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Berkeley and Brooklyn: An eerie similarity

Brooklyn and Berkeley. They share so much more than the same initial letter and bridges that also begin with “B”. If you read the New York Times, you will find their regular, nay almost obsessive, coverage of the goings-on in Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Park Slope, spookily familiar. The demographic, the passions, the fashions — down to the adoration of the canine species — it’s all a bit of a Brooklyn-Berkeley blur.

The May edition of San Francisco Magazine decided to put the similarities to the test in a “Berkeley versus Brooklyn smackdown” (not yet online,¬†unfortunately). Here are some sample questions from their pop-quiz:

  • In which city is there a store selling up to 30 different types of boas — not the feathery kind but the slithery kind?
  • In which city did an esteemed local author once write that “the default facial expression is the suspicious frown”?
  • In which city is there a hat store in which none of the hats are made of wool, because the owner believes wool causes baldness?
  • In which city can you buy a water bottle with a spout and a bowl, so that you and your dog can sip¬†simultaneously?

See? It’s not necessarily that easy to discern which city is the answer. Shall we give you the answers or leave you in suspense? We think the latter.¬†Oh, alright then, the answers are: Berkeley (the Vivarium we assume); Berkeley (Michael Chabon we assume — and BTW Michael, if you would let us have a copy of that fabulous “Ode to Berkeley” essay, we would be honored to publish it); Brooklyn; and Brooklyn.

So the outstanding question, as SF Mag points out, is which city is more smug, more chic and more culinary correct? That’s your call, Berkeleysiders.

[Hat tip — again — Nancy Friedman.]

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  • http://www.davosnewbies.com Lance Knobel

    Do I get double credit as a Berkeleyite who was born in Brooklyn?

  • http://twitter.com/Weezus Rachel A.

    Without any research to back up my claim at all, I think the smugness factor has an age component. In Brooklyn, smugness is ruled by the younger, under 30 set while in Berkeley the smugness-quotient is owned by the over 55 set (says this Gen-Xer, yet again in the middle and overlooked. No hard feelings. Really.)

    I’m having a hard time putting “Berkeley” and “chic” in the same sentence.

    Culinarily-speaking, I think that’s Berkeley’s to lose ….. and we don’t.

  • http://www.davosnewbies.com Lance Knobel

    It notable, as well, that we’re comparing a city of 100,000 to a borough of 2.5 million. Another example of Berkeley punching well above its weight.

  • Avi Rappoport

    Michael Chabon’s Ode to Berkeley is part of a anthology, “My California” (Angel City Press), whose proceeds benefit the California Arts Council. It was reprinted as a special feature of The Chronicle back in 2004:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/08/15/LVGFV856N51.DTL

    I send it to people to explain

  • http://www.davosnewbies.com Lance Knobel

    Avi, in the early days of Berkeleyside we asked if we could reprint it and were turned down. I know there’s the Chronicle link, but it’s the kind of piece that we would love to have permanently available on Berkeleyside.

  • http://blognabbit.blogspot.com deirdre

    Rachel A., without any research to back up my claim at all, I assert that a whole lot of us in Berkeley (‘whole lot’ being a precise measurement around here) rely on our God-given* right to back up our claims without any research at all.

    *UU ministers such as yourself might argue that any of our rights are God-given. But of course you would be doing so without any research to back up your claim at all.

  • Cat Sands

    Berkeley may have a kinship with New York’s Brooklyn now, but it is Oakland that actually once had a district called Brooklyn. See this 1869 map: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/EART/maps/g4364-o2-1869-s4.html

  • RR

    I moved here (Berkeley) from there (Park Slope, Brooklyn) about a year ago for the obvious similarities — a walkable, liberal city that’s close to, but not in “The City”. Here are some notable differences.

    While it may be more ethnically diverse than, say, Marin, no one who lived in Brooklyn goes on and on about how diverse Berkeley is. New York built large scale public housing all over the city that ensures that rich and poor live in pretty close proximity throughout the city. I don’t see that here. Berkeley seems more diverse by virtue of proximity to Oakland.

    Berkeley real estate may seem steep, but you’d be hard pressed to buy a house for under a million $ in the nicer parts of Brooklyn. Under a mill will get you a cramped apartment, with shared walls, floors/ceilings and hefty monthly maintenance fees. For the price of a large house in the more expensive parts of Berkeley, you might get a small, fixer-upper townhouse on the fringe of a neighborhood like Park Slope. I’m enjoying having outdoor space and some distance between me and my neighbors (no matter how small) here in Berkeley.

    The increased density in Brooklyn makes for better walkability and public transit, but Berkeley wins on bikeability. NYC has been trying to make the city more bike friendly with bike lanes but it’s tough to overcome the weather and the traffic. Not to mention hauling your bike up the stairs to your walk-up apartment. The bicycle boulevards here in Berkeley are great (but still could be better — Milvia is awfully busy downtown and it’s still tough to cross a street like San Pablo or MLK on a Bike Blvd at rush hour).

    As for food, both cities have a lot too offer. Berkeley wins on fresh, local ingredients but Brooklyn wins on creating a “chic” eating + drinking scene. Both are plenty smug though…

  • http://umhai.com/ james

    Great piece from Chabon and cool map linked by Cat above.

    I agree with Rachel. Smugness might be correlated to the number of grey hairs on the head of any Berkeleyan.

  • http://twitter.com/tereneta Tim

    Smugness quotient is owned by anyone who claims to have lived in Berkeley between 1964 and 1974…. grey hair or not.

  • s z underwood

    In terms of “smugness” and Berkeley counterculture bona fides, perhaps some of you still recall those old timers and pioneers announcing loudly in line (more like shouting) their Coop member number if it was less than 1,000 and then looking back to see who seemed impressed.

    In the Coop’s terminal phase, I can still recall spotting a well-known Coop board member surreptitously buying several large bunches of non-farmworker green grapes at Safeway.

    Speaking of which, Parkslope in Brooklyn has a vibrant “members only” food coop:

    Unlike the old Berkeley Coop, everyone has to put in their own hours:

    Q: Why do all members have to work?

    A: One of the Coop’s goals is to provide food to the member-owners that is both low priced and high quality. Low prices come primarily from saving money in the area of payroll expense. Payroll is the biggest expense of any store, including this one. The fact that our members do about 75% of the work, thereby keeping our payroll low, is the main reason that the members of this Coop pay low prices. Another goal accomplished when members are doing 75% of the work of the Coop is a feeling of being a member-owner that one cannot get from merely investing one’s money.

    http://foodcoop.com/go.php?id=40

  • deirdre

    We Berkeleyans are smug in such an interesting faux-humble way. I wonder where our particular smugness could be best observed …. at various elementary school tours for would-be parents? outside the original Pete’s on Vine street? eavesdropping along Fourth Street on a Sunday afternoon? summer mornings at Totland? in the locker room at Funky Door Bikram Yoga?

  • http://www.mostdangerousman.org judy Ehrlich

    As a native Brooklynite who has lived in Berkeley most of the time since 1967,when I say I am from Berkeley I often get the response, “Brooklyn?”
    I left when I was 5, but seems the word Berkeley when pronounced with a slight Brooklyn accent sounds like Brooklyn…. has anyone else experienced this?

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