The Park Slope neighborhood is the largest in the district and contains more than half of its residential population. It contains the borough’s largest historic district with some of the nation’s best examples of late nineteenth century Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, and Renaissance Revival style brownstone rowhouses, mansions and institutions. Grassroots efforts are underway to apply for a significant expansion of the historic district in an effort to further preserve the historic integrity of the area. The impetus for the development of Park Slope, then referred to as Prospect Hill, was the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 that provided access to Lower Manhattan for the many prominent and affluent residents there. Park Slope has seen a lively resurgence over the past two decades with an influx of residents who have restored much of the historic character and original charm of the neighborhood. Furthermore, commercial developments along Flatbush Avenue, 5th Avenue, and 7th Avenue south of 9th Street have been on the rise as evidenced by the increased storefront occupancies and additional restaurants and shops serving the greater community. Like Smith Street, Park Slope’s 5th Avenue has similarly become host to a growing number of gourmet restaurants and nightlife. Numerous antique shops have also found a home on 5th Avenue and 7th Avenue in the South Slope. The completion of the New York Methodist Hospital’s Pavilion building on 7th Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets has effectively helped to reconnect the north and the south sections of 7th Avenue and has brought the first working escalator to the neighborhood (inside Barnes & Nobles bookstore). Other major institutions have likewise reinvested in the community as reconstruction and renovation projects have been completed within the past few years at the Berkeley Carroll School, the Montauk Club, Congregation Beth Elohim, the Prospect Park YMCA, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, John Jay High School, the Prospect Park (former Madonna) Residence and the nearby Prospect Park Bandshell and 11th Street Playground.
One of the largest institutional structures in Park Slope is the 14th Regiment Armory located at 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets. In 1996 control of the facility reverted from the State to the City when the NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs withdrew its military presence. Nearby residents saw this as an opportunity to utilize the spacious facility for some beneficial community use. The Community Board, together with representatives for many local interest groups, the affected elected officials, and respective City agencies, were convened under the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President on a Park Slope Armory Reuse Task Force to undertake responsible community-based planning to explore potential reuse options for the facility. An Armory Reuse Study, commissioned by the Borough President and conducted by the Pratt Institute and CUNY Graduate Center, recommended a possible array of reuse options that favored some sort of educational/recreational uses, all of which required a sizeable capital investment in the facility. Currently, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has a 70-bed women’s shelter at the Armory that is operated under contract by the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association (CAMBA). DHS has reconfigured the dormitories, programming space and bathrooms and concentrated the shelter activities to the second floor. Furthermore, DHS had included a rehabilitation of the first floor and has created new office and meeting space for a group of veteran’s organizations once housed in the Armory. Ongoing activities at the site include renovation of the remaining section of the first floor for community meeting space, replacing windows, roof and parapet work, and other much-needed investments to stabilize the neglected structure. The Landmarks Preservation Commission did declare the exterior of the building a landmark in 1998. Unfortunately, the ultimate fate of the Park Slope Armory has yet to be decided and this has many residents in the neighborhood guarded and concerned.
Park Slope has quite a reputation for being an activist community. As in Cobble Hill, much effort has been expended in the preservation of the historic integrity of the neighborhood including lobbying the City to preserve and restore its characteristic bluestone sidewalks. Environmental concerns are vociferously expressed in any number of areas, from the potential impact of additional traffic spilling over into the streets from the looming Gowanus Expressway work, to the protection of street trees during infrastructure work on the streets. Park Slope is the “Recycling Capital” of New York City and has consistently led the way in demonstrating how a community can support aggressive solid waste management methods designed to reduce, reuse and recycle municipal solid waste; voluntary recycling programs had been ongoing in the neighborhood since the 1970’s. Park Slope also hosted such innovative waste management programs as the first Citywide Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day, an Intensive Recycling Pilot Program (that diverted 35% of the municipal solid waste into recycling waste streams), a Battery Recycling project and annual voluntary Christmas Tree Recycling drop-off points (which spread to every neighborhood of the district and, eventually, grew into a Citywide collection program). Similarly, the first voluntary Adopt-A-Litter Basket example where a local merchant began using plastic garbage bags to line and contain overflowing trash from a public litter basket receptacle began on 7th Avenue and 1st Street, being heralded as the model by which the City created its successful program. This past year, the Park Slope Civic Council and Park Slope Chamber of Commerce teamed up to launch “Project Clean Streets” which has taken a comprehensive look at 7th Avenue street conditions. Problems include the proliferation of unregulated newspaper boxes, illegal postering, overflowing litter baskets and graffiti. Project Clean Streets has already made a tremendous difference on the avenue by engaging maintenance services that have been regularly removing posters and repainting street furniture. Further progress has been made with the initiation of additional litter basket service provided with discretionary funding by two of the areas Council Members. Social concerns, likewise, hold a high place on the neighborhood’s agenda as the area is home to numerous civic, merchant and social organizations and has many coffee houses, bookstores, lounges and sidewalk cafes that feature poetry readings, performances by local artists, readings by local authors, and other forums for social discourse. The area prides itself on its diversity and spans the spectrum of socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds; it boasts the second highest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) population in the City, the highest lesbian population in the City (perhaps country), and has played host to Brooklyn’s annual GLBT Pride parade and celebration each year since June 1997.