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Culture

Building a Community in Brooklyn’s Backyards

In 1983, neighbors on an unusual block agreed to create a more open, shared space behind their homes. What they built remains a special slice of nature in a bustling city.
Children play in the backyard in the late 1990s. "This is a little slice of how every child should be able to grow up."
Children play in the backyard in the late 1990s. "This is a little slice of how every child should be able to grow up."Courtesy of Tim and Sealy Gilles

In the regular patterns of Brooklyn’s street grid, there’s a slight deformity near Prospect Park that makes one block slightly larger than the ones around it. On this block of brownstones in Park Slope, the streets give the houses a little more breathing room for their backyards. And for more than three decades, the community here has gone one step further, turning that space into a sprawling private park of their own creation.

The result is a communal yard, divided only by unlocked fence gates. Playing here as a kid, it felt like magic—my own little corner of a city that’s not known for quiet spaces. With no streets or strangers to pose a threat, parents blessed their children with free rein of the space. It remains beloved today, especially in the warmer months, with the children lucky enough to live on the block running around in the yards—just as its creators hoped.