Usually when I find myself in Downtown Brooklyn it’s during the off hours, the evenings or weekends, it seems. But last week, I had a business lunch there. Walking through the packed streets and looking up at the Marriott hotel tower under construction, I thought about the many fading downtowns in the northeast United States that have been hollowed out by flight to the suburbs and the south and west. I also thought about the newer cities in the growing parts of the nation where the automobile is the guiding force in development, and how those places often lack a coherent, vital city center. I thought about how Downtown Brooklyn truly is a healthy, lively downtown that many cities could only dream of. This vibrancy is always overshadowed by Midtown and Downtown Manhattan, but it is still there. And there’s reason to be optimistic that it’s going to get even better in the future.
Later in the week, the New York City Department of Transportation, which earlier this month had disasppointed a number of Brooklynites by failing to attend a Park Slope meeting on traffic and transportation, pleased many of the same folks by announcing a plan to make a short block in Downtown Brooklyn a pedestrian-only zone with many amenities to attract people to what is now a pretty dull spot. This idea reminds me of great city space in Downtown Boston. Hopefully, this plan will be implemented, the DOT will find that it has been successful, and will replicate the results elsewhere in the city. Other blogs and websites have given ample coverage to the plan, summarized below.
- Naparstek: Pedestrian Mall Revolution
“DOT’s plan is a welcome change in attitude if not policy. While cities around the world have been making serious, concerted efforts over the last ten years to reallocate street space from motor vehicles to human beings, New York City’s DOT has operated under policies that tend to bring more traffic to city streets. Though this one little pedestrian mall is not, by itself, going to have a huge impact on Downtown Brooklyn traffic, it does represent a radical departure from DOT business-as-usual. … It is not an exaggeration to say that public space projects like this are exactly what New York City needs to do if it wants to continue to grow and be a great and vibrant city in the 21st century.”
- The Oil Drum: New York City: Pedestrian Plaza for Fulton
“Today, the Department of Transportation deserves praise for some of their recent activities that are embracing some of the new urbanist principles of creating pleasant walkable downtown areas. … All I can say is ‘amen’ and thanks DOT! Can we get some more of these spread out across every neighborhood?”
- Gothamist: Petite Pedestrian Plaza for Downtown Brooklyn
“[A] plan for outdoor tables at TGI Friday’s. Flavor Shots on a Brooklyn sidewalk? No way!“
- Transportation Alternatives E-Bulletin: A Welcoming Willoughby? Downtown Brooklyn Could Get Much Needed Public Space
“A direct result of the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project and the Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Blueprint, this plan would bring much need greenery and seating to the area: adding planters, benches, tables, chairs and bike racks to this under-utilized street space. We commend the Brooklyn DOT for making the needs of the 2,600 pedestrians that walk through the area (at peak hours) a priority. Join Transportation Alternatives and support the Brooklyn DOT as they continue to move in the right direction. Innovations like this can become the norm.”
- NY1: Pedestrian Plaza Planned For Downtown Brooklyn
“‘With all the development – larger buildings, more retail, more office space – what this does is compliment it with open space and public space,’ says Metrotech BID Executive Director Mike Weiss. Which people who work here say would be a welcome addition. ‘It would be a nice little break for people who are in the courthouses or throughout any of the service programs that are here,’ says one local worker. ‘We need someplace to sit in the summertime, in the fall and in the spring,’ adds another. Creating a pedestrian plaza would not be the only change here. There are also plans to make the first two floors of a city-owned building in the area into retail space. So, businesses like Zam’s Sandwich Shop could be getting even busier.”
I went and checked out the block today. It seemed more of a cross-through for people walking from the core business district to the A, C and F train station at Jay Street, which is exactly what I used it for as I was returning to Manhattan from my meeting. This area would definitely benefit from more people stopping to linger.
This is the view of the whole thing. The Adams Street service road is at left, and the city-owned building that would be put to use for this project is at center.
This is a detail of the Willoughby Street side on a cold, dreary weekend day.
Here’s the Willoughby side again, looking toward Borough Hall. Imagine the cars gone and a sidewalk cafe operating out of the big bay windows in the building at right.