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Swath of Central Brooklyn Ceded Back in Neighborhood Border War

By Sonja Sharp | March 4, 2013 3:00pm

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Like many new renters, Julia Kerson signed her lease thinking she'd moved into to Prospect Heights. A year later, she's not so sure.

"I moved here about a year ago, and I don’t really know where I live," said Kerson, 29, who lives at St. Marks Place just west of the intersection with Franklin Avenue.

"The friends that I know here call it Prospect Heights, so that’s where I thought I was moving."

According to Community Board 8, Kerson's apartment is about half a mile inside Crown Heights. But the swath of Central Brooklyn between Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway that lies east of Washington Avenue and west of Nostrand Avenue — almost half of northern Crown Heights — had all but accepted the name of its tony western neighbor.

Now, the trend that joins Crown Heights/Prospect Heights to New York's long and proud tradition of neighborhood turf wars — from Williamsburg and Bushwick to Little Italy and Chinatown to Midwood and Flatbush — appears to be reversing.

Ground that once seemed well in hand for Prospect Heights is slipping through the neighborhood's proverbial fingers. While some say that the true neighborhood borders are just reasserting themselves, others see a rare and remarkable turn of events.

To many, the move to subsume Crown Heights' western avenues into the more affluent and upwardly-mobile Prospect Heights seemed both calculated and effective.

"[It was] an effort to re-brand the area to make it appealing to a certain group of people by replacing a name that evoked (at the time) "riot" and, to a lesser extend "urban poverty" with one that sounded like a hip, young spot," said local blogger Nick Juravich, who has spent the last several years chronicling the machinations of the neighborhood on I Love Franklin Avenue.

Grand Avenue, Classon Avenue, Franklin Avenue — once all three were widely thought to be Prospect Heights. Not anymore.

"I think at this point, Crown Heights has gentrified to such a degree that it's "safe" enough to use the name," Juravich said. "The re-branding [either with the much derided "Pro-Cro" portmanteau or by moving the border of Prospect Heights to the east in real estate literature] has died down quite a bit."

"These borders are arbitrary and dynamic," said newcomer Josh Thompson, whose sentiments echo those of city planners, who say they have no official capacity to determine where one neighborhood ends and another begins. 

Still, neither realtors nor the community who fought them should take too much of the credit for a resurgent Crown Heights. Chance played just as much a role.

"I've spoken to people who consider Franklin Avenue 'Prospect Heights' because the MTA map in the 2-3-4-5 station reads 'Prospect Heights' over the area," Juravich said. "That's just some mid-level civil service employee's decision, but it can have historical weight if it sticks."

So too with the user-driven review service Yelp — an important guidepost for smartphone-welding newcomers — which moved its own Crown Heights border several avenues west earlier this year, ceding back scores of businesses that were once listed as belonging to Prospect Heights.

"Neighborhoods are changing given what’s going on in real estate and everything else," said Yelp spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand. "[Yelp's] boundaries were just wrong before."

Many community members agree.

"The boundaries are simple," said Atim Oton of Community Board 8. "From Flatbush Avenue to the middle of Washington Avenue and between the middle of Eastern Parkway and the middle of Atlantic Avenue is Prospect Heights. From middle of Washington Avenue is Crown Heights."

Others say they're not interested in the political implications of the name — they just want to know where they're standing.

"I don’t really care what the name is, I love the neighborhood," Kerson said. "It's a story — you can never just say 'I live in Park Slope.'"