If you look at a map of Brooklyn, you’ll see a curious perfect square divided into quadrants just north of Coney Island near the Avenue U station. In 1643, the town of Gravesend was established by Lady Moody – making her the first female land owner in the ‘new world’ and the only woman to found a settlement. Deborah Moody left England due to religious persecution and settled in New Netherlands. Gravesend was established as a place for Moody and her followers to practice their Anabaptist beliefs, which were very much looked down upon at the time. The community was one of the first planned communities in America. It offered religious freedom, which brought many minority religious groups to the town including a a small number of Quakers up until they were run out of New Netherland by Peter Stuyvesant.
Originally intended to be a simple, clean community with homes to meet the needs of a mix of residents, Sunnyside Gardens is generally hailed as a success and has been copied many times over. Completed in 1929 on land purchased from the Pennsylvania Railroad, Sunnyside Gardens was championed by future first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and designed by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, both proponents of the Garden city movement. The neighborhood included 1, 2, and 3 bedroom homes as well as a few apartment buildings. Each building had a garden in the front along the street along with a private garden behind the house. Covenants mandated that courtyards serve the community and banned driveways and building alterations. Once covenants expired in the 1960s, residents jumped to fence off their chunk of land, install driveways, and build to their heart’s content. The city designated it a historic district, but this is Queens, so it hasn’t stopped much of the unauthorized changes made to the homes in the district.
Conceived and built by Metropolitan Life from 1938-1942, this was once the largest housing complex in the country. For a brief moment in time, New York state adjusted insurance codes in a way that made it advantageous for life insurance companies such as MetLife to invest in rental housing projects, which brought about several developments following Parkchester such as Peter Cooper Village, and Stuyvesant Town. MetLife purchased this site from the Catholic Protectory and started renting out units to veterans returning from WWII. Admission into the complex had race restrictions until 1968 when it was finally integrated. This self-contained community was intended to be a city within a city and therefore has over 100 stores and offices, including the second Macy’s store ever and the first Starbucks in the Bronx.
The neighborhood now known as Ditmas Park was built (and named for) land once owned by the Van Ditmarsen family. Fun fact: Ditmas and Ditmars are both alternate spellings of the “Van Ditmarsen” family name. The land was bought by Lewis Humphrey Pounds in 1902 who divided the area into lots, laid out sidewalks, sewers, and paved roads lined with trees. Restrictions were placed on the buildings that were constructed, requiring single-family homes with a distinct suburban feel and special attention was paid toward the “many details that go to make up the high class home section.” Most of the homes in Ditmas Park were built before World War I and feature a pre-war revival of colonial architectural, though they are often mistaken for Victorian style.
There are several residential buildings on Roosevelt Island built in the 1970s that were intended to house 20,000 residents. These buildings were part of a plan to create the urban utopian vision of designers Philip Johnson and John Burgee. Johnson and Burgree wanted to bann automobiles from the entire island, leaving residents to rely on public transit in order to move around the community. The master plan called for the creation of 3 distinct communities within the island. The first phase, Northtown, includes 4 housing complexes (3 rental buildings and 1 built under the Mitchel-Lama program that allowed for lower-income families to purchase their homes in a cooperative building). This first phase is thought to have the more impressive architectural elements when compared to the latter 2, featuring two buildings designed by the architect Josep Lluís Sert. These buildings have the unusual design of elevators and hallways every three floors, since all units are actually duplexes that take up 2 floors. Roosevelt Island can boast of having an unusual system of collecting trash via underground pneumatic tubes, which was in-line with the original intent to prohibit automobiles and trash collection vehicles on the island.