New York City’s five boroughs consist of 303 neighborhoods, according to the official designations of the Department of City Planning, from Allerton in the east Bronx to Yorkville in Manhattan. But when it comes to neighborhoods, officialness is beside the point. You also have your realtor-coined areas (BoCoCa, ProCro, the Piano District), your long-obsolete historical monikers (Bloomingdale, Fresh Pond), and, of course, your boundary disputes: If anyone knows where Homecrest ends and Sheepshead Bay begins, they’re not telling.
All of these places are rooted in city history and lore — and all are constantly changing. When you think of Bensonhurst, does it bring to mind the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever, or the panoply of Asian shops that line 86th Street today? Does Bed-Stuy conjure images of rehabbed brownstones, or of Billy Joel being afraid to walk there alone? It likely depends on when and where you were raised and your knowledge of history — plenty of 21st-century New Yorkers, after all, see ghosts of the Five Points every time they walk through Manhattan’s Foley Square, thanks to Luc Sante’s Low Life and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
Together, New York’s neighborhoods are a measure both of the city’s richness — in ethnic diversity, in culture, in foodstuffs that can allow you, as Parkchester’s Nilka Martell says, to travel the world within a few blocks — and of its fragility, with old-timers and immigrants and new “urban pioneers” living cheek to jowl under the constant specter of gentrification. Getting to know the nooks and crannies of your surroundings is the lifetime mission of every true New Yorker; and learning how to be a responsible visitor in your hometown, respecting your neighbors while drinking deep of all they have to offer, is the first step toward making the most of our city.