The total land area is 2.19 square miles, and the ZIP codes for the neighborhood are 11212 and 11233. Brownsville is bordered by Fulton Street to the north (on the Bedford-Stuyvesant border), East 98th Street/Ralph Avenue to the west (Flatbush and Crown Heights borders) and the freight rail Bay Ridge Branch of the Long Island Rail Road running along Linden Boulevard to the south (adjacent to the neighborhood of Canarsie) and Van Sinderen Avenue to the east (East New York).
In 2010, Brownsville's population was 58,300  and the demographics were 76.7% Black or African American, 17% Hispanic/Latino, 2.6% White, 1% Asian/Pacific Islander and 3.7% described themselves as other. 29.9% of the population were High School graduates and 8.4% had a Bachelor's degree or higher. As of 2008, the median household income was $15,978. There were a total of 28,298 housing units in Brownsville.
Brownsville is dominated by public housing developments of various types. There is also a significant concentration of semi-detached multi-unit row houses similar to those found in East New York and Soundview surrounding the public housing developments. Many, however, have been torn down and replaced by vacant lots or newly constructed subsidized attached multi-unit rowhouses. There is also a small number of tenements in the area. The neighborhood contains the highest concentration of NYCHA developments in New York City; NYCHA controls more than one-third of all of the neighborhood’s housing units.
Low-income public housing projects
- 104–14 Tapscott Street; one 4-story building.
- Brownsville Houses; 27 buildings, 6- and 7-stories tall.
- Glenmore Plaza; four buildings, 10-, 18- and 24-stories tall.
- Howard Avenue; five buildings, 3-stories tall.
- Howard Avenue-Park Place; eight buildings, 3-stories tall.
- Howard Houses; ten buildings, 7- and 13-stories tall.
- Hughes Apartments; three 22-story buildings.
- Marcus Garvey (Group A); three buildings, 6- and 14-stories tall.
- Prospect Plaza Houses; three vacant 12-story buildings in the process of being rehabilitated. (really in the Ocean Hill section of Brooklyn Community Board 16)
- Ralph Avenue Rehab; five 4-story buildings.
- Reverend Randolph Brown; two 6-story buildings.
- Seth Low Houses; four buildings, 17- and 18-stories tall.
- Sutter Avenue-Union Street; three rehabilitated tenement buildings, 4- and 6-stories tall.
- Tapscott Street Rehab; eight 4-story rehabilitated tenement buildings.
- Tilden Houses; eight 16-story buildings.
- Van Dyke I; 22 buildings, 3- and 14-stories tall.
- Van Dyke II; one 14-story building.
- Woodson Houses; two buildings, 10- and 25-stories tall.
The area that would become Brownsville was first used by the Dutch for farming. It was also a source of stone and other building-materials. William Suydam parcelled the land in 1860, laying out 262 lots, but he soon defaulted on his mortgages. Charles S. Brown of Esopus won the land in an auction. By 1883, there were 250 houses in "Brown's Village".
Brownsville was mostly Jewish and politically radical from the 1880s to the 1950s. Elias Kaplan led the first large Jewish immigrant contingent to the area in 1887, selling it as an alternative to the poor conditions of migrant workers on the Lower East Side. In fact, Kaplan built his own factories in Brownsville to avoid the Lower East Side’s unions. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, it elected Socialist and American Labor Party candidates to the state assembly.
Originally a landlocked area of flood-prone marshes, Brownsville's distance from Manhattan made it inconvenient as a place for the affluent to live, but convenient as a place to put up large projects for those of lesser means. The area was used as a dump, and awful stenches wafted north from the glue factories of Jamaica Bay.
As early as the 1910s, the area had acquired a reputation as a vicious slum and breeding ground for crime. (In 1907, 96% of the neighborhood’s housing units were in tenements.) It has been known throughout the years for its criminal gangs and in the '30s and '40s achieved notoriety as the birthplace of Murder, Inc. It was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood until the 1960s, when its population had become largely black and Brownsville's unemployment rate was 17 percent. Half of all families in the district lived on less than $5,000 a year.
Journalist Jimmy Breslin wrote in 1968 that Brownsville reminded him of Berlin after World War II; block after block of burned-out shells of houses, streets littered with decaying automobile hulks. The stores on the avenues are empty and the streets are lined with deserted apartment houses or buildings that have empty apartments on every floor.
In September 1967, a riot occurred following the death of an 11-year-old black boy named Richard Ross, who was killed by a black NYPD detective named John Rattley at the corner of St. Johns Place and Ralph Avenue in an incident owing to his suspicion that the boy had mugged a 73-year-old white Jewish man. The riot was additionally fueled by Brooklyn militant Sonny Carson who spread false rumors that a white policeman killed the youth for no reason and was only quelled after Brooklyn North Borough Commander Lloyd Sealy deployed a squad of 150 police officers to the riot to prevent further looting. The officer responsible was later cleared after a grand jury refused to indict him.
In 1968 Brownsville was the setting of a protracted and highly contentious teachers' strike. The Board of Education had experimented with giving the people of the neighborhood control over the school. The new administration laid off several teachers in violation of union contract rules. The teachers were all white and mostly Jewish, and the resulting strike served to badly divide the whole city. The resulting strike dragged on for half a year, becoming known as one of John Lindsay's "Ten Plagues".
Crime rates in Brownsville had declined in the same manner that they had elsewhere in the city but the declines were not as severe as in other areas of the city.
Many social problems associated with poverty from crime to drug addiction have plagued the area for decades. Despite the decline of crime compared to their peaks during the crack and heroin epidemics, violent crime continues to be a serious problem in the community. Brownsville has significantly higher dropout rates and incidents of violence in its schools. Students must pass through metal detectors and swipe ID cards to enter the buildings. However, most public NYC high schools have adopted this approach regardless of their location. Other problems in local schools include low test scores and high truancy rates.
After a wave of arson throughout the 1970s ravaged the low-income communities of New York City, many of the residential structures in Brownsville were left seriously damaged or destroyed. The city began to rehabilitate many formally abandoned tenement-style apartment buildings and designate them low-income housing, beginning in the late 1970s. Also many subsidized multi-unit townhouses and newly constructed apartment buildings have been or are being built on vacant lots across the neighborhood.
Until recently, Brownsville was the only Brooklyn school district without a high school. There are now three; two are housed in the same building at 226 Bristol Street. Teachers Preparatory opened in September 2001. FDA VII opened in September 2004. Teachers Preparatory School serves 6th through 12th graders. It received a grade of "A" on both its middle school and high school report cards for 2008. There also is a transfer school Brownsville Academy, which is a Diploma Plus  transfer school. It received a "Well Developed" score for 2008–2009. It also received a grade of B on its 2007–2008 report card.
In 2008, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Betsy Head Play Center a landmark, making it the first and only individual landmark in Brownsville. A large swimming pool with bathhouses and other facilities, the Center was one of 11 expansive outdoor swimming pools opened in the summer of 1936 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and funded largely by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Brownsville's main thoroughfare is Pitkin Avenue. It is accessible on the New York City Subway, 3 (except late night), 4 (late night and rush hour only), and L trains. It is also accessible along its northern edge on Fulton street by the A (all times) and C (except late night) trains.
The area is patrolled by the 73rd Precinct located at 1470 East New York Avenue. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) property in the area is patrolled by Police Service Area #2 (P.S.A. 2). It is part of Brooklyn Community Board 16.
- Masta Ace, rapper
- KA, rapper
- Ralph Bakshi, film director
- Daniel Benzali, Golden-Globe nominated actor
- Riddick Bowe, boxer
- Shannon Briggs, boxer
- Originoo Gunn Clappaz, Hip Hop group
- Andrew Dice Clay, comedian
- Aaron Copland, composer
- Bummy Davis, boxer
- Max Fleischer, animator
- John Forté, rapper
- World B. Free, former NBA player
- Nelson George, author
- Sid Gordon, baseball player
- Arnold Greenberg, co-founder of Snapple
- Henry Hill, mobster associated with the Vario Crew and Lucchese crime family
- Red Holzman, NBA player & coach
- Moe, Curly and Shemp Howard who were brothers and three members of The Three Stooges
- Daniel Jacobs, boxer
- Charles Jenkins, NBA player
- Zab Judah, boxer
- Danny Kaye, entertainer
- Alfred Kazin, writer and literary critic.
- Larry King, television and radio host
- Jack Knight, songwriter, music producer, motivational speaker
- Meyer Lansky, noted underworld figure
- Duane Martin, actor
- M.O.P., hip hop duo
- Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, former boxer
- Bruce Pasternack, business author
- Norman Podhoretz, writer.
- Sean Price, rapper
- Paul Rand, graphic designer
- Willie Randolph, former baseball player, manager, and coach
- Representativz, Hip Hop duo
- Meyer Schapiro, art historian on faculty at Columbia University for 45 years
- Phil Sellers, former NBA player
- Al Sharpton, minister
- Phil Silvers, comic
- BernNadette Stanis, actress
- Steele (of Smif-n-Wessun), hip hop artist
- Heltah Skeltah, hip hop group
- Mike Tyson, boxer 
- Dwayne "Pearl" Washington, former professional basketball player.
- James "Fly" Williams, former NBA player
- Nicole Willis, singer/songwriter
- Otis Wilson, former NFL linebacker
- Terry Winters, artist
- Howard Zinn, historian
- Rza (or the RZA), rapper and member of the Wu-Tang Clan
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- Williams, Keith. "Brownsville and the curse of geography". The Weekly Nabe. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- "NYCHA locations in Brownsville". Nyc.gov. September 28, 2010. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- Pritchett, Wendell E. Brownsville, Brooklyn : Blacks, Jews, and the changing face of the ghetto Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN 0-226-68446-6
- Ortega, Tony (March 11, 2010). "Absolutely Nothing To Get Alarmed About Village Voice September 14, 1967". Blogs.villagevoice.com. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- Cannato, Vincent "The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and his struggle to save New York" Better Books, 2001. ISBN 0-465-00843-7
- [ Displaying Abstract ] (January 2, 2011). "Negro Policemen Sent to Patrol Scene of Disorders in Brooklyn - Article - NYTimes.com". Select.nytimes.com. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- Berube, Maurice R. and Marilyn Gittell. Confrontation at Ocean Hill-Brownsville; the New York school strikes of 1968 New York, Praeger  OCLC: 19279
- Friday, Nov. 01, 1968 (November 1, 1968). "John Lindsay'S Ten Plagues". TIME. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- Long, Colleen and Tom Hays. "Crime is down, but decline lags in NY neighborhood." Associated Press at Houston Chronicle. December 30, 2013. Retrieved on December 30, 2013.
- "73rd Precinct CompStat Report" (PDF). Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- "NYC Dropout Rates". Gothamgazette.com. March 20, 2006. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
- "Statistics – Teachers Preparatory High School – K697 – New York City Department of Education". Schools.nyc.gov. August 9, 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
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- NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (September 16, 2008). "Designation Report-Betsy Head Play Center". Retrieved March 10, 2014.
- "Report: New York City Walmart jobs would lower wages | 7online.com". Abclocal.go.com. 2011-01-13. Retrieved 2012-10-11.
- 73rd Precinct, NYPD.
- "Daniel Benzali". Suckers. Retrieved December 13, 2006.
- Fox, Margalit (2012-10-30). "Arnold Greenberg, a Founder of Snapple, Dies at 80". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- Salamon, Julie. "Toil, Tears and Sweat in Brooklyn", The New York Times, February 6, 2004. Accessed November 19, 2007. "The words of a native son, Alfred Kazin, spoken by an actor evoking the writer's Brownsville childhood in the 1920s, resonate today."
- Podhoretz, Norman (Feb 1963). "My Negro Problem — And Ours". Commentary. Retrieved May 14, 2010.
- "Mike Tyson Biography". BookRags.
- Vecsey, George. "SPORTS OF THE TIMES; The Pearl Fits In At Syracuse", The New York Times, March 9, 1984. Accessed December 5, 2007. "This part of the legend does survive: Washington admits that when he was 8 years old at the Howard Housing Project in Brownsville, his elders asked him: Who do you think you are, the Pearl?"