’t need a reservation. Later in the article, he contrasts a Williamsburg restaurant called Maison Premiere, which has a $95 “tasting menu,” with Roll and Roaster, a basic, no-nonsense roast beef emporium in Sheepshead Bay.
Many native Brooklynites fear that the influx of artsy, self-confident young transplants is a threat to middle-class neighborhoods, not to mention working-class ethnic areas like Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant. But Jamieson believes, with some justification, that Brooklyn is big and inclusive enough to embrace everyone, from the Williamsburg experimental filmmaker to the Carroll Gardens exercise teacher, from the Brooklyn Heights investment banker to the Salvadoran immigrant in Sunset Park.
Indeed, while Jamieson mourns part of the past (such as the original Purity diner in Park Slope), he celebrates what’s improved in the borough, namely greater safety and an end to people’s feeling of isolation. He remembers that when he was in a rock band around 1990, there were very few places where he could either play or hear music locally. Now, he says, even Elvis Costello, one of his boyhood idols, plays in Brooklyn. “I try not to focus on the fact that I could never afford the house in which he grew up,” he says.
As I see it, there are several flaws in the article. Jamieson waits until the end of the article to mention some of the borough’s very real problems – the appalling crime rate in Brownsville and East New York, the staggering price tag for the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, substandard conditions in a homeless shelter. Like many people from northern Brooklyn, he also gives short shrift to the neighborhoods south of Prospect Park, such as Bay Ridge, Coney Island and Brighton Beach.
The fact remains, however, that for tourists, a visit to Brooklyn is vastly more entertaining and more comfortable than it would have been in 1970, 1980 or 1990. Hotels and restaurants are booming, and new attractions like the revived Red Hook waterfront coexist happily with older ones like the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Since the Times is read all over the world, we hope this article will spur an even greater interest in Brooklyn tourism.
Raanan Geberer, a freelance writer, recently retired as Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He had been Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Bulletin until 1996, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was revived and merged with the Bulletin.
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