It's a fun game, and one I'm not above engaging in: what is New York's cool neighborhood du jour? If you follow the real estate press, you’ll know the answer: Bedford-Stuyvesant. The New York Post, New York magazine and the New York Times—that ultimate arbiter of the line between under-the-radar and formally “up-and-coming”—have all anointed Bed-Stuy the new hipster 'hood, with one broker dubbing it “the hottest neighborhood in Brooklyn.”
I moved to Bed-Stuy a little over a year ago, after three years living just over the boundary in next-door Clinton Hill. I rent a studio that lacks an oven and a bathtub for $1,135 a month. And, like the Times, I consider the neighborhood a beautiful and diverse place, with a friendly interaction between people of different ages, races and income levels, for the most part, and stretches of gorgeous architecture. I won’t tell you not to move to Bed-Stuy, nor make any value judgments about who should or should not live there. But I’m getting out, moving to a far roomier studio in nearby Fort Greene.
If your constraints are similar to mine—workdays that stretch beyond 9-to-5, a commute to Manhattan, the desire for plentiful and unpretentious dining options—you may want to look elsewhere, or at least know what you're in for. Below, nine things I’ve gleaned about the neighborhood:
1. "911 is a joke"
I used to live in Clinton Hill, and during that period was mugged, robbed and threatened on multiple occasions, so I spent some quality time filling out paperwork at the 88th precinct. The Clinton Hill precinct is welcoming, friendly, and full of helpful cops who get to your house three minutes after your robbery. By comparison, the 79th and 81st precincts in Bed-Stuy have a lot more on their hands, meaning that unless you’ve been stabbed, you’re unlikely to get much attention.
If you call your precinct with a noise complaint at 10 p.m., don't expect a response until, oh, at least 3 a.m., when silence has once again been restored. Even though I use my patented lady-in-distress voice—I've called about five times in the last year to complain about the band next door—no one ever responded in a timely fashion. (Editor's note: The writer called the local police precinct, not 911, about her noise complaints.)
2. Your neighbors are lawless children (with bank accounts)
This brings me to the neighbors. I recently paid a visit to the people who live next door—a group of twenty something, 9-to-5-job-scorning, independent-art-project types—to ask them to keep their frequent late-night drumming sessions to a minimum.
One of them was polite and said they’d quiet down, but not before another one scolded me for making the request in the first place. “Maybe you shouldn’t have moved to Brooklyn,” she snorted. I was ambivalent, part of me gleeful to, essentially, be called a yuppie for the first time in my life. But another part of me loathed to get into the “Who’s more Brooklyn?” debate.
The takeaway here, my friends, is that, yes, your neighbors in Bed-Stuy will largely be families and others who came in search of relatively affordable living with access to Manhattan. But there will also be those who arrived because they are in a band. Maybe they read the Times article. Dad pays the bills and this is a fun adventure before starting a master's program at the New School. They will not be the kind of neighbors most people want.
3. You can’t see the forest OR the trees
One of the perks of New York living is taking a stroll in a public park. New Yorkers are always citing stats about the amount of green space in their city. It's a needed respite from your cramped apartment, which may or may not have some combination of bugs, rodents and bad plumbing (we'll get to this in a second). But the problem with Bed-Stuy, you see, is that there is basically one park—Herbert Von King—and you may or may not live anywhere near it. If you don't, forget that stroll. You'll have to board a train to see a tree.
4. Transportation really is a problem
I live in the part of Bed-Stuy that's pretty much closest to Manhattan. If my commute takes 35 minutes, I consider it a victory; normally, it's more like 50 minutes. But it’s not just that the commute is long. (Plenty of other outer-borough dwellers and even Manhattanites spend a lot of time on the subway.) It’s that the trains are so unpredictable, especially at night, and don't seem to be a priority for the MTA.
First off, the G train. Much ink has been spilled on the horrors of the G, which is one of the three lines that serve the neighborhood. It’s short (only four cars long), comes infrequently (every 30 minutes at night), and it’s basically always down for repairs. There’s nothing quite so inconvenient as a late-night G failure, when you realize the only way you’ll get home is by blowing your budget on a gypsy cab to your front door. It only takes one or two to really ruin the neighborhood for you. Especially when added to the MTA’s seemingly constant, poorly announced work on the line on weeknights. A few weeks ago, the G train failed to follow a schedule posted on the platforms—which already called for reduced service, with trains coming only every half hour—prompting one particularly frustrated traveler to simply light up a cigarette on the platform.
Meanwhile, the C train, regularly rated by straphangers as the worst in the city, and featuring cars that date to 1964, does on occasion clank its way to Bed-Stuy, for those of you who prefer that variety of transportation hell. (There's also the A, which is a similar story; the J/M/Z runs along Broadway, the northern border of the nabe, and is only accessible to a select few commuters.)
Unlike other neighborhoods that are stuck with shoddy trains, there aren’t many alternatives in Bed-Stuy. Buses are reliable and decent, and could take you to the Atlantic Center or Broadway Junction to head to Manhattan, but there are no express buses from the area. It’s sort of a perfect storm of crappy transit.
5. The food is great—if you can stomach the service
Much has been made of Bed-Stuy’s growing dining scene, and many of the neighborhood’s new(ish) restaurants—like DO or DiNE, Oaxaca and the nearby Marietta—are tasty, I must admit. The problem is, many of these places suffer from the-only-game-in-town syndrome. As a result, service is inattentive, and comes with charming prohibitions, such as only taking cash.
Italian restaurant Seraghina is a neighborhood favorite, but servers frequently mess up my orders and have never once asked how my meal is. This is only my personal experience, but it's not like the prices run so much lower than those in Manhattan. When I buy an $11 sandwich and say "no tomatoes," I, for one, expect not to have to eat friggin’ tomatoes.
In a related insult, the uber trendy Do or DiNE serves excellent food but only in the most ironic way, seemingly capturing all that’s wrong with this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Last time I visited, the dessert menu included a frozen Snickers bar, presented elegantly with powdered sugar dusted neatly over the wrapped candy bar. For $7.
6. Grocery stores are lacking
Grocery stores in New York City tend to be one of three types: horribly overpriced but decent; horrible but well-priced for the city; or Trader Joe's/Fairway, the supermarkets that most people can only aspire to live near. In Bed-Stuy, variety No. 2 is all that’s available: a generic Key Foods, smelling oddly of the freezer, with poor selection, especially for produce or healthy options.
The exception is a few Hasidic-run stores, with their beautiful fruits and clean lovely aisles. But they will not provide pork or any number of other staples. And maybe this won't always be the case, but at my local store of this sort, it's been made pretty clear that some of the other customers wish I'd get my stuff at the Goyim grocery store. I've never been told to leave, but I've gotten the silent treatment, especially from the men. The Hasidic-owned wine shop is lovely, though, and the proprietor friendly. Alas, he's not there on Saturday, when I really need him.
7. Sidewalks are unsavory
Why, oh why, is there such variation in sidewalk cleanliness among New York City neighborhoods? ‘Tis a great mystery. The city should hire an overpriced consultant to sort it out. Regardless of the cause, Bed-Stuy streets appear to be magnets for dog shit. They are disgusting. I'm sure that the streets of Kensington offer much cleaner walking fare.
8. Crime can't be ignored
I offer this as a standalone item:
But in case you need any more convincing, take it from a cop who works in the area: “All I can say is there should be a sign that reads, ‘Buyer beware,'" this person told the Post.
9. It's not all brownstones
When outside observers describe Bed-Stuy, they often focus on the beautiful brownstones of Stuyvesant Heights. And they are divine. But there are two issues with using them as an example of the housing options here: 1) they go for about $1.5 million a pop (or a lot more) and 2) most of this vast neighborhood isn't Stuyvesant Heights. While some well-kept brownstones dot the blocks of the rest of the area, many others are in rough shape, meaning that the total cost to turn one into the real estate of your dreams is much higher than you'd expect. Plus, who wants to spend all that money on a renovation and still put up with all of the above?