Campanella Publishes Brooklyn: The Once and Future City

graphic depicting various elements of Brooklyn history combined into a single image

Cover graphic of Brooklyn: The Once and Future City.

September 10, 2019

Thomas J. Campanella takes a long and engaging look at his hometown in Brooklyn: The Once and Future City (Princeton University Press, 2019), a book that spans some 400 years of history and features the characters, places, and infrastructure in a city that has had its share of ups and downs — emerging today (for better or worse) as a hipster haven with global cachet.

The book was an eight-year labor of love for Campanella, associate professor of city and regional planning, who now splits his time between his boyhood home in Marine Park and Ithaca. As such it unveils many hidden gems buried in Brooklyn's rich history. These include Deborah Moody, a 17th-century planner who created the town of Gravesend, among the first in America to guarantee religious freedom; ill-fated efforts to create a deep-water seaport in Jamaica Bay and the world's greatest pleasure dome at Coney Island; and New York City's first municipal airport. There are detailed descriptions of racetracks and amusement parks, as well as highways and housing projects.

Brooklyn's continuously evolving population is well documented here, from Native Americans and Dutch traders to throngs of European immigrants who carved out neighborhoods of their own, and from a middle-class mass exodus in the 1970s and 80s to today's gentrification.

"One of the main goals was to present the city as a memory palace, to show the extraordinary richness of individual places, many of which have long forgotten or hidden significance," Campanella says. "The neighborhoods in Brooklyn each have meaning and significance — there are layers of history everywhere."

This book will appeal to those with a penchant for history and urban development, but Campanella believes it will resonate most strongly with Brooklynites, both past and present. "It was an excavation project to show people what can be found in their backyards. It's for Brooklyn — if people there never look at their street the same way again after reading my book, then I will have done my job.

By Jay Wrolstad

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