Stretch of 7th Ave between Flatbush Avenue and 15th Street in Park Slope
Submitted by: Ben Adler
A bustling, intimate small town main street, yet it is located in Brooklyn, a mere 15 minutes from Manhattan.
7th Ave (known to many native Park Slopies as simply "the Ave") has the perfect proportions for a commercial street that also serves as a public sphere. Lined with four story buildings that are built fully out to the sidewalk, it features only two lanes of traffic, one in each direction. This keeps traffic slow, which makes the Ave comfortable for pausing to sit and people-watch. The outer edge of the sidewalk is lined with trees, creating enough enclosure on the sidewalk that street vendors put their backs to the auto traffic, facing inward and creating an intensely social pedestrian experience. Although its primary function is for people who live in the neighborhood to shop, it has the full array of business types that every main street ought to, including stores, restaurants, bars and cultural institutions. A stroll down 7th Ave on any day will feature Park Slope's full ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Adults converse inside and outside of coffee bars, children wander around, massing near pizzerias, teenagers and young adults socialize on stoops on or immediately off of the Ave. 7th Ave is the kind of street where the shoppers and store owners know each other by name, and even the bums are integral members of the community, sitting sideways on crates and chatting with the passersby. 7th Ave is the sort of neighborhood street where you can go simply hoping to run into acquaintances, and you won't be disappointed.
What Makes 7th Avenue a Great Place?
7th Ave runs the length of Park Slope, as do all of the Slope's avenues. The Slope is a walkable neighborhood, so anyone who lives in the Slope can go to 7th Ave from their home. Do people use the space? Yes, in just about every imaginable way, mainly shopping and hanging out. People who live in other parts of Brooklyn go to hang out there, eat at the restaurants or shop in some of the unique bookstores and craft stores. They can take any of several subway or bus lines that stop on or near 7th Ave. There is not much parking, and this is a good thing, an essential element of its character. The sidewalks feature lovely bluestone, although in many places it is simple concrete.
It makes a good first impression when it is busy, more or less anytime before 10 pm. Seating is informal but plentiful. There are open stoops, churches with front steps, and eateries have benches out in front. For a busy New York City street, 7th Ave is fairly clean. There are trash cans on every corner, and members of the neighborhood care enough about it to avoid littering. 7th Ave is certainly a relatively safe block, compared to the usually empty residential avenues and side streets of the neighborhood. Especially during the day, being full of people keeps it reasonably safe, and it is the sort of neighborhood street where locals look out for one another. That said, it is in Brooklyn, and crimes, including violent ones, do happen there, especially late at night when it is mostly empty.
As stated above, community members of different age groups each have their own physical and social niche on the Ave. Individuals will often sit on a bench in front of the store where they just bought food to enjoy it, and perhaps spot a friend strolling by. Adolescents and pre-adolescents hang out, usually each group finds a certain stoop or corner to call their own. Merchants informally line up tables along the outer edge of the sidewalk, and people stop to examine their wares, often a constantly changing variety of socks and hats in the winter, or used books in the summer. Homeless men establish regular spots, usually in front a grocery store, or under a nearby awning when it rains. One can run up to 7th Ave to quickly buy a head of lettuce, or spend an entire Saturday hanging out there.
The mood of people on 7th Ave can only be described as covering the full spectrum of human emotion, since it is where many Park Slopies live their lives. Usually people are relaxed and friendly there, but being New Yorkers, they can also be irritable when in a hurry. People use the Ave singly and in groups for every purpose; dining, strolling, sitting or shopping. There is tremendous diversity of people on the Ave, so no person can feel out of place. There is unquestionably local pride in 7th Ave. Officially it is only manifested in Seventh Heaven, the annual street fair. But informally, it can be seen in the love that locals show and express for the shops and shopkeepers there that sustain them, and the local characters to whom they say hello whenever they run into them. Not to mention that most businesses on the Ave can count at least one local little league team they sponsor.
History & Background
Park Slope was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as a bedroom community to Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn. It remains so to this day. As the fortunes of the Slope go, so goes 7th Avenue, the fancier of the Slope's two main commercial streets (the other being 5th Avenue). Although it declined post-WWII in step with so many urban neighborhoods, 7th Avenue has always been able to keep all its storefronts active. Since the late 1970's, gentrification of Park Slope has brought yuppies to the Ave, and the businesses that cater to them. Where once the only bars to be found were working class dives, today it features fewer of those, and now has several hip, expensive bars that cater to the sort of young crowds that look like they belong in Manhattan. Still unlike some New York streets that have become too expensive to feature anything except for the trendy bars and restaurants, 7th Ave remains primarily a shopping street.