Thursday, August 20, 2009


Before I get started on last Saturday's walk . . . I mention the Brooklyn Library a lot here, mainly because I am there almost each weekend and my walks generally radiate from there. For anyone reading this who isn't from Brooklyn, I wanted to show you the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Merely walking into the place adds pleasure to whatever books I borrow . . .

(I don't have to mention, do I, that you can click on any image to get a full-size version?)

Saturday walk (August 15: up Bushwick Avenue from Metropolitan Avenue to the top at Eastern Parkway; down the other side onto Pennsylvania Avenue through East New York (actually it appears to be the border between East New York and Brownsville); down to Linden Blvd. (which is like a miniature version of the LIE); down Linden to Rockaway Ave. (it was supposed to be Rockaway Blvd. about a quarter mile further on but I got confused; the two join up eventually anyway and I doubt that there is much difference); down Rockaway Ave./Blvd. through Canarsie to Flatlands Avenue; along Flatlands across Brooklyn until it met Kings Highway (it ends about a half a block before that and turned into Ave. N, which then intersected with Kings Highway); Kings Highway to Ocean Parkway; down Ocean Parkway to Gravesend Neck Rd. (Gravesend Neck Rd. is a small street but from the map I would say it goes right through the center of the original settlement of Gravesend, but I have to confirm that); across this street to Van Sicklen Street (there is a similarly named avenue in East New York but spelled without the “k”). I took Van Sicklen up to Kings Highway where it ended; a dogleg onto West 1st Street up to 65th Street; down 65th to 24th Avenue, which I then took over to McDonald Avenue. I took McDonald up into Flatbush, turning down Church Avenue and then snaking through parts of Flatbush around the Parade Ground and around to Ocean Avenue to Flatbush Ave. to Vanderbilt Avenue to Lafayette Avenue to Clinton Avenue to Willoughby Avenue to Washington Avenue to Park Avenue to Bedford Avenue to Grand Street (whew!) to home. I took the mileage from the map and it came to 20.62 miles. Now that’s not an exact measurement since it comes from the map, but it’s good enough for rock ‘n’ roll and may even be shorting me some mileage (or so I’d like to think).

Near the Metropolitan Ave. end of Bushwick Ave.

I was surprised by Bushwick Avenue. I know it only as the gritty commercial/industrial strip down by Metropolitan Avenue or the Bushwick Avenue of Bushwick Houses. If it’s in the news at all it’s generally because of a crime, like the murder of the Ecuadorian man last December or the killing of a woman by a stray bullet as she was sitting outside her apartment one recent afternoon.

Housing on lower Bushwick Ave. (right); Bushwick Houses in the background

Bushwick Houses (New York City Housing Authority)

But after you cross Myrtle Avenue it becomes almost totally residential. It’s not exactly Fort Greene but, probably because it became a lower income neighborhood over the years, there wasn’t the kind of rebuilding you see in other places (like what is happening in Williamsburg), so most of the original buildings remain.

Bushwick Ave. just above Myrtle Ave.

There are still decent sized trees along the avenue, something I always look for and that I think adds a lot to a street’s appeal (but then I grew up in the suburbs so greenery is always going to occupy an important place in my life). The avenue is wide and the buildings are not high so there is a free, airy feeling there.

Willoughby and Bushwick Aves.; a half block above Myrtle Ave.

I don’t mean, either, that all the buildings along Bushwick Avenue are architectural gems, but most of them are interesting looking, or so I think, and they don’t all look the same like some giant sat down and stamped them all out with a cookie cutter, but I’m just not a partisan of most contemporary architecture, at least not where it would be out of place.

Bushwick Ave. near Lawton St.

Bushwick Avenue could easily be an attractive street and neighborhood again if the buildings were fixed up a bit. But not at the expense of driving out the people who live there now. Yet, that’s exactly what could and probably would happen. Already lower down Bushwick there is an influx of people attracted to the area because of what you might call “the Williamsburg Effect.” That whole end of Brooklyn has become very hip and trendy and is now becoming very “costly,” as a friend of mine used to say. (I read a story in the Times a couple of weeks ago about a gourmet grocery and wine store opening on Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick That’s six blocks away from Bushwick Avenue, further east. They must expect an influx of people to give them business.)

Garden St. where it meets Bushwick Ave.

Bushwick Ave. near Noll St.

So far, the construction is on lower Bushwick but it’s probably only a matter of time before it heads up the avenue. And the new buildings on lower Bushwick are actually not bad; given their surroundings they are an improvement (see the pictures above). But further up they would be out of place. All along that upper part of Bushwick you are only a short block from Broadway and the J/Z line. And when you get close to the top you are near the Broadway Junction stop of the A/C/L/J/Z trains, a desirable situation, transitly speaking.

So, I fear a little for its future. Developers don’t particularly care about the look or feel of a neighborhood after it becomes popular, just about money and maximizing the income they can get from a particular building site, so relying on them to preserve the housing stock there in the name of Brooklyn history or even pleasant living is a bit silly. Those ubiquitous green glass behemoths that have been popping up in the rest of Brooklyn may well be headed that way. Now that I think about it, even the people that move in after a neighborhood becomes popular don’t care too much about the look of the place. That doesn’t make a lot of sense but, again, if Williamsburg is anything to go by, it’s true. I guess the attitude is, “Well, it’s there, someone might as well live in it and I can afford to, so . . .”

Washington Ave. between Myrtle and Park Aves.

Look, for instance, at this shot of Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill (above). The area west of Myrtle Avenue is just outside of the well known brownstone district of Clinton Hill and Fort Greene so there’s no reason why developers can’t do anything they like there, but to see this fifteen or so story glass box looming over a neighborhood or 2- and 3-story buildings is a little sad. Then again, people will keep moving to Brooklyn and the people in Brooklyn will keep starting families and life goes on and where are they all going to live . . . and I don’t have the answer. I try not to act like a livery stable owner complaining about Henry Ford’s new contraption but I’m not too successful. I think if some of these places just fit into their neighborhoods better, it wouldn’t be as bad.

Look at a couple of examples from my neighborhood (below). I’m waiting for the saltine boxes get a bit further along to see if they’re going to be sheathed in green glass, the high rise “envelope” of the moment over there.

North 7th St. between Bedford Ave. and Berry St.

Berry St. near north 4th St.

But there are exceptions. There was an empty lot down the street from me in Williamsburg that always looked pleasant because the owner kept it freshly graveled and the adjoining neighbors kept displays of flowers and then one day it was boarded up for construction.

Grand St. near Bedford Ave.

People were disappointed but, I think, much less disappointed when the new building started going up (above) and it turned out to fit into the neighborhood really well. And there is this other building on a block just off Bedford (the white brick building below). Some effort was made to fit it into the scale and look of the neighborhood.

North 5th St. between Bedford Ave. and Berry St.

But, speaking of architectural gems and to get back to Bushwick, I did run across two buildings that should definitely be preserved (and probably will be for the immediate future, library budgets being what they are): two of the original Carnegie libraries built in Brooklyn, the Bushwick branch and the DeKalb branch. Over the years, the Brooklyn Library replaced other Carnegie libraries with functional, red brick boxes that add little to their neighborhoods or even the pleasure of visiting a library.

Bushwick branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, in the shadow of the Bushwick Houses

DeKalb branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Bushwick and DeKalb Aves.

And further up the avenue, there is a real classic, a Dutch Reformed Church dating to 1852, badly in need of a coat of white paint but still proudly standing.

Dutch Reformed Church at Bushwick and Lafayette Aves.

More of Bushwick later, and the rest of that day. This is all I have the energy for tonight. And, as usual, any additions, corrections, and amplifications are sincerely welcome.

1 comment:

  1. More of Bushwick, if you please. Thanks for the great blog!