State bill would ban ‘fake’ neighborhood names forever!

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What’s in a name? Gentrification, according to one state lawmaker, who introduced a bill this week to block real-estate brokers from turning genuine neighborhood monickers into a bowl of alphabet soup.

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene) wants the state to penalize brokers who invent new neighborhood names — a practice that he claims is hastening the socioeconomic homogenization of the borough as prices rise when areas suddenly become tony.

The bill would ban any name conceived and pushed by a broker to artificially inflate a new neighborhood’s rent in an already extant neighborhood: ProCro — an area sandwiched between Prospect Heights and Crown Heights — is one example.

“Many brokers are misrepresenting properties to artificially increase housing prices,” Jeffries charged.

The numbers appear to bear that out: a hot ProCro one-bedroom on St. Marks Avenue will cost a cool $2,000, while a comparable Prospect Heights one-bedroom, also on St. Marks Avenue, can be had for $1,250.

The bill would allow the mayor and City Council to create neighborhood names after feedback from the affected community board.

Critics said all neighborhood names are dynamic, so legislating change will be an uphill battle.

“It’s like trying to change the natural course of a river,” said Brian Merlis, a Brooklyn historian who grew up in Flatlands (called East Flatbush when he was there in the 1960s). “Neighborhood names oscillate like guitar strings and exist only as states of mind.”

Name-creating activists agreed.

“Sunset Park is arbitrary and at one time was considered part of Bay Ridge,” noted Aaron Brashear, who was among the residents who had a hand in popularizing the name Greenwood Heights for the area nestled between Park Slope and Sunset Park, where fear of overdevelopment led to a rezoning push in 2005.

And it will likely be a tough row to hoe, as new nomenclature can be a difficult thing to originate. DUMBO was conceived by artists and loft tenants in the 1970s who were looking for an uncool, anti-marketing name as a way to “protect their turf from developers” (nice try!), according to — but the area has since become one of the priciest enclaves in Brooklyn.

Jeffries conceded that the name DUMBO is legitimate, as the industrial area was previously devoid of residents.

“But there are names that seek to whitewash history,” he said. And that creates a “Wild West,” as if “this is the frontier and not neighborhoods with a history of culture and tradition.”

The bill, which applies only to New York City, is built on existing state law that prohibits brokers from disseminating information that is false and misleading.

It would not punish non-brokers who conceive of names on their own (so Aaron Brashear can relax).

“Any individual citizen has a right to refer to his neighborhood any way he chooses,” Jeffries said.

Brokers also balked at the bill.

“It would be great if neighborhoods had specific boundaries — but they don’t,” said John Reinhardt, president and chief executive officer of Fillmore Real Estate, a Brooklyn firm.

Reinhardt’s late father, Bill, was the man responsible for hatching the name Old Mill Basin for the area sandwiched between Flatlands and Mill Basin. “He called it Old Mill Basin — and it stuck.”

Since there isn’t an official neighborhood map to which brokers must adhere, it’s easy enough to play with the borders.

“Real estate is sexy sometimes — it’s like fashion,” he explained.

If a neighborhood becomes hot, stretch the boundaries.

“Take Williamsburg — some people want to live there, so expand it a block or two.”

Time travellers from the 17th century would be thoroughly confused, considering that “Williamsburg” was once referred to as Bushwick Shore, an Anglicized version of the Dutch name for area, Boswijck — or “Town in the Woods” — which the Dutch East Indian Company decided to call the area after buying it from the Native Americans.

Experts said neighborhood names have always been subject to change — ever since the Dutch settled on a region already inhabited by Indian tribes.

“The test is whether people use the name or not — look how SoHo has caught on,” said Francis Morrone, an architectural historian, perhaps forgetting the influence of Anglophiles in the city. (Brighton Beach, which shares a seaside sister city in merry ol’ England, also remains part of the Brooklyn vernacular.)

The only constant in Brooklyn history is changing names. Today, everyone uses the term “Park Slope,” but the area was known as Prospect Hill until the completion of Prospect Park in the 1870s — an alteration designed to link the neighborhood to its new amenity. And Bay Ridge was long known as Yellow Hook — until a major Yellow Fever epidemic forced brokers to come up with a new name, and fast.

“There are neighborhood names that brokers have tried to use that don’t stick: Nobody says, ‘I live in BoCoCa,’ ” said Morrone, referring to the rarely used acronym for Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, three well-established neighborhoods that were also the creation of real-estate interests in the middle of last century.

Previously, the neighborhoods were lumped together as “South Brooklyn,” the area south of the original Dutch town of Brooklyn, which is today Brooklyn Heights.

Neighborhood lifers, such as Sackett Street resident Celia Cacace, still refer to Carroll Gardens as South Brooklyn.

“They think the name makes the community,” she said. “But people make a community.”

Some names have staying power — the polluted Gowanus Canal was once called Gowanes Creek, a name originating from Gouwane, a chief of the Lenape Indian tribe.

And names have been contentious long before Jeffries ascended to office.

“What the Dutch called ‘Midwood,’ the English called ‘Flatbush,’ ” Morrone said. “Then Midwood became a neighborhood in Flatbush.”

Updated 5:24 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

tee gee from sunset park says:
I don't think this bill will be enforceable. In the early 1960s, just about everything from atlantic avenue to 39th Street was called South Brooklyn. A throw back to when Brooklyn only extended to 60th Street. 39th to 65th was generally referred to as Bay Ridge (unless you lived in the "true" Bay Ridge, then you called it lower Bay Ridge (even though it was north of true Bay Sometimes, the name Bush Terminal would stretch up from the waterfront and reach 5th & 6th Avenue.

When President Johnson launched his War on Poverty, the area from 17th to 65th Street needed a name to receive funding - and some bureaucrats applied the name Sunset Park to the entire area.

Tying a poverty program to the name Sunset Park made many homeowners upset. They had their heads in the ground and didn't realize that nearly 50% of their neighbors were living in poverty. The opening of the Verrazano Bridge caused huges numbers of Bay Ridgers to move to S.I. or NJ (some were forced out as their homes were torn down), but the vacant homes "called" to the Sunset Parkers who wanted to be Bay Ridgers. This left lots of empty wood frames buildings and apartment houses in Sunset Park and they were quickly filled by the poorest of people.

At first I disagreed with the Greenwood Heights name for the northen portion of Sunset Park - purely because i believed folks there would be confused as to where to go for government redress - Community Board 7. But thru the years, the local Greenwood Heights truly created a "new" community - deserving of its own name. Although that name has stretched to folks along Greenwood "flats" (blocks below 5th) and is a misnomer.

From my point of view today. I would call only 39th to 65th Sunset Park. But with the creation of the new Chinatown along 8th Avenue - i have a feeling that a new name for at least part of Sunset is due.
May 11, 2011, 8:17 am
Adrian from ProCo says:
I had no idea till just now that I was so fancy. I used to merely live in Crown Heights.
May 11, 2011, 9:28 am
Richard Grayson from Williamsburg says:
This can't survive a First Amendment challenge. The law prohibiting brokers from using false and misleading information is itself vulnerable to challenge based on vagueness, but its intent is clearly different than the intent here.

Whatever the broker calls the neighborhood in which the property is located, she has to give the street address to prospective buyers, who can make their own decision which neighborhood the house or apartment is in.

I don't see why I can't advertise a building on Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues as being in Coney Island if I want to. Prospective buyers won't be fooled. It's hard to see what harm this legislation is designed to mitigate or eradicate.
May 11, 2011, 9:47 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
I hope next we make a law about people who call themselves Democrats, because I'm pretty embarrassed to share a political affiliation with a clown like Assemblyman Jeffries. (Seriously, local politics needs different party labels.)

Brokers misrepresent apartments if they say they have more bedrooms than they do. A person who shows up to view an apartment has absolutely no illusions about what neighborhood it is in. There might be illusions about what "neighborhood" it's in, but making laws about life inside the quotation marks is a waste of time and an insult.
May 11, 2011, 10:43 am
tee gee from sunset park says:
re: Mr. Grayson's comment. consumer laws are not designed to protect intelligent and awre folks like you. they are for the naive. many apartment hunters in nyc are from the distant reaches of the U.S. they believe a rose is a rose.....not a dyed carnation. and even among the "wise" there is lots of confusion about neighborhood boundaries. obviously the name of the community shouldn't be the deciding factor for "shoppers"....they should familiarize themselves with the actual location. but lying about what neighborhood a property is in - gets the broker's foot in the door....and then they can work all their lies. i wish this law could be made workable...i just don't think it can.
May 11, 2011, 11:06 am
Aaron B. from Greenwood Heights says:
Thanks for the thoughtful (and informative) post tee gee.

As I mentioned to Gary, There's documentation on the boundaries of "Sunset Park" AND "Greenwood Heights" dating back to a publication on NYC neighborhoods in 1902...and even earlier.

We're proud to be a good neighbor to Sunset Park and Park Slope, but our area around the southern portion of the cemetery is unique demographically, culturally and in the "no frills" frame architecture that is prevalent in the brownstones to the north and lime stone/brick homes to the south. As we like to say "vinyl and proud!" though many folks are returning to the more traditional look of the frame houses circa 1890's.

A very good article by Gary Buiso. Happy to have been quoted.
May 11, 2011, 11:23 am
Aaron B. from Greenwood Heights says:
A correction, I meant:

the "no frills" frame architecture that is NOT prevalent in the brownstones to the north and lime stone/brick homes to the south...
May 11, 2011, 11:24 am
Dan from Brooklyn says:
Totally unenforceable and a violation of the 1st amendment, which DOES allow me to say - Jefferies is a moron
May 11, 2011, 1:33 pm
Rockrose Dev. says:
While it might be convenient (or attractive) to slap a label on a two block parcel unclaimed by any specific neighborhood, lets face it; you know where you live. No one can tell a Crown Heights resident that they don't live in CH because they are close to Prospect....
It's nice to see some neighborhood pride shown by residents, no matter if you live in the BK or or even in a Manhattan neighborhood.
May 12, 2011, 3:56 pm
Darius from Ditmas Midwood says:
What neighborhoods in Brooklyn are "overdeveloped?" And if some neighborhoods have been gentrified their commercial streets often remain dismal, dreary, and dull---Coney Island Avene, Washington Avenue,4th Avenue to name a few.
May 12, 2011, 11:13 pm
dhrhe from block says:
someone has nothing better to do
May 14, 2011, 8:41 pm
Amy Dore says:
I've read the book and really enjoyed
Sept. 29, 2018, 5:19 pm

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