Whither Has Thy Brooklyn Stoop Gone?

Just one of the disappearing Southern Brooklyn stoops

One of my favorite memories is from August 14, 2003. Sometime in the afternoon on that muggy day, 55 million people across the Northeast United States and Canada lost power.

Lights went out. Air conditioners shut off. Computers faded to black, and the oft-overlooked hum of electric currents died out.

There was a lot of cool stuff that day – being able to see the stars in the night sky from the sands of Manhattan Beach; walking up Sheepshead Bay Road, which felt like a hollowed movie set; seeing regular joes volunteering to direct traffic just to help people get by.

But of all the things, one really cool thing happened that stands above the rest. People hung out on their stoops. They talked – face to face! – with neighbors. Without air conditioners or fans, without computers or phones, Sheepshead denizens had little to do but sit on porches, have a drink and shoot the bull.

It was like being transported back in time, when people used to sit on stoops and watch kids play stick ball. I got a taste of something from before my day.

I liked the way that tasted, and I frequently float the idea of a National Blackout Day to my friends. No one’s interested.

But what about the stoops? All across Southern Brooklyn, families – like the owners of the house above – redesign their homes, extending their living space over porches and stoops.

And why not? Porches aren’t living space anymore. With all our distraction and all our hurry, stoops are dead space. Nothing happens there.

What’s the implication of that? So much has happened on the Brooklyn Stoop of the past. They’re places of meditation, inspiration and creativity. They breath life into Brooklyn.

Don’t believe me? Go to a neighborhood like Bushwick on a hot, sticky evening and you’ll hear salsa and chatter and laughing and play. You don’t hear that in Sheepshead Bay, and we’re a whole lot grumpier than those people, I think.

Absolut Vodka just launched their latest city-themed bottle – Absolut Brooklyn. The image they deemed most defining of our borough? The stoop.

“Harkening back to the decades-long notion that the stoop is truly the epicenter of creativity, culture and community, the bottle serves as an homage to that Brooklyn ideal of stoop life–where memories are made and ideas are sparked through conversation and camraderie,” their press release says.

So, in our corner of the borough, where development and activity devours stoops and porches – and sometimes even yards and gardens – are we losing our centers of creativity, culture and community in our short-sighted plans to gain a few extra feet of living room?

This post is part of a collaboration with Absolut Brooklyn, Spike Lee and dozens of other blogs to celebrate Brooklyn stoops. We thought it would be a cool project to help people realize the importance of those oft-overlooked steps in front of our homes. Articles from other blogs can be seen at http://www.brooklynstooplife.com/. Pardon all the advertisements for Absolut Brooklyn on that website – but someone’s gotta foot the bill.

We’re going to feature a few articles throughout the summer about the importance of stoops in the neighborhood. Your suggestions are welcome!