Outline and Notes from "A Hard Nut to Crack: Researching Your Neighborhood"

A Hard Nut to Crack: Researching Your Neighborhood

July 22, 2012
Park Slope Food Coop

Demographics and other statistical information are among the most difficult data to harness when you're trying to learn more about where you live. And what about researching the history of your part of the city? This workshop will introduce participants to resources and techniques both online and off to help you get a handle on your neighborhood.

Learning objectives:

  • Participants will be able to conduct basic demographic research.
  • Participants will know how to find a variety of neighborhood statistics.
  • Participants will be able to find information about Brooklyn and local issues using websites and resources both online and off.

Quick list of links: tinyurl.com/pscooplocalinfo

The new Brooklynite: Local information for new residents

NYC CityMap: gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap
View layers of information about the city, from wifi spots to daycares.

  • enter [1609 Cortelyou Rd, Brooklyn]
  • can see the owner and other info about the building
  • expand "Show Additional Data on Map" and make selections as desired

My Neighborhood Statistics: www.nyc.gov/html/ops/html/data/neighborhood.shtml
A source for statistics (crime, 311 calls, etc.) grouped by Community Board, school district, or police precinct.
(can also go to nyc.gov > Operations (city agencies dropdown menu) > Performance Data > My Neighborhood Statistics)

  • enter [1609 Cortelyou Rd, Brooklyn] and look at reports as desired

Brooklyn Organizations Directory: websql.brooklyn.cuny.edu/organizations
Search or browse this directory maintained by the Center for the Study of Brooklyn at Brooklyn College.

  • select Flatbush in the neighborhood dropdown menu, and then select Arts & Culture as the type of organization

social media

  • search Twitter for [flatbush] and look for people and tweets
  • if you don’t have a Twitter account, go to a search engine and enter [flatbush site:twitter.com]
  • go to Google blog search
  • enter keyword [flatbush]
  • enter keyword [brooklyn]
  • once you find a blog you like, look at the blogroll for others to follow


  • search the BPL catalog for keyword [flatbush]
  • go to Advanced Search and change the material type to “PRINTED MATL” so that you leave out all the of program listings

Protecting the environment: The Gowanus Canal and other local environmental issues

Brooklyn Public Library Articles & Databases: www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/eresources
Access to newspaper, magazine, and journal articles.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov
Environmental information in multiple languages.

U.S. National Library of Medicine TOXMAP: toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap/main/index.jsp
Find toxic chemical release information and EPA Superfund sites in your neighborhood.

Brownstoner: www.brownstoner.com
A blog about Brooklyn with an emphasis on real estate as well as neighborhood news.

Starting a business: Resources for commercial success in Brooklyn

American FactFinder: factfinder2.census.gov
Population, housing, economic, and geographic data collected from censuses and surveys.

  • go to Data > American FactFinder
  • start with Geographies, choose Census Tract and drill down
  • select census tracts 511-515 in Kings County
  • select “Household Population and Household Type by Tenure: 2010”
  • use dropdown menu to see data for each census tract (you must do your own math if you want to see totals for all 5 areas)
  • lgdata.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/docs/771/371023/find_nyc_census.pdf (document created by Baruch College librarian) explains Census geographies

Missouri Census Data Center: mcdc1.missouri.edu/sf1_2010/sf1_2010_menu.html

  • can compare up to 4 geographies with a simpler interface than on the Census’s website
  • select New York from the State dropdown and Census Tract from the Area Type dropdown
  • select Kings County
  • select census tracts 511-514 and generate report

American Community Survey (NYC Department of City Planning): www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/census/popacs.shtml

  • look at the PDFs in the Community Districts column
  • some CDs correspond roughly with neighborhoods (or multiple neighborhoods)

Census 2010 (NYC Department of City Planning): www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/census/census_2010.shtml
Tables and spreadsheets of NYC-specific data.

  • can easily see Census tracts

Small Business Guides (Brooklyn Public Library): www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/locations/business/smallbiz
Guides include “Tax & Legal Aspects of Starting Your Business.”

OPAL (New York State’s Online Permit Assistance and Licensing): www.nys-permits.org
Get resources and information about licensing your business in New York.

Business Toolbox (NYC Department of Consumer Affairs): www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/business/business.shtml
How to obtain licenses for businesses from laundromats to cabarets.

Brooklyn Public Library’s Business and Career Library: www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/locations/business

New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL): www.nypl.org/locations/sibl

The amateur historian: Tools to research your neighborhood and its history

Museum of the City of New York’s Photograph Collection: collections.mcny.org
Find photos of historic Brooklyn. Images are available for purchase.

New York Public Library Digital Gallery: digitalgallery.nypl.org
This image collection includes photographs, maps, posters, and prints.

NYC Department of Records and Photograph Archive: www.nyc.gov/html/records/home.html
Browse photos from the Municipal Archives (available for purchase) and find archival documents.

NYC Tax Photographs: www.nyc.gov/html/records/html/taxphotos/home.shtml
The city government photographed every building in 1939-1941 and the mid 1980s.

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission: www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/html/forms/reports_bklyn.shtml
Find reports for every Brooklyn LPC neighborhood, including building histories.

Brownstoner’s Guide to Researching Historic Buildings: www.brownstoner.com/blog/2011/06/walkabout-researching-historic-buildings-part-1
This three-part series walks you through online and in-person resources to find information about your home.

Columbia University Avery Library Guide to Researching Historic Buildings: library.columbia.edu/content/libraryweb/indiv/avery/guides/nycbuild.html
More resources to research historic NYC buildings.

U.S. Census of Population and Housing Historical Data: www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial
Scanned pages of U.S. Census data going back to 1790.

Welcome to 1940s New York: www.1940snewyork.com
A snapshot of New York from 1943, using data from the 1940 U.S. Census.

Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection: www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/brooklyncollection
Contains maps, photographs, and the full run of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Located at BPL’s Central Library.

Brooklyn Historical Society: brooklynhistory.org/library/about.html
Contains papers, letters, genealogies, church sermons, war correspondence, and more. Admission fee required.


Among the questions we received throughout the course of the workshop were:

  • How far back do the city's neighborhood statistics go?
  • Where can you find independent evaluations of public schools?
  • What are more ways to find crime statistics?
  • Are there statistics on volunteering?
  • How can you find office space for rent?
  • Where can you find aerial photographs of neighborhoods?

Also, I was surprised that none of the 11 attendees said they used Twitter, even just to follow others. I was, unfortunately, less surprised that none of them said they ever used Brooklyn Public Library's e-resources!