Open Letter to Travel Media: Brooklyn Is Not A City

The famed and historic boardwalk at Coney Island has remained an iconic Brooklyn attraction through trendy and not so trendy times.

As a full-time travel journalist for nearly two decades, I have seen lots of destinations become the “It” place of the movement, or what editors often call “the next Prague,” after the Czech city’s meteoric trendiness rise in the late 20th century. Right now, there is little doubt that Brooklyn, one of five boroughs compromising New York City, a city located within New York State, which in turn is part of the United States of America, is the next big thing. I added the detailed geopolitical clarification for the sake of my many brethren in the food and travel media sector who can’t seem to come to terms with what or where Brooklyn actually is.

Take Food & Wine magazine. This is a publication based in New York City, with editors living in New York City – many of them in Brooklyn, I’d bet heavily – and even they have no idea what Brooklyn is. I just got a press release touting their May issue and describing the featured article as:

“10 Best Foodie Streets in America: FOOD & WINE rounded up the best places to eat and drink (and shop!) all on one street in 10 cities across the US.  Cities include:  Durham, NC; Portland, OR; Philadelphia, PA; Boulder, CO; San Francisco, CA; New Orleans, LA; Los Angeles, CA; Brooklyn, NY; Louisville, KY; and, Chicago, IL. “

Readers buying the magazine for this list of the 10 may feel slightly shortchanged, because there are only 9 cities, US or otherwise, on that list. It’s not splitting semantic hairs to point out that Brooklyn is not a city, it’s a simple reality that most of the fact checkers I have worked with over the years would have caught immediately (once upon a time, as recently as 1898, Brooklyn was a city, but this lapse has been long enough to warrant updating). It’s wrong, not poetic license, and no different than running a list of 10 Best Countries for something and including California.

It also begs the question whether they meant that the street in question (Bedford Avenue), is truly their pick for the best food street in New York City, the only city with which Brooklyn can be associated. That would be the logical conclusion. Or would actually selecting the best food street in the city have forced them away from editorially riding the coattails of Brooklyn’s all-consuming buzz?

Conde Nast Traveler is another industry leading, high profile travel publication, also based in New York City – another that should know better. Its “2013 Hot list of New Hotels” lists the hottest new US hotels with their city affiliations. Conde Nast selected three winners from the Empire State, described thusly: “Conrad, New York; The NoMad, New York; Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn, NY.” The implication of this is very clear – and very wrong. I get similar lists of best restaurants, best this, best that, almost weekly from myriad publications and websites and suddenly all have taken this tack of listing Brooklyn as its own city while grouping the contents of New York’s four other boroughs.

Increasingly, I am seeing the outlandish assertion, a la Food & Wine, that Brooklyn is its own city, or the unmistakable suggestion, a la Conde Nast Traveler, that it is somehow separate from the rest of New York City, on an almost daily basis – and I want it to stop. This is not because I have anything against Brooklyn or New York City – in fact, quite the opposite. As a native New Yorker whose family has long multi-generational histories in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn – where my grandparents operated a soda fountain in Coney Island – I have always rejoiced the city’s diversity, quilt of neighborhoods and vastness. I want it to stop because it is wrong and it is stupid and it is one more step down the slippery slope towards a widespread laissez-faire inaccuracy in media.

It is also misleading, especially to the many millions of far-flung visitors planning to visit New York City who might easily get the wrong impression and assume Brooklyn had the type of tourist infrastructure associated with an actual city. It does not. I have heard the claim bandied about quite a bit lately that “if Brooklyn were its own city it would be the third largest in the US,” which is true, assuming all five New York City boroughs similarly seceded (of course, Queens, another New York City borough rarely mistaken for a city despite having far more of almost every type of visitor related infrastructure, would be a close fifth, and Manhattan would be sixth). Brooklyn would also be far and away the largest city in the country without a hotel bed base of any significance (or airport), and all those people who tried to visit based on the stories they had been reading about what a great city it was would be in for a rude awakening, especially when they tried to check-in.

So here’s the deal. Brooklyn is hot for a reason. It is absolutely worth visiting if you come from out of town, both for it unique classic attractions, such as Prospect Park and Coney Island, and for the latest and greatest, to catch a Nets game or to see what all the hipster buzz is about right now. But given its miniscule amount of tourist hotels, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of the rooms – along with most stores, restaurants, museums, cultural and other attractions are in the other parts of the Big Apple, it might make more sense to just visit New York City.  Upon arrival, readers of top tier travel and food publications might be surprised to discover that one of New York’s many charms is Brooklyn – which by the way, is not a city.

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