Portions of this article have been updated.
Seventy-five yards east of Prospect Park, the second-floor greenhouse on the renovated green-materials site of the Maple Street School overlooks subway. Downstairs, drum-beating instructor Barbara Culbreath leads nursery rhymes to a crowd of three-year-olds squealing like boy band fans. “It’s so ethnic,” says the 20-year resident of this barely known, predominantly Caribbean-American enclave, beginning a litany of the neighborhood’s charms echoed by other residents. Shawn Mason, a white college student living in a nearby one-bedroom with her girlfriend, notes, “Lefferts Gardens is a fabulous combination of all things Brooklyn. Or at least, things I dream about Brooklyn.” Garden-dwellers live well and cheaply, without hipster, bourgie, or street-pretensions. One draw is the neighborhood’s proximity to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; another is the bargain-basement stores and restaurants. The progressive residents (some of whom gathered recently on the northeast corner of Prospect Park to denounce U.S. involvement in Haiti) would like to keep it that way, fending off, as much as possible, the encroachments of both urban squalor and gentrification.
Boundaries: Empire Boulevard to the north, New York Avenue to the east, Clarkson Avenue to the south, and Prospect Park to the west. The Prospect-Lefferts Gardens Historic District covers most of the area bounded by Sterling Street to the north, Rogers and Nostrand avenues to the east, Fenimore Street. to the south, and Flatbush Avenue to the west.
Transportation: Take the Q, B, or Bed-Stuy shuttle (S) to Prospect Park, the Q to Parkside Avenue, or the 2/5 to Sterling or Winthrop streets. About 30 minutes to Union Square on the Q train. Half a dozen buses cross the neighborhood, including the B41, which speedily shuttles to and from Grand Army Plaza via Flatbush Avenue.
Main Drags: Three or four beauty salons and a barbershop seem to line each block of Flatbush Avenue, punctuated by bodegas, travel and realty agencies, and a few functional (in the Soviet sense) high-rises. Take-out Caribbean, Chinese, and halal joints, plus health food and natural remedy purveyors, provide the real action; duck into side streets for long glimpses of greenery-framed brownstones, the odd local bookstore, and oodles of schools and mixed-income buildings.
Average Price to Rent: Studios rent for around $800 (between $650 and $800); one-bedrooms, $800 to $1,000 ($900 to $1,000); two-bedrooms, $1,200 to $1,800 ($1,100 to $1,200); three-bedrooms, $1,800 to $2,200 ($1,300 to $1,500.
Average Price to Buy: One-bedroom co-ops go for between $200K and up ($75K and $90K); two-bedrooms: $250K and up ($100K to $130K); three-bedrooms: $300K and up (high $100Ks to low $200Ks and sometimes higher). Two- and three-bedroom condos, many of them on Ocean Avenue, go for similar prices to those of the pricier co-ops, although “it depends on the condition,” notes Montgomery Stout, a broker at 3 Kings Realty on Flatbush. “People are not selling in this area, because it’s near the park and the trains.” Mason, for whom park and garden access is an unceasing draw, agrees, “I’ve thought of moving for a bigger apartment, or one with more light, but I can’t bring myself to.”
Community Organizations: The two- to four-year-old students at the cooperative Maple Street School (21 Lincoln Road, 718-282-4345) play with senior citizens, perform impromptu solo dances to express their feelings, and receive two and a half hours of each day in their graduating year free, courtesy of the Board of Ed. Three two week summer sessions focus on African, Asian, and Latin American cultures, with time out for botanically inclined field trips up the street.
Green Spaces: Fenimore Street between Bedford and Rodgers received an honorable mention for 2002 Greenest Residential Block in Brooklyn competition. The real draws, of course, are the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the series of world-class family attractions snuggled tightly against the east side of Prospect Park: the Wildlife Center (aka, Zoo), the Audubon Center, the carousel, and Wollman Rink.
Landmarks: Of all the historic house museums inflicted upon schoolchildren, the Lefferts Historic House is the only one designed specifically for kids. Inside the Prospect Park Willink entrance at Flatbush and Ocean avenues, the 18th century farmhouse immerses juvenile visitors in the lives of long-gone Native American, Dutch, and African counterparts.
Best Restaurants: A heady Caribbean vegetarian and natural foods scene clusters around Flatbush and Fenimore. Netfa Hamanot, owner of the natural foods grocery and take-out Rases of Adwa (631 Flatbush Avenue 718-693-6497) bottles and sells juices, including a potent sorrel, ginger, and honey combo. Scoops, just across Fenimore at 624 Flatbush Avenue (718-282-5904), serves up eight ice cream flavors (some of them vegan) along with spicy, filling cassava and bean stews. Neighboring Veggie Hut, which opened on February 23 at 600 Flatbush Avenue (718-940-7090), delivers wildest-dreams counter-top jerk tofu and mock chicken. Chef Howard Campbell, who studied with Johnson & Wales in Jamaica, blends a diminutively named multigrain porridge of sweet potato, green and ripe plantain, coconut, red rice, green corn, millet, oats, Irish mush, and soy milk.
Politicians: City Councilmember Yvette D. Clark, state assemblymen Clarence Norman Jr. and Roger L. Green, State Senator Carl Andrews, and Congressman Major Owens, all Democrats.
Crime Stats: The 71st Precinct serves Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and most of Crown Heights. As of September 25, 2005 it reported 16 murders, 19 rapes, 330 robberies, 278 felonious assaults, and 200 burglaries. (As of late February, it reported zero murders, down two from the previous year-to-date; four rapes, up one; 64 robberies, down six; 49 felonious assaults, down seven; and 69 burglaries, down 15. Crime dropped 67.25 percent between 1993 and 2003, slightly more than the city’s overall 66.5 percent decrease).