For New Yorkers of past and present, Eastern Parkway has always been more than a roadway. It’s a street full of history, culture, and believe it or not, relaxation. A few days ago, I walked the length of the parkway to film what makes it so special. You can come along for that walk with me via the video above. But if you want the TL;DW (too long; didn’t watch) version, I’ve written up some of the most important highlights about Eastern Parkway below:
Eastern Parkway is the world’s first parkway!
Eastern Parkway was intended to be exactly as it sounds: a road leading you from the eastern parts of Long Island to a park, which in this case is Prospect Park. Park designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux loved Prospect Park so much they wanted you to be hyped up to enter it from two miles away by driving down a beautiful green ribbon of trees.
Eastern Parkway’s defining features are traffic and trees.
Eastern Parkway is one of NYC’s busiest roadways, with four to six lanes of traffic shuffling cars between the downtown Brooklyn area and the Jackie Robinson Parkway. While a driver may not feel peace and tranquility as they swerve through the parkway’s traffic, pedestrians will certainly feel at peace among all Eastern Parkway’s trees. More than 1000 trees line both sides of the parkway, creating a shady canopy of American elms, linden, maple, and oak trees.
Don’t expect to get much shopping done.
There are very few areas of commercial activity along Eastern Parkway, and that’s exactly what Olmstead and Vaux intended. Adding to the parkway’s tranquility, both sides of the street are lined with tasteful apartment buildings, mini-mansions, and other types of homes. Originally, these residences attracted members of the professional class and their families, so much so that Eastern Parkway gained the nickname “Doctor’s Row.”
The subway changed Eastern Parkway’s demographics.
The expansion of the subway system into Brooklyn in the 1920s brought people looking for better housing into the area. This included Jewish people from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, as well as Caribbean immigrants and African-Americans. Today, these groups still have a large presence along Eastern Parkway and in Crown Heights. But since this is Brooklyn in the 21st century, the area isn’t immune to gentrification.
Don’t forget to look down!
It’s easy to spend your time staring up at all the trees along Eastern Parkway, especially during autumn. But as you get closer to Prospect Park, be sure to look down at the base of trees you’re passing by. Several of them have plaques in honor of soldiers who died fighting in World War I. (I even spotted one plaque dedicated to a soldier who fought in the Civil War!)
There is much more to see on Eastern Parkway besides trees!
Although Eastern Parkway isn’t buzzing with commercial activity, it does have a few cultural highlights. Be sure to stop by the Jewish Children’s Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch, Grand Army Plaza, and of course, Prospect Park. And I’d be remiss not to mention that Eastern Parkway plays host to the biggest event celebrating Caribbean life in New York every Labor Day: the West Indian Day Parade!
What did you think of this walking tour of Eastern Parkway? Do you want me to do more walking tours like this? Let me know in the comment section! And if you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City, make sure to sign up for my email list, so you never miss a post! You can also follow me on social media to get NYC tidbits almost daily. Thanks for reading (and watching)!