Guides featuring Prospect Heights residents’ stories
You can never run out of things to do in New York City’s neighborhoods, allowing residents to take pride in and create memories of their neighborhood. Thanks to a project aimed at raising awareness on the changes taking place in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, called Intersection/Prospect Heights, residents can choose their most cherished places in Prospect Heights and write about why those places are important to them. Printed guides, available around the neighborhood, featured the stories of six different residents.
The project’s goal is to “look at the present through the not too distant past” in order to foster conversations about gentrification, sustainability, development and displacement in a critical moment for the city. The project also includes public conversations on these topics as part of the project, pop-up exhibitions, walking tours of the mentioned places, and contributing to an ongoing oral history project.
Printed guides are available at locations throughout Prospect Heights
Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani started interviewing neighbors for Intersection/Prospect Heights in the early 2000s and asked them to take her on tours of the neighborhood to places important to them. She wrote, “These forever changed my experience of the neighborhood. All of a sudden, this place seemed filled with an enriching cacophony of other people’s histories, needs, desires, and hopes. My own landmarks were transformed: a trip to the supermarket was no longer the same, nor was the building in which I got married; my walk back to Prospect Heights on September 11, 2001 became intertwined with neighbors’ memories of the view from Brooklyn.”
Though she moved away, these stories remained the stories remained her “sense” of Prospect Heights, and she soon realized the neighborhood wasn’t the same; it was changing. Frustrated by the vague and inaccurate public conversation surrounding gentrification, she started the project with the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and Brooklyn Public Library to improve conversation and raise awareness about the impacts of government-incited development, in addition to sharing neighborhood stories.
There are several different aspects of Prospect Heights that residents have chosen in the guides. Many of them chose seemingly insignificant places that they attach meaningful, nostalgic memories to. Though the stories are frequently quirky, they reflect the more serious politics behind the changing area.
For instance, one resident mentioned a home on St. Marks and Vanderbilt Avenue for the memories he had of partying there, and also mentioned a bread factory that used to be on Bergen Street with about 150 employees. However, now, he wrote, “…the whole bread factory, it’s dead…”
Another resident wrote about a home on Bergen Street where he and his friend adventurously climbed over a gate. Someone else mentioned a now boarded-up hardware store where he and some friends used to have parties on Thursday afternoons, commenting on how remarkably untouched the inside of the shop is now. The best part his that he and his friends still continued to gather here after the building’s owner passed on. He also reminisced on the building he used to live in, telling the solemn story of the financial reasons he had to leave
Mike, a tour guide and Prospect Heights resident who discussed a former bread factory in his recollections
The boarded-up shop one resident has memories from
Neville, a tour guide and the former Prospect Heights resident who used to hang out in the now boarded-up shop previously mentioned
Two people mentioned the now-closed “Georges” (renamed “The Usual”), a diner on Vanderbilt Avenue. One resident that said it used to be the most important place in his neighborhood because people could “talk about anything” there.
A diner that was on Vanderbilt Avenue, which a couple of residents mentioned as among their favorite places
Another woman described memories of walking with a stroller along Bergen Street and living with a roommate in an apartment on that street. Of course, residents also mentioned famous Brooklyn locales like Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza and the Brooklyn Public Library.
Grand Army Plaza
Some of the public conversations hosted by the project at the Brooklyn Public Library
A walking tour hosted by the project. Photo by Philip Van Nostrand
A stop on a walking tour hosted by the project. Photo by Philip Van Nostrand
The project held two public conversations in October and November at the Brooklyn Public Library as well as walking tours (which were successful and sold out fast). The guides are still available around the neighborhood, and there will be more walking tours and an event next year bringing the the pieces of the project together and publicizing the stories.