News flash: I’m not getting any younger. And before you alert the media, a few questions.
Will I outgrow my beloved Brooklyn and seek solace elsewhere? Will I ever be the proud owner of a dreamy brownstone with a custom kitchen? And what will happen to the Italian vibe I love as the old folks disperse and more youngish yuppie types move in? Let’s unpack.
I have always been drawn to cities where people come to live their dreams. Effervescent energy centers full of huddled masses and such. As a small girl in Philadelphia, my dreams had little to do with the Liberty Bell and more to do with the Statue of Liberty. Because from a very early age, I knew New York was my place. I moved to Manhattan right after college and never looked back, despite a 7-year respite in the prime of my advertising career when I moved to Miami, a city which never suited me and never made my heart sing. New York had my heart, and always will. In many ways, this city was the first great love of my life.
This brings me to my current borough of Brooklyn. I first discovered my Carroll Gardens neighborhood in the late ’90s after a terrible break-up jilted my center. To reground, I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and found a sweet two-bedroom half a block from the F train. I shared the precious space with a roommate, and we each paid $550 a month. I began to heal from heartbreak as I walked the quaint streets of Cobble Hill and felt the spirit of Truman Capote in Brooklyn Heights. I raised myself up by painting my bedroom Prozac blue and walking the stunning Promenade and wondered why others had not moved from Manhattan.
Back then, Brooklyn was basic in the best way. There was a little to do and a little to eat, but kids played catch in the street. There were few places to buy clothes or makeup but wonderful places like Sahadi’s for amazing Middle Eastern food (still there, ps). And there was literally one gym near me, a dingy New York Sports Club outpost that became a second home.
After a few years in Brooklyn, I moved back to Manhattan, and then when we moved back from Miami in 2011, there could only be Brooklyn. And I haven’t left since. For those unindoctrinated, Brooklyn is big. Massive even.
It’s 69.5 square miles compared to Manhattan’s 22.82. Brooklyn is also incredibly diverse. There is the Brooklyn of Girls fame in places like Greenpoint, Bushwick, and Bed Stuy. There are the traditionally working-class areas of BK, like Bay Ridge, whose waterfront views and laid-back vibe make for nice living, though far from the city. You can see more orthodox Jews in Williamsburg or Crown Heights than in Jerusalem. And you can take the F train to the end of the line and ride the Cyclone at Coney Island while inhaling a hot dog from Nathan’s. As for my part of Brooklyn, it’s decidedly a bit more grown-up and full of affluent “creative professionals” with children named Ellington or Jagger and many old Italians who decorate their homes for the holidays with enormous blow-up Santas and Easter bunnies. I particularly love the Italians.
And since my neighborhood was traditionally Italian, it still has excellent spots for lard bread, lasagna, and fresh mozzarella. But it didn’t take too long for residents of Manhattan looking for brownstone living at a lower price to get hip to the beauty of this area. And now, it’s full of clog mamas, expensive strollers, and a million places to get a matcha latte and an expensive face serum — admittedly bougie, but also so lovely.
Here’s something about me you should know. When it comes to real estate, I’m not a pioneer.
I like to live in neighborhoods that are less up-and-coming and more here to stay. Even as a twentysomething, I partied in the East Village but was happy to hang my hat on the much menschier Upper East Side. That’s just who I am.
Next, I’m a big fan of charm; this neighborhood might be one of the most charming in the country (feel free to challenge this). Think tree-lined streets, brownstones gone wild, and a laid-back vibe that is a respite from the endless hustle of Manhattan. As soon as you get off the train, you can feel it and see a whole lot of sky. Yes, tall buildings dot downtown Brooklyn, but my community is not about that, and I love it. I have never wanted to live in a high-rise and, though a doorperson would come in handy, you can’t beat the patina of my tin-roofed two-bedroom with a beautiful courtyard view.
As for commuting, you can quickly get to the city from my apartment with the F train nearby. But for many Brooklynites, we like to stick around on the weekends and go for lazy walks around the neighborhood, which is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
There is good shopping here, and you can easily dent your wallet from Rag & Bone to Rachel Comey to small boutiques like my favorite Meg. The food scene is just ok, which is surprising. It’s not bad at all, but it can’t touch Manhattan. Two of my favorite spots are the recently opened Cafe Spaghetti and nearby Red Hook’s fabulous Red Hook Tavern, perfectly capturing the gritty but sophisticated new spirit of the once desolate but always cool area. A killer croissant place down the street smells like heaven from a block away and is an excellent addition to the neighborhood. If you like to cook, there are decent supermarkets, great mom-and-pop fruit and vegetable stands, specialty butcher shops, and Italian bakeries. It’s a bit Euro that way, and I love it.
There are also now a ton of workout options. Boutique fitness is the vibe from Pure Barre to Pilates, yoga to SLT. Equinox is in BK Heights if you like something more robust.
And even though I rarely go for cocktails these days, a recent trip to watch our friend DJ at Honeycomb in Park Slope, a spot influenced by trendy Tokyo vinyl listening bars, rivaled any fabulous night I could have in the city, Japanese whiskey highballs and all.
And now for a bit of bad news. You pay a high price to live in (my version of) paradise.
According to Realtor.com, in February 2023, “the median listing home price in Carroll Gardens was $2.3M, trending up 12.7% year-over-year. The median listing home price per square foot was $1.3K. The median home sold price was $2.1M.” That seems low to me, considering brownstones seem to go for much higher than that, but living in Brooklyn is no longer the middle-class mecca it once was and now has become a very desirable place to live. Ask Lily Allen, her husband, Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and other low-key celebs who call this place home. During the early days of the admittedly terrifying pandemic, I found deep comfort in hibernating and hunkering down here. Looking in my yard and seeing kids playing on their swing sets was a bit of a super salve at a scary time. As Manhattan felt more and more like the set of The Warriors, I was happy to be a bridge-and-tunnel girl. And I always will be.
Should I stay or should I go?
The question of whether I could live here is obvious because I do live here. We have a new puppy, and I have delighted to introduce her to my little village of life. I still get warm fuzzy tingles when I roll out of bed to get coffee on a sleepy, sunny Sunday and soak in the low-key neighborhood energy. I exhale whenever I cross the bridge back to Brooklyn after a day or night in Manhattan. I am also comforted that the poster child of my generation, Ethan Hawke, lives one neighborhood over and is a longtime resident, which is comforting. So the question is not really could I live here, but will I live here forever?
I still have many dreams to fulfill, so maybe I’ll be here for a while or perhaps those dreams will take a lifetime. I am still endlessly inspired by New York, and I hope my Brooklyn womb keeps me safe, protected, and happy as I continue to follow my heart and walk these lovely leafy streets. New York will always be my spiritual home; returning to Brooklyn as I travel to and fro is worth the (very high) price of admission, and it’s just my tempo.
Talk to me in the comments, and come for a visit. XO