There are many easy ways to make a faux pas in New York and immediately mark yourself a non-local: referring to the subway as “the Metro”, dropping “the” and calling our northernmost borough simply “Bronx”, stating and defending that you’re from the city when actually you’re from Westchester and confusing the concepts of a county, a neighborhood and a city-defined area. The last example is an easy to make, forgivable offense, but finding a reliable source to learn from your error (or even realize you were wrong) is surprisingly difficult, especially when errors abound in official-seeming information and even local journalism.
Late last month, The New York Daily News published a lighthearted quiz titled How many of Brooklyn’s 77 neighborhoods can you name in six minutes? Off the bat, I thought 77 to be a really high number. Full disclosure: I named 49 nabes, a score I was initially ashamed of, only to realize that a vast number of the answers were not, in fact, neighborhoods.
Now, there are different types of “fake neighborhoods”, or real areas that have been assigned inauthentic names. There are broker-branded, acronym-ed areas – BoCoCa, SoBro – overextended neighborhood boundaries – referring to Bed-Stuy as East Williamsburg, or Gowanus as Park Slope – and, in the case of the Daily News’s quiz, elevating vague area designations to the level of neighborhood names.
Among the more deplorable mis-listed neighborhood names are:
- Southside – No. South Williamsburg is a thing. “Southside” alone with no further clarifying neighborhood references is a deplorable appropriation of Chicago.
- Kings Highway – Ahh Kings Highway, one of Brooklyn’s great borough-spanning throughways. When people say they’re from Kings Highway, it usually means they’re from somewhere near the roadway but have no idea what nabe it is. Their ignorance does not elevate Kings Highway to neighborhood status.
- Ocean Parkway – Like Kings Highway, Ocean Parkway makes abundantly clear that it is a roadway, not an area, goddammit.
- Columbia St. – Assumedly the author was referring to the Columbia Street Waterfront District, which is a very small, historically designated area adjacent to Red Hook. If you try to shorten the barely-there neighborhood to simply “Columbia St.”, people are gonna think you’re referring to the street itself, not the area.
- Tompkins Park North – lol what. Just because the New York Times put three words together in 1996 doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a neighborhood.
Furthermore, the list doesn’t include the Navy Yard, which despite lacking residential real estate is often referred to locally as its own nabe.
This is not an objective topic (unlike other topics covered by the quiz’s author, including How many of the Fast and Furious movies can you name in two minutes? and How many of the eight planets and moons from the original “Star Wars” trilogy can you name?). Neighborhood names and boundaries are an ever-evolving part of New York – until these past two decades, a good deal of the neighborhoods south of Atlantic Ave. were referred to simply as South Brooklyn. As Kings County’s real estate values skyrocketed, however, it became lucrative for companies to rebrand or recall historic titles for areas with reputations of having high crime, and it became common for transplants to mis-label their neighborhoods. Even without the out-of-staters and real estate people making inaccurate references, boundaries were still debated, especially in the case of Flatbush (which boasts a ridiculous amount of “micro” neighborhoods, who names date back to their founding). Defining an area’s perimeter has always been more art than science.
Doubtful of your broker’s intel that your neighborhood is known by area residents as Slopebottom? Ask a local, we’re happy to rant at you about the topic.