The Ever Elusive Borders of Bushwick
By Mariya Pylayev and Thomas Berkley
By Mariya Pylayev and Thomas Berkley
A Bushwick apartment search done on Craigslist is the true test of patience. By our seat-of-the-pants calculations, the volume of misleading posts and spam have climbed upwards faster than the new loft constructions that are springing up all over this neighborhood.
“Some call it Bushwick, some call it East Williamsburg—we’ll call it whatever you want,” said Rachel, a real estate broker, in a pleasant voice when we inquired about a rental property on Irving Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Rachel’s job is to fill vacancies as quickly as possible and to appeal to whatever sensibilities a perspective tenant may have when he or she conducts a search. She won’t try to convince you that Roberta’s is not in Bushwick or that East Williamsburg does not exist. But among those of us who are not in the real estate business, there are certainly enough people who do argue these and subsequent opposing viewpoints.
Before the eye-rolling and deep guttural groaning begins, we would like to pose a simple two-part question: Does this matter and why?
The flippant answer would be that it doesn’t.
But we believe that, to some extent, it does and we were willing to put in the legwork to figure this out once and for all.
To make things more difficult, a representative from the NYC Department of City Planning told us that there are no official neighborhood boundaries. Instead, the city recognizes the 59 community districts that were created in 1975, before which the five boroughs were divided into wards. Predating even that Bushwick was the much larger Boswijck, which also included Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
Today’s Bushwick lies within the borders of Brooklyn Community District 4. It is defined by Flushing Avenue, Broadway, the Queens border and the Evergreen Cemetery. These lines are clearly documented on the city’s website. So it seems that “community district” is just administrativese for “neighborhood”. Case closed?
It’s not entirely so simple. Community District 1, for example, is made up of five distinct neighborhoods—Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, Gowanus and Cobble Hill.
However, if we look to Google Maps, which uses APIs like GeoReach to overlay neighborhood borders, we’ll see that Bushwick’s boundaries are identical to the city’s community district lines.
Similarly, vintage map reseller Wardmaps has maps that show the neighborhood, then referred to as Ward 11, as bound by Flushing Avenue to the north, Broadway to the west and “Cemetery of the Evergreens” to the south, with only the Queens/Newton border in dispute.
With all this in mind, we have to remember that a neighborhood is not only defined by the arbitrary lines drawn by people that died long before any of us were born. A neighborhood also embodies a sense of community, culture and familiarity. Your neighborhood is the local store you can always count on, the crack in the sidewalk you usually remember to avoid and the familiar faces on stoops and at Laundromats.
In Bushwick specifically there are the blocks—or steps, for the luckier of us—to the L and M trains; the open fire hydrants in the summer; and the innumerable bodegas, galleries, Botanicas, record stores, eateries and bars.
What Bushwick is all depends on who is asked. Whether it is described as today’s bohemia, a real estate golden child or no-man’s land, the answer will be based on personal biases and interests. And it seems that its geographic location is not free from these filters either.
We asked Eli, another broker, why the rental property he was advertising was listed under East Williamsburg/Bushwick when it was four blocks south of Broadway. His answer was a dull beep followed by a dropped call.