I live in Manhattan, but haven't spent as much time in Brooklyn as I'd like. Going to the occasion event or activity in the borough to the south counts for culture, however it doesn't deliver enough for my liking in terms of better understanding a neighborhood and especially its evolution over time. So I signed up for a Brooklyn tour with Free Tours By Foot. Here are five things I walked away with:
1. You'l get the historical, theatrical, industrial, and sociological.
Because you never know who will turn up for a free walking tour (with recommended tipping at the end), you must design the itinerary and various stops to appeal to and appease everyone's sensibilities. That means you'll find out about things from 100 or nearly 400 years ago, but also discover where certain movie shoots past and present have taken place. There's a little bit of something for everyone.
2. The personal side comes through loudest.
If your guide is like mine, you'll hear about what Brooklyn was like back int he 70s and 80s and 90s as compared with where it stands today. This brightened up and reinforced several points, particularly about the changing face of blocks and neighborhoods as a whole. With someone who has witnessed this transformation himself, you can really imagine what was once here. And you have an authentic source to answer all of your questions, too.
3. Robert Moses, in all his glory.
Those visiting from our of town might not be previously familiar with Moses's contributions to the creation of the modern NYC, but they'll quickly learn about what made him such an influential and controversial figure. Walking the blocks of the Brooklyn Heights community, you will grapple with the decision of old about whether to retain and renovate neighborhoods or to overhaul them in the name of the future. With such historic and beautiful homes on both sides of you, this complicated issue (and figure) shines through.
4. What you see is what you get.
It's the job of a good tour guide to pay close attention, as a tourist himself, to what first-timers will be drawn to as they pace through a neighborhood. The statues and street names, along with the structure of common homes, are prime real estate to point out -- and point at -- along the way. Our guide, thanks to his years of giving this tour and honing his skills, knew exactly when to draw your attention to something you spotted and wondered about. You get the original or inside story as you head from one location to the next.
5. Neighborhoods meet in the middle.
With enough time at your disposal, as this tour offers, you can cover more than one area. Seeing the differences between Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO stood out starkly. We spent significant time talking about Brooklyn Heights, then sped through DUMBO, an area still in transition. You could envision in the last part of the tour what DUMBO might look like in five or ten years, after the construction and other changes have completed. It was more than what you could see there today.