Walking down Flatbush Avenue is not the most pedestrian-friendly experience as heavy vehicular traffic is a constant companion, but the route that begins just off the Manhattan Bridge and stretches down into the cultural and entertainment district near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the soon-to-open Barclays Center is richer than it first seems.
The recently completed $23 million dollar Flatbush Avenue streetscape project added much needed greenery; attractive new street furniture lining the blocks; and a traffic calming median with benches where people often sit, seemingly content to be surrounded by six lanes of oncoming traffic.
Traveling along this path reveals familiar sights and emerging developments, one combination of which is the enchanting MetroTech Commons. In the coming months, the Commons will host the World Science Festival, a “start-up campus” during Williamsburg’s ultra-hip Northside Festival, and a series of summer films presented by Rooftop Films – all events signaling Downtown Brooklyn’s arrival as a center of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.
The Commons is an often undervalued and underutilized public space that was built as a centerpiece for an office park that did little to interact with the retail and residential streets surrounding it, but today, the Commons is gradually opening its doors to reveal a lost garden, where families and professionals can relax, and new restaurants such as La Defense become part of the community as a focal point for MetroTech’s lunch and dinner scenes.
Continuing down Flatbush, you can’t miss the colorful shipping containers standing overhead that comprise Dekalb Market. People were astonished on a recent Friday night to see the market, home to Brooklyn’s finest artisanal crafts and food from local vendors, transform itself into a roller skating rink whose retro Saturday Night Fever feel, seemed to thumb its nose at the High Line’s high-brow rink at “the Lot” last summer.
Look to your left and watch students meander around Long Island University’s campus, still proud of their men’s basketball Blackbirds who gave them March Madness for the second consecutive year. From the right, the sweet smell of cheesecakes in the windows drifts out of Junior’s, whose windows exude a beacon of ambient light to hungry patrons. The bar, where Friday night’s happy hour is said to have become the preferred meeting place for Brooklyn’s emerging movers and shakers, remains packed as ever.
Next door, the $15 million dollar restoration of Fulton Street culminates at Albee Plaza. In the spring’s early evening light, revelers respite on the plaza’s benches amongst the flowers and take in the historic grandeur of the Dime Savings Bank, now occupied by Chase but still worth the peak inside at the building’s magnificent interior.
The plaza serves as a fitting door step for City Point, a $760 million dollar project that will soon become Brooklyn’s tallest building and bring 940 new residential apartments to the area, 125 of which will provide much needed housing for low and middle income families. The project will also include 675,000 square feet of retail and will continue the Fulton Mall’s long tradition of department stores with the addition of Century 21.
Across the Mall, at Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn Hospital has begun to remove the wrought iron fence that separated the institution from the surrounding community, thus asserting itself as a much needed family amenity and job creation engine for Downtown Brooklyn.
Over on Lafayette, the Mark Morris Dance Center and the BAM Opera House emerge. Excitement follows Performing the Streets, the summer programming that is lined up for many of the area’s plazas and public spaces that will feature performances by the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance, a newly formed membership organization of downtown’s arts and culture groups.
Finally, on the horizon, the Barclays Center rises, coming further into final form each day and bringing the promise of Brooklyn’s cultural trinity: professional sports, Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand coming home in September.
Today, Downtown Brooklyn is at once a cultural and entertainment destination, a college town, a fast-growing commercial district, an indispensable shopping hub, and a diverse residential community. Outdated and inaccurate perceptions have held too much sway in defining the area, but a simple stroll down Flatbush adds nuance and helps chase those ghosts away, easily rekindling the glorious images of Brooklyn’s proud traditions. It may not the Champs-Elysées, but it does not need to be. This is Brooklyn and this is our grand boulevard. Just wait and see.
Tucker Reed is the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a local nonprofit that manages three Business Improvement Districts – the Fulton Mall Improvement Association, MetroTech BID, and the Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn BID. www.dbpartnership.org