clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The History of One Brooklyn Block, As Told By Its Residents

The cover story for this week's issue of New York magazine is a deep dive into a small piece of the enormous urban puzzle of New York City: the 400 block of MacDonough Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which has seen a huge amount of change in the 100-plus years it's been a street.

The tagline for the piece is "an epic tale, told in miniature," which sums it up pretty perfectly: The whole story—which is presented as a thorough, interactive feature online—uses the stories and observations of the block's residents, along with some data, to describehow the block has changed over the course of time.

There's also a brief backstory on the block itself, which went from being a haven for German and Irish immigrants, as well as black residents, to an area that was hurt by redlining and white flight. Still, the article says, "even as banks and city policies deprived MacDonough of investment, and the surrounding areas succumbed to crime, the block remained a haven, rich with family life and tradition." These are some of those stories:

James Spears is part of a crew called "the originals," who have lived on this block of MacDonough Street for decades. "Most of the originals passed. And what they did was leave their kids the houses. So the kids either rent the houses out or they're selling them," he says. Of the changes to the block, Spears said:

Now this block's very different. Everybody stays to themselves. Before we had more unity. It was more everybody communicating with one another, helping each other out. It's not like that no more. But I'm still that way, 'cause I was raised that way. Anything I can do, I'll help you. Brooke Vermillion, who lives next door to Spears (she calls his home "the main house in the whole neighborhood," bought her home with her husband in 2009. (She claims the home is haunted by the ghosts of people who used to live there.) Of her neighbors, she has this to say:

The real fear that was expressed to me when I moved here was not necessarily about gentrification. It was that people on this block had been here their whole lives, had created the neighborhood, took care of each other, and trusted one another.

Sharon Koontz moved to the block in 2002, buying her home from a woman named Rita Holder-Wilson, who wanted to sell it to "someone who wasn't going to turn around and resell it, someone who was going to care about it." Koontz recalls getting a warm welcome from some of the block's old-timers, but also laments the changes that have happened on the block in the decade since she moved there:

The newer people, I would say, haven't been as welcoming. There's one family on the block who have kids the same age as my daughter. It's sort of like you walk down the street like: "Hello, hello, hello …" And they're still not speaking. So, community-wise, it could use maybe a little bit a push back in that old direction.

· One Block [NYMag]