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postcards - jenna park's new york

Even if you've never been to New York City, chances are you feel like you know it inside out anyway, what with all the movies, video clips, books, TV shows, photoshoots et cetera et cetera that use the buzzing US hub as their backdrop.

The five boroughs might get about 50 million visitors each year, but living in the Big Apple is a completely different ballgame to dropping by for a trip to the Met and a bagel or two. We asked born-and-bred New Yorker Jenna Park - who's also mighty handy with a camera - to dish the dirt on her city, and give us a tour from a local's eye view (no Statue of Liberty crowns included).


Firstly, please tell us a little bit about the neighbourhood that you live in. We live in a neighbourhood called Park Slope in Brooklyn, NY, that's considered part of "brownstone Brooklyn" because of the 19th century rowhouse architecture built primarily from brownstone. Many of these residences are registered under The National Register of Historic Places, the largest area of protected buildings in NYC. We live near a large urban park called Prospect Park that is designed by the same architects who designed Central Park. The neighbourhood has sort of a small town feel to it - the local businesses are primarily still independent owners (as opposed to big chain stores) and it is the type of place where you really get to know your neighbours.

What kind of house/apartment do you live in? Is it typical of the architecture in that area? Although the vast majority of our neighbourhood is comprised of brownstones, limestones, and town houses influenced by Greek Revival, Neo Greco, Romanesque architecture, we actually live in a newer building that is just a decade old.


What kind of stereotype has NYC earned, and how is it different to what people expect? NYC has always had this reputation of being a dangerous, crowded and unfriendly city. While some of those stereotypes may have some merit, New York is considered the safest big city in America according to recent statistics. When you have that many people living in a concentrated area (currently over eight million), you're going to have a very diverse mix of people. But one of the more surprising discoveries that first time visitors to the city often describe to me is how friendly New Yorkers actually are.

How is your city changing? I grew up in NYC, so I have that perspective as a native New Yorker to see the changes firsthand from the '70s to how it is today. You can argue that the city doesn't resemble anything like it did when I was a kid in the '70s and '80s. Most of the graffiti is gone, the streets are cleaner, the city is safer, the demographics of many neighbourhoods have shifted and there are a lot more green spaces and public parks just in the last 10 years. In short, it's become a more livable city in a lot of ways, although an expensive one. But I always like to describe the city as a "city of ghosts". Despite all the changes, there is so much history that seeps through; you could feel it walking down the streets. I like to imagine what NYC was like at the turn of the century or in the 1920s and it's not hard to imagine when, despite all the cosmetic changes, the bones of the city – the buildings, the bridges, the street paths – remain the same. There is also a personal history that's present when you're living in a city of your childhood. It's hard not to walk around and not be reminded of a friend, a particular place like a store or cafe that holds some significance, or a certain memory from the past.


What album do you think would be the best soundtrack for walking around? Any record by the Beastie Boys, but particularly Paul's Boutique and Ill Communication.

If you had a day to take an Australian around your town on a Sunday afternoon, what would you do? We'd start the day with brunch and then just pick a neighbourhood to explore, whether it's the West Village or Red Hook or the Lower East Side. The best way to see the city is just walk and wander around. I almost prefer not to have an agenda. Despite having lived here for most of my life, I am still finding new neighbourhoods and pockets of the city that I have never explored. The city still surprises me.


What is the local creative community like? Are there predominant local crafts? Brooklyn has been well-documented in recent years as a "hotbed" of creative culture, whether it's literary, art, music or culinary. Our business is just one of many, many small food businesses that have opened within the past six years, and I am one of many, many designers who live in the borough.

In my particular neighbourhood, I've noticed there are a lot of writers, magazine editors and documentary filmmakers (and some actors), but there isn't one creative discipline that dominates; it's very diverse. You have to understand that if Brooklyn was its own city and not one of five boroughs that make up NY, it would be the fourth largest city in America. I don't think many people realise just how big Brooklyn is. But what makes it attractive to a lot of people is that each of the many neighbourhoods that make up Brooklyn has its own distinct character and flavour and there is very much a community feel. People care about their neighbourhoods and their public schools, and they want to support their local businesses.


How does your city change with the seasons? We live in a climate that has four very distinct seasons and it transforms the city. I think New Yorkers are a bit obsessed about the weather (I know I am) and like to complain about it as well. Each season brings its own miseries and joy – the first snowfall in winter is magical; the whole city seems to wake up when spring finally arrives; summer can be oppressive but the city is alive with outdoor concerts, street fairs and other events. But fall? There is nothing like New York in the fall. That season was made for a city like New York.

Where is the best place to have a picnic? 15 years ago I would have said the undeveloped Williamsburg waterfront, but my favourite place these days to have a picnic is Governor's Island. A picnic on the stoop in the neighbourhood is also the best.


Where is the best place to see a gig? I don't go to shows often (although that is changing), but I do like Roseland and the Bowery Ballroom. Joe's Pub is also a really nice venue. I'm still sad that the original Knitting Factory isn't around anymore.

Where is the best place to buy a vintage dress? For nostalgia sake, Screaming Mimi's is one of the few vintage shops still around from when I was a teenager, but I would probably check out the Brooklyn Flea or Edith Machinist these days.


Where is the best place to buy some records? Stoop sales.

Where is the best place to sip on a really great coffee? Abraço Espresso in the East Village.

Where is the best place for an international feed? Queens, which is where I grew up, has the best "ethnic" food in my opinion. SriPraPhai in Woodside is some of the best Thai food I've had.


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