clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Prospect Lefferts Gardens Will Never Be 'Heights Park'

New, 15 comments

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.

A new neighborhood is actually taking shape in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and becoming known in inner circles as "Heights Park."This line comes from an email touting the new townhouse development at 280 Hawthorne Street near Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. Reading this would make any sensible, community-conscious Brooklynite wonder, Did I really miss the genesis of an entirely new neighborhood? But before you start to question everything you thought was true and real, take a look at the map above, which attached to the email. Having spent more than two years studying and researching the history of Brooklyn neighborhoods, I knew that the purported boundaries of Heights Park—Ocean Avenue, Clarkson Avenue, New York Avenue, and Empire Boulevard—looked suspiciously familiar. Oh that's right—because it's already a neighborhood: Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

In October 2012, in the week before Hurricane Sandy, I had spent some time in the stacks at Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection researching the early history of the Prospect Lefferts Garden Neighborhood Association. PLGNA formed in 1968 to promote socio-economic diversity in the area southeast of Prospect Park. It also provided the name of the neighborhood it still represents today, which alludes also to historic Lefferts Manor and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

Here's one of its earliest logos:

Hmm. PLGNA's vice president, Quest Fanning, confirmed my suspicions and my understanding of the boundaries. He did note, however, that some people think that "our unique neighborhood identity as Prospect Lefferts Gardens is a new fabrication." (The name comes from the area's proximity to Prospect Park, historic Lefferts Manor, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.)

The "Heights Park" email continues:

Leading the charge on the birth of the blossoming community is a collection of new townhouses at 280 Hawthorne Street (near Nostrand Ave) that will hit the market in July.We've come a long way since the 1960s. Back then, if you wanted a community, you'd have to do a bunch of really annoying work. First, you'd have to organize a whole bunch of people (which, before mass emails and social media, was probably a pain). Then you'd have to convince them to join together in some shared goal. Maybe you could get them to look out for each other, too. In 2014, we no longer have to worry about humans. Just build a few townhouses with faux-brick facades and—voila!—a community is born. And who can we thank for this new community? Developers, of course:

The developers, Residential Development Group, have identified Heights Park as one of Brooklyn's best-kept secrets, "The last neighborhood adjacent to the park to be fully realized is Prospect Lefferts Gardens."Really? Prospect Lefferts Gardens has been covered ad nauseum. The Times alone shouted its virtues in 1996, 2004, 2010, 2012, and 2013, before repeating the "best kept secret" trope in March. As for the identities of those hip to the new name, PLGNA president Martin Ruiz was at a loss. "I'm not aware of the 'inner circles', much less what they're saying," he told me. The PR representative that sent the original email on behalf of the developers, noted in a follow-up, said this vaunted club comprises "folks who are developing property in the area, still a small community, but growing none the less [sic]." No surprise there.

Still not convinced, I went to the epicenter of this supposed nascent neighborhood. I stood outside the construction site on Hawthorne Street, pretending to read the Department of Buildings postings. It's just about as fun as it sounds.

Whenever someone would pass, I'd stop them and ask, "Excuse me, do you know where Heights Park is?" If they asked where I thought it was, I told them, "Somewhere near Nostrand and Hawthorne." Each of the five locals was very friendly, making eye contact with me long before they reached me. None of them had ever heard of Heights Park.

Ah, but these commoners aren't part of "the inner circle." So to improve my survey, I stopped at a few real estate agencies. (I had to buzz to get through the front door of each, despite being ground-level retail.) One man emphatically answered, "No. No Heights Park in Brooklyn."

If real estate agencies in the area don't know what Heights Park is, how does its birth team define it?

I'd characterize [Heights Park] by people wanting affordable housing near the Prospect Park.Considering that the townhouse development at 280 Hawthorne Street are far from affordable—each home will cost at least $1.875 million—it's highly unlikely that this is what the developers actually had in mind. Additionally, several groups that do not have "Heights Park" in their name, including PLGNA, led last Friday's rally at City Hall against 626 Flatbush Avenue in an effort to get more affordable housing in the neighborhood. The PR rep tried to play off the name as "an example of Brooklyn's ever-changing nature, where new communities are taking root in neighborhoods and new names organically growing out of them like DUMBO." But Dumbo, like Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, was created by the community.

It's clear that "Heights Park"—like NoHa, Parkwanus, LoLo, ChiBeCa, and many others—isn't a real place, but rather a marketing tool concocted by developers (or realtors) in an attempt to make their property a little more desirable. Sure, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but at least it wasn't foisted on the 'hood by outsiders.
· Four PLG Townhomes Aspire To Rename Entire Neighborhood [Curbed]
· Blurred Lines archives [Curbed]