In New York — and I’d imagine most other cities too — asking someone where they live is the universal ice breaker. It’s always worth trying for the possibility that our shared geographic experiences, perhaps of knowing a friend in the area or having worked nearby before, will give us a connection in what’s too often a life of anonymity. When confronted with the prospect of living among so many people, our natural instinct is to stick to what we know best. Yet that leaves little time for any understanding of what lies between or how it all connects. This may be an inevitable part of city life, but that doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with it. After all, cities are supposed to be networks of diverse communities that function better together than they ever could on their own. It’s time we looked closer at these blocks we so fiercely associate with to see what they’re contributing to the big picture. With summer unmistakably upon us — and everyone who can’t afford to leave the city on the streets in full force — we’re getting the best view of their true nature that we’ll have all year.
Living in relatively quiet Clinton Hill, Brooklyn means I’m usually shielded from the brunt of New York’s chaos. From my roof, Manhattan looks more like some painted backdrop out of an old movie than the obstacle course it actually feels like whenever I cross the East River for work. My usual routine of visits to Three Stars Laundromat, Damas Falafel House, Mr. Coco, Fresh Fanatic and the local Chase branches are almost always uneventful. Aside from the kids playing basketball next to our apartment or occasional bar crowds on the weekends, it’s pretty quiet. As much as I enjoy my neighborhood, I usually go see friends in Park Slope or Bed-Stuy for more excitement and a change of pace. Yet even here in Clinton Hill, our connections to the larger forces of New York are readily apparent. Over the past few years, Brooklyn’s tidal wave of gentrification and development — of which I’m a fully aware beneficiary — has been washing over block after block right before our eyes. New places come and go before we even have a chance to try them. We have more Citi Bike stations than we know what to do with. If that reminder of the city’s inertia isn’t enough, all I have to do is listen to the steady whoosh of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway right outside my window. The ripples of my 8.3 million neighbors are never far away.
During the next three weeks of our Neighborhood Issue, we’ll be analyzing communities all over the country in search of what they bring to the table. This month we’re especially proud to have a robust cross-section of Chicago stories on everything from dives to gay bars to antique shops to street festivals. Here in New York, we’ll be delving into what gives a neighborhood soul and why this recent boom of artificial ones has felt so soulless. We’ll also meet Boston’s only female mayoral candidate, take a glimpse at how different life is just an hour outside Houston and continue getting acquainted with our nation’s rapidly changing capital. Along the way we hope you’ll learn something new and feel inspired to explore more of your own neighborhoods in the process. This summer may have just started, but I can already tell it’s going to be a good one.