Life by the J train? (Mid to Northeast Bed Stuy)

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    Anyone who read my other post in the renovation forum knows that we are looking to buy in Bed Stuy. We are trying to choose between a huge 4 story house (20×45) near Stuy Heights that is to be “fully gut renovated” by a developer (we choose the layout) and a beautiful 3 story (20×50) brownstone near the Gates J train stop that has been wonderfully preserved (all original details) and renovated by the owners.

    If it was just myself and my husband, we would go for the beautiful 3 story out near the J train, but we have two small toddlers (twins, no less) and I worry about how much access (meaning walking distance) to amenities I would have out there when I must tote two toddlers along with me everywhere I go. I worry I might feel stranded, with only Broadway serving as the main artery of amenities and being so far away from the A train. I am also concerned about being in school district 16 vs. school district 13.

    Does anyone live out that who might be willing to share their experiences – how do you fare in regards to amenities? Where do you go to shop (is organic hoping for too much?) Where do you send your kids to school? Where is your doctor, dentist, etc.?

    Thanks in advance to anybody who can provide some insight on this matter. It is an agonizing decision, because we love this house so much . . .

    27 Replies

    1. I can’t comment directly on the Gates stop, because I don’t live there. I live further out on the J train. For what it’s worth, Stuy Heights has a larger number of high-quality sit down restaurants and some boutique-y places such as the ice cream parlor, and a good size library, compared to other areas of Bed Stuy.

      But it would be wrong to think other areas of Bed Stuy are lacking in amenities, inconvenient, or bad places to live. I am enjoying Bed Stuy Fish Fry, Bed Stuy yoga, a good produce store, the amazing cafe on Reid between Decatur and Macdonough (weird name — oooozzzz???), two gorgeous parks, a smaller library, five pharmacies, and other conveniences Stuy Heights may lack (not sure).

      Is Stuy Heights safer? I have absolutely no idea, and would not assume either way. You can’t tell from reading the crime stats.

      I don’t know anything about schools. Several of the now-grown children on my block graduated from college, so it can’t be all bad.

    2. “If you are really want to purchase only organic and sustainably grown products, none of the marginal/transitional non-yuppie nabes will really have enough of what you want, with sufficient variety”

      This is an issue almost everywhere in NYC, it doesn’t matter how much rent/mortgage you pay. I lived in Carroll Gardens and wouldn’t set foot in the rat/mouse infested Met there on Smith St. nor was I especially compelled by the mushy apples at the “health food” store. Best places in Brooklyn for groceries are next to McCarren Park or next to the Park Slope Food Coop.

    3. I disagree with Butterfly. While I do have doctors in Manhattan, I also have a GREAT dentist and a GREAT eye doctor in Clinton Hill, BROOKLYN. Both of them were at the top of their classes at UPenn and Yale, both decided to set up shop in the Borough of Kings where they both reside in amazing brownstones. I think those days of “better doctors” on the Upper East Side are over.

    4. here’s a novel thought. stop over paying for organic food and youll be able to live in a nicer neighborhood! is that 10 dollar tomato worth more to you than your child’s education!?

      *rob*

    5. Urban Organic delivers csa-type produce (although a lot of it isn’t local, if you care…) to most of Brooklyn.

      BTW, my parenthesis was in the wrong place in my earlier post: Clinton Hill is not the up and coming neighborhood (obviously!!) — around the Myrtle J I am bullish on. Just geography — it’s close to a lot of stuff. There also used to be some amazing houses around there, although a lot of them were torn down in the early fedderization days.

      But also, farther out on the J isn’t an area I am all that familiar with, except with housing prices, which are really reasonable.

    6. Since you have toddlers, I think that the local school is pretty important. I’m not a parent myself, but I think there is a big advantage to the school not being far afield. As to middle schools, what with the ongoing turmoil at the dept of ed, I don’t think you can count on the structure of the schools (minis, zoned, charters) remaining the same after the emperor cedes control of the city. (At some point, some sane person without an anti-public servant axe to grind will realize that having 100% more principals and other supervisors is not terribly cost-efficient or even very good educationally.)

      If you are really want to purchase only organic and sustainably grown products, none of the marginal/transitional non-yuppie nabes will really have enough of what you want, with sufficient variety, and you will need to drive or take other transportation to the more “desirable”neighborhoods to get what you want. retlaw makes a good point about using Fresh Direct. Now that I am getting older and do not drive (never did), I have been considering using them also, at least for the heavy staples that stay fresh or can be frozen for a long time.

      As to doctors and dentists, I have my primary care physician on Madison Ave and she is wonderful. She also charges about $300 for a normal office visit, more for extended visits and does not accept insurance. On the other hand, I have a great gastro guy, eye doctor, and dermatologist here in Brooklyn. Being the son of a doctor, I am fairly demanding. (OK, that may just be a part of my personality.) I’m sure you can find doctors and dentists here in Brooklyn and Queens if you ask other parents for recommendations. If I were to undergo surgery, sure, I would prefer to go to NY Hospital or NYU, but there are some great doctors and great people here in Brooklyn.

    7. lots are traveling from bedstuy or bushwick for school. 31 and 84 are magnets. Williamsburg Northside for infants and preschool. Know several families coming from further east that drop the young one off at northside, and the older kid at 84, then leave the car and hop on the L. also, know that people get their kids into 84, and then buy out further in bedstuy once the older one is in 84, then the younger one will be guaranteed prek because of sibling preference.

      it’s not ideal? but must be pretty doable because i know like 10 families doing it right now.

    8. When it comes to playgrounds I actually think its better over by the J. Saratoga park is big, lots of grass and huge trees and a very big playground area that is never very crowded and people are always super friendly. I like the park by Stuyvesant and Fulton but its on a busy corner and backs onto a parking lot and is much smaller than the one in Saratoga Park. That said the one on Stuvesant is pretty close. I go to both with my kid regularly.

    9. “Yes, there is gang activity, but they usually go after each other to settle some vendetta or other.”

      Oh, phew.

    10. Heather brings up an important point. Local playgrounds and parks also become very important with young kids. You do have a garden when you buy a whole house, but the space and slides and swings and social interaction for your kids with the other kids at the playground is big.

    11. We live off the J at Halsey by Saratoga park. This area is improving very fast by the month. We order Fresh Direct. We love having the J only one block away and getting into Manhattan in a timely manner. It is always humorous to read the same type of comments that were made about other parts of Brooklyn that became great neighborhoods to live in. It’s all a matter of tolerance and what you are looking for in your investment. We are very happy here, but do get frustrated at times, but who doesn’t. After all, it is NYC and having to not be dependent on a lousy landlord for the rest of my life is an awesome feeling.

    12. We were faced with a similar conundrum — or thought we were, before the termites and the job loss — and I have to say, as someone who has a kid currently in PreK (in Clinton Hill, which I do recommend, although getting in out of zone may be an issue), I wouldn’t buy near the Gates J-train. Myrtle, yes — it’s close enough to Williamsburg and Bushwick to walk to all of their amenities. (Clinton Hill too. In fact, were I to predict a bullish area, that is still really, really cheap, that’d be it.)

      Gates, no. Not unless you’re a total car person who wants to commute to playgrounds.

      Then again, there are a bunch of places for sale on Lexington Ave about five blocks from the J-train and 5 blocks from the G. That area — closer to Von King Park — might be worth investigating.

      Stuy Heights does look nice. There’s not a lot there — but it does seem beautiful and there is a strong community. SHparents, I think is the name of the listserve. There’s also a charter school called Brownstone School or something that looked interesting. There are a few places for sale (I think) on Chauncey across the projects. (That may be a negative, I was undecided about how much of one, as that also put them next to the playground, the subway, and the nicest houses in the area.)

    13. i second dittoburg’s comment on the schools. they’re super important. and if you’re planning on staying for a while, check out the middle schools too. i know it sounds crazy to have to think about that with toddlers, but it is going to be an issue.

      insideschools.org is a great resource, as is the women who runs nycschoolhelp.com (AND she’s a fellow mom of twins!)

    14. We live near the gates stop on the J and I’d take some issue with what stuyvesantheights had to say. There are definitely some grim blocks, mostly those east of Ralph and north of Halsey (as there are some grim blocks in Stuvesant Hieghts, particularly as you go North) but there are also some beautiful and quite safe blocks (in my experience) west of Ralph–and those south of Halsey going both ways. Saratoga park is quite nice and has a great playground.

      I find the J to be really convenient for getting downtown and to Williamsburg. You walk past the police station and fire station heading up Ralph from the subway and I’ve never had any problems. The amenities are a pretty different in each place. Over here you have a great green market, a farmer’s market at the gates stop on Wednesdays (great if you are around during the week) a Walgreens and a pretty solid Associated and an actual bank (BofA). Over on Lewis there are a couple of restaurants Tin City, etc. but none of these more basic amenities.

      Lewis Ave is not far–10+ minute walk and a quick drive to restaurants, etc. It really helps if you have a car.

      We send our son to daycare in Williamsburg which is a bit of a drive but will be moving him to a program in Clinton Hill. There is a montessori preschool right by Saratoga park which seems to have a pretty good program. As far as actual school goes, I cant imagine that the options are particularly good in either part of the neighborhood but I haven’t done any research so really don’t know.

      Hope that helps.

    15. I live on the Bushwick side of Gates, one block from the J subway so maybe this doesn’t help. The Bushwick side on Bushwick Avenue has the most gorgeous mansions that are occupied, and these people are my neighbors and some of them have actually been there over 50 years. Yes, there is gang activity, but they usually go after each other to settle some vendetta or other. My area is very racially mixed and some musicians I know who live in one of the houses recently had kids. I have never been harassed or bothered by anyone. If I need to go shopping there is the HUGE supermarket by the Mrytle J stop, and more stores are opening all the time. Plus you should know that that strip of Broadway was zoned last year as a C-4 which means big store commercial development. Two years ago a Walgreens opened up. On the corner of Linden there is a new commercial building from the ground up. There seem to be people posting here who don’t know the area that well.

      I disagree 100 percent about Gates Avenue being the worst stop I have no idea where that came from, I get home at 1 am sometimes and its fine. There is the Linden Street Park on the corner and at a block party my Assemblywoman showed up, and there are community gardens in the back side of the park which is allowed by the hardware store which owns the land. There is the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, there are always vendors underneath the subway selling mangoes, oils, incense, records, etc. its quite a hub of activity.

      I’m not saying its all paradise, there were some break ins a few months ago, but they seemed to be very local and by the timing of one (the extended family next door was at church on Sunday) they knew the schedule of that family that got broken into.

    16. Rob — there are plenty of excellent doctors and dentists in Brooklyn, even in Park Slope. You are acting like a snob. I have news for you, not all of the doctors in Manhattan are as good as you think they are. You are being ridiculous. If you want to go to a doctor in Manhattant, that’s great, as long as you selected them because they are good, and not just because of their address.

    17. there is nothing “snobbish” about wanting the best of best when it comes to doctors and dentists. im sorry but i walk passed dentists and doctor’s office in park slope all the time and they look FILTHY!

      *rob*

    18. we have a space near howard ave closer to A line. a car is essential. we drive to other parts in brooklyn for many things. we also have a baby- amenities in general are scarce and below average. it didnt stop us from buying here. we needed alot of space for our work and are quite happy for that. people on the block now know us and so far (5-6 yrs) is been safe.

    19. Rob, you are an absolute fucking moron. There are plenty of excellent doctors and dentists in Brooklyn. I despise people like you who act like they are “low rent” and pretend to be annoyed by the frivolous things rich people do, but are actually bigger snobs than anybody else.

    20. When they stop toddling and start walking, the quality of the schools they go to and spend half the day at away from you is going to be very important. Check out the schools before you buy.

    21. quote:
      Where is your doctor, dentist, etc.?

      i can’t answer any of your other questions, but a general rule of thumb is you ALWAYS choose your doctors and dentists in manhattan. there’s not really much of a price difference really, but doctors in dentists in the outer boroughs are of a MUCH less quality.

      *rob*

    22. “Stuy Heights is probably more family friendly. That being said, are you familiar with the developer’s work? I’m such a control freak that I wouldn’t want anyone else in charge of my renovation. But maybe that’s just me. People do it all the time.”

      I second rh – 50% of the people I know who bought developer reno found serious defects after moving in. One friend the developer used newspaper for insulation.

    23. Stuy Heights is probably more family friendly. That being said, are you familiar with the developer’s work? I’m such a control freak that I wouldn’t want anyone else in charge of my renovation. But maybe that’s just me. People do it all the time.

    24. I would say be very careful about buying by the Gates J train stop. Gates Avenue is about the worst strip in Bed Stuy, and Broadway isn’t very friendly for the kids. There tends to be more gang activity, and all around less savory characters in that area. Also, the fact that it is positioned between two neighborhoods makes it less “neighborhoody” and more transient. Not ideal for raising a family, in my opinion. What are the streets and properties like near the house you are looking at? Are they well kept or dilapidated and/or unkempt? These are important clues to who your neighbors will be. My husband and I bought in Bed Stuy a few years ago (we live closer to the A train Utica Stop), and we carefully checked out the entire neighborhood, driving through every part and marking our observations on a map before we bought. Before we knew that a “Stuyvesant Heights” existed, the pattern emerged on the map – it was this nice pocket that we found that we could be comfortable living in with kids. We are glad we did the research in advance, and still feel that we made the best choice. I would say, drive around the area a few times, and walk around with the kids a few times, too. If you don’t have a car, it would be worth borrowing a friends or renting a ZipCar for the day. Really get a feel for where you’re buying before you make such a big move.

    25. Hi! We live a few blocks farther out on the J. Mr. Kiwi’s at the Myrtle Broadway stop is where a lot of people go for organic produce and such (we go to a non-organic place at Halsey). We also buy our meat at Marlowe at the J Marcy stop in Williamsburg. The Williamsburg farmer’s market in McCarren Park is terrific in the warm months. We also recently joined the Bushwick Food Coop in the lofts — haven’t been yet.
      We don’t have children, but some friends at the Gates stop drive to Williamsburg. They are getting sick of it though, and considering schools in Clinton Hill.
      In any case, wherever you go, check out the block carefully. Make sure you have some friendly neighbors, no open dealing, consider noise. Sometimes people play music at extremely high levels in the backyards, which can’t be heard from the street.