I find myself walking down Flatbush Avenue often these days. I parade the stretch of Flatbush just off of the Manhattan Bridge down into the Cultural and Entertainment District emerging around the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the Barclays Center set to open in September.
The walk is certainly not the most pedestrian friendly experience of my life as heavy vehicular traffic provides a constant, and not often comforting, companion on my journey. Yet while this stretch of Flatbush Avenue does not quickly conjure thoughts of grand boulevards like the Champs-Elysées in Paris or Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, the route is richer than a quick glance reveals. The recently completed $23 million dollar Flatbush Avenue streetscape project added much needed greenery and a traffic calming median. New street furniture lining the blocks offer an attractive amenity and I am often surprised to see people sitting on benches in the medians, seemingly content to be surrounded by six lanes of oncoming traffic.
I am attracted to this path because each walk offers a revelatory experience as an existing attraction catches my eye or an emerging development comes more clearly into focus. Emerging from MetroTech Commons I often pause to marvel at this often undervalued, underutilized and yet enchanting public space. Built as a centerpiece for an office park that did little to interact with the retail and residential streets surrounding it, today the Commons seem to be opening their doors to reveal a lost garden. La Defense, one of the latest restaurants to hit the neighborhood has become a focal point for MetroTech's lunch and dinner scenes. The staff has gone out of their way to build relationships with local residents and have created value cards in partnership with the MetroTech BID to invite them in.
During the past few months the MetroTech Commons have hosted, 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 surprising arrival as a center of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.
Progressing along Flatbush Avenue, the colorful shipping containers that comprise DeKalb Market stand overhead. I was astonished on a recent Friday night to see the market, home to Brooklyn's finest artisanal products, transform itself into a roller skating rink whose retro Saturday Night Fever feel, seemed to thumb its nose at the Highline's high-brow rink at "the Lot" last summer.
On the left, 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. On the right, the sweet smell of cheesecakes in the windows drifts out of Junior's and the ambient light from inside the restaurant reveals a crowd of pleased patrons. The bar, where I hear Friday night's happy hour has become the preferred meeting place for the Borough'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 peek 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 from the Mall on Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn Hospital has removed the wrought iron fence that separated the institution from the surrounding community, signaling its repositioning as a much needed family amenity and job creation engine for Downtown Brooklyn.
I stop to examine the deplorable condition of the pavement at Fox Square in front of Five Guys, and imagine the day soon when a reconstructed plaza will provide another green space lining Flatbush Avenue linking the Cultural District to retail options on Livingston and Fulton Streets and the Downtown office district, and more importantly providing an attractive place to eat a burger.
At Lafayette, the Mark Morris Dance Center and the BAM Opera House emerge. An excited anticipation arises as I think of Performing the Streets, the summer programming we have 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, which Mark Morris and BAM are members of.
In the horizon Barclays Center rises, coming further into final form each day brining with it the promise of Brooklyn's cultural trinity: professional sports, Hova and Barbara coming home in September.
Today, Downtown Brooklyn is at once a cultural and entertainment destination, a college town, a fast-growing commercial district, an indispensible shopping hub and a diverse residential community. Unfortunately, outdated and inaccurate perceptions have held too much sway in defining Downtown Brooklyn's image. A stroll down Flatbush, through the nuanced Downtown experience, helps chase those ghosts away and can easily rekindle 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.
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