A few days ago, I was being interviewed on Brazilian television about my new book on talent and intelligence. The questioning turned to the inevitable what-can-parents-do question, so I naturally offered a few devastating kernels of wisdom.
The reporter then asked: “What about those Park Slope parents with their overstuffed schedules, trying to cram too much into their kids’ lives?”
Clearly, I was in the midst of another gratuitous knock on Park Slope.
All I could say was, “Well, as a Park Slope parent, I don’t think we’re doing such a shabby job of it.”
Park Slope has become something of a magnet for snarky comments in recent years, in much the same way that Ivy League schools are favorite targets of those who haven’t gone to them. Slopers are portrayed as knee-jerk leftists who anxiously helicopter over their children and arrogantly exult in their elite status.
But that’s not the neighborhood that I know.
The Park Slope I live in is an exceedingly friendly and welcoming place where people work hard but also make time for family, where parents care deeply about the quality of their kids’ education, where most destination is walkable or bikeable, and where extreme wealth disparities are discreetly hidden from view.
Are there disappointments and annoyances? Sure. The parking sucks (“Park Nope”) and the food on Seventh Avenue is consistently mediocre. There isn’t a single authentic Chinese restaurant. Various city agencies prey on our relative wealth by ticketing us for the most ridiculous things — absurd garbage infractions and front door lights that may not be quite the correct wattage (this really happened). The Finance Department is virtually at war with co-ops, unfairly manipulating taxes whenever it can find an excuse.
But overall, this is a neighborhood that makes New York living startlingly desirable. The park is close and lovely — getting cleaner and better all the time. Subway access is fairly spectacular (less so on weekends). Many mom and pop businesses are still intact. There’s decent coffee, good produce, and community theater. On a sunny Saturday, the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza is as life-affirming as a place can be.
Most of all, it feels like a real neighborhood. Friends bump into one another. They chit-chat. They have impromptu picnics. Small boys climb trees! This is one of those neighborhoods that has kept a whole generation of would-be surbanites from becoming suburbanites. That’s a good thing, no?
It’s also done a decent job of spreading the wealth. The virtues of Park Slope can now be found spilling in every direction. Vanderbilt Avenue is lush with great cafes and excellent pizza. Fourth Avenue has great bagels and Ethiopian Food. Windsor Terrace has some first-rate pubs.
Sure, it’s expensive to live here and I wish it weren’t. But so is Paris. Go pick on Le Marais for a while …
David Shenk is author of the best-selling “The Genius in All of Us” (Doubleday) and five other works of non-fiction, all but one written in Park Slope.