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Dissecting A 110-Year-Old Debate Over Park Slope's Borders

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Some neighborhood names appear to be jokes. Some have stuck around for centuries, despite changing connotations. Some shift with the winds of gentrification. Welcome to Blurred Lines, in which writer Keith Williams of The Weekly Nabe studies New York City's changing neighborhood boundaries. Next up: the definition-skirting, oft-contested Park Slope.

[Our Neighborhood Crashers video series recently got to the heart of modern-day Park Slope... and attracted a ton of comments from passionate residents. Equally compelling: how did the area's outer limits and inner divisions come to be?]

"Post-gentrification has arrived at Park Slope, the scene of a much-heralded 'renaissance' in the early 1970s. The young professionals who bought and restored Victorian houses and brownstones there then are now feeling displaced by newer arrivals—developers and Manhattanites willing to pay $200,000 or more for a house." So wrote the Times' Gail Collins in 1981, a lede that could work well today with a few adjustments. (That upper price range, for one.) Back then, some considered you bold, or even stupid, to walk along Fifth Avenue, now a thriving commercial strip. The borders of Park Slope—and those of its sub-neighborhoods North, Center, and South Slopes—have been particularly subject to revision, both before and after that article came out. As usual, that's thanks in large part to the whims of realtors... and perhaps a few locals who wanted to earn some street cred. Just ask long-time residents where certain boundaries are and you'll get a slew of different demarcations.

An informal survey reveals irreconcilable differences of opinion about the neighborhood's southern terminus: 15th Street, the Prospect Expressway, 20th Street, or 25th Street. But even more contentious are the borders between North and Center (Union Street, Garfield Place, 1st Street, or 3rd Street?) and Center and South (6th Street, 9th Street, 11th Street or 15th Street?). A few still consider what's now debatably called Greenwood Heights as South Slope. Others say Center Slope doesn't exist.

All are fiercely protective of these cut-offs. Michael Cairl, the president of the Park Slope Civic Council, is not one of them. "Certain subsets of Park Slope have less diversity," said Cairl, who was born in the neighborhood, "but things certainly aren't homogenous from block to block." While you read through the evolution of Park Slope's boundaries and parse the accompanying maps (click to make them bigger), mull over your own thoughts on the matter and leave a note in the comments section below.

Park Slope's name dates from the 1890s, a shortening of "Prospect Park slope." It's an apt geographic description: heading east from the Gowanus Canal to Prospect Park West, you'll ascend over 170 feet.

↓ A sign of those early days, a 1904 description of the new neighborhood's boundaries gives a small, cozy feel to the area.

↓ By 1969, the neighborhood has more than doubled in size, stretching from Flatbush to the north over to Greenwood Cemetery in the south. In between, Robert Moses built the Prospect Expressway, a natural dividing line between neighborhoods.

In 1973, much of the Slope was protected by a Historic District designation. Then came Collins's 1981 piece, which marks the first division of the parcel into "North Slope" and "South Slope."

↓ She used 3rd Street as the boundary. Of note: she specifically mentioned the northwest corner of the neighborhood—west of Sixth Avenue, north of 3rd Street—as a no-go zone. "Its center is Fifth Avenue," she writes, "where vacant buildings and struggling small businesses line the blocks near Flatbush Avenue, and the only flourishing commerce appears to be the drug trade."

Fast forward. A 1993 piece introduces "Center Slope," completing the Park Slope triumvirate.

↓ This article gives Union Street and 9th Street as the two main boundaries, "according to brokers" (obviously). The no-go zone was well on its way to dissipation.

We enter the 21st century, when one 2003 article claims South Slope had moved three blocks north to 6th Street. That same year, the city rezoned large swaths of central Park Slope between Union Street, 15th Street, Prospect Park West, and Third Avenue. (Methodist Hospital was not included, although I didn't indicate that on the map for the sake of clarity.)

↓ The purpose of the rezoning was to protect the small-scale nature of the neighborhood. A bone to dogged developers, Gowanus was encroached, and luxury high-rises were on their way to Fourth Avenue (note the little tail north of Union Street).

↓ The 2005 "South Park Slope" rezoning, also intended to preserve scale, extended into what some now call Greenwood Heights and even a few blocks in Gowanus and Windsor Terrace.

The Historic District was extended in 2012, making it the city's largest.

↓ Wikipedia, although far from the official arbiter of anything, now lists the cut-off between North and Center at Garfield Place (effectively, Zeroth Street), and reverts the Center-South boundary to Ninth Street.

So, readers—what say you? Where do the various Slopes begin and end?
—Keith Williams
· What Do Park Slopers Really Think Of Their Neighborhood? [Curbed]
· All Park Slope coverage [Curbed]
· Blurred Lines archive [Curbed]