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In Downtown Brooklyn, the Once and Future Fulton Street Mall

The recent modernization of the Fulton Street Mall is just one part of the changing landscape of downtown Brooklyn, but when considered as a part of a larger landscape, this busy thoroughfare is attracting more interest of businesses and developers. When Danny Meyer of Shake Shack sets his eyes upon a particular location, as he has here, the first Brooklyn location for the popular burger joint, then surely there's not a better measure in contemporary New York for impending neighborhood change.

Fulton Street Mall, near Adams St.
Gateway to Fulton Street Mall at Adams St. The building to the left, the former home of Tony's Famous Pizzeria, will be the location for Brooklyn's first Shake Shack.

The Fulton Street Mall, stretching from Adams Street near Columbus Park and Brooklyn Borough Hall on the west to Flatbush Avenue on the east, has long been one of the top commercial destinations in New York, but several new residential developments have sprung up nearby, spurred in many cases by tax credits and other incentives. The mall functions not just in its own right as an unusual pedestrian and transit thoroughfare lined with stores, but considered geographically, the mall links Brooklyn Heights on the west with the BAM Cultural District area to the southeast. Watch what is happening in and around Fulton Street, and you'll see the changing face of old Brooklyn. Better yet, walk it.




View Fulton Street Mall in a larger map

Fulton Street, named after the engineer who gave us steam ferries, and co-named Harriet Ross Tubman Avenue in honor of the famous abolitionist, follows an older road that once began at the Brooklyn Bridge, part of which survives as Old Fulton Street, and traveled eastward. Once "the Fifth Avenue of Brooklyn," as some called it, by the 1960s some small business owners and large merchants on the street sensed a need to woo back the middle class.

Fulton Street Mall
Fulton Street Mall was somewhat novel in its development as a pedestrian thoroughfare

As conceived by planners during Mayor John Lindsay's administration (1966-1973), a mall-like street that encouraged pedestrians and banned private vehicles, though still allowing for bus traffic and emergency vehicles, might be novel enough to spur interest again in Fulton Street. In fact, other cities in the 1960s and early 1970s tried similar plans to thwart declining property values in downtown areas. The mall bears more than a coincidental resemblance and echoes a similar story to the Fulton Mall of Fresno, California. As noted in the recent book, Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall, by Rosten Woo and Meredith TenHoor with Damon Rich (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010) the street has often been subject to mischaracterizations as "blighted," based on perceptions about race, class and real estate.

Fulton Street Mall
Fulton Street Mall, with modern street furniture

The Fulton Street Mall's current renovations include new silver mesh benches, improved landscaping, modernization of infrastructure, and improved public spaces. The most important renovation overall will come as a result of the area's mixed-use development. Along the side streets, recently constructed residential buildings include The Brooklyner, a rental apartment building that is the tallest tower in the borough. Many more residential buildings have transformed Flatbush Avenue in recent years. Current large stores along the mall include Brooklyn USA, Jimmy Jazz, Macy's, and Modell's. Future tenants lured to the mall include H&M, Sephora, and Aeropostale. The Business Improvement District (BID), the Fulton Street Mall Improvement Association, stretches 17 blocks to encompass the streets just off the mall. City Point, a four-story retail building under construction on Albee Square near the historic Dime Savings Bank, represents the street's wave of the future. Tony’s Famous Pizzeria, the business Shake Shack displaced, has moved to 2 DeKalb across the street.

City Point, Fulton Street, under construction
City Point development, on Fulton Street

The renovations on Fulton Street, new enough that a walk via Google Street View images, allow us to reach back into the virtual past and compare the changes with the present. Snap current images along the walk, too, for the street will look different in the near future. The extent and pace of the changes will depend on the overall economic recovery and on the desire of the locals to go for a "'Shroom burger" and a frozen custard.


View Larger Map

Fulton Street Mall (after renovations)
Image of Fulton Mall from Saturday, April 30, 2011, near completion of mall renovations.

In the news:

The Fulton Street Mall: Retail Success on NYC's Original Transitway (Streetsblog)
Shake-Ups on Fulton Mall (Brownstoner)
Fulton Mall Improvement Association (Downtown Brooklyn Partnership)

Images, except for Google Street View, by Walking Off the Big Apple, April 30, 2011. For more on Street View images, read the post, Recalling New York's Recent Past in Google Street View Images.





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