Could Myrtle Avenue become Fort Greene’s own Montague Street?
If it sounds far-fetched, tell me about it. But that’s precisely what the Myrtle Avenue Partnership is aiming for. The avenue’s principal business group issued a series of recommendations this week that, if implemented, could drag the neighborhood’s center of gravity from prosperous DeKalb Avenue and towards the once down-and-out (and outright dangerous) shopping strip.
Just imagine. Instead of uneven sidewalks devoid of any charm, merchants would create a paradise of commerce, complete with flowers bordering ornate window displays, street trees arching over orderly traffic, public plazas, ample benches and traffic lights!
I’m no fan of most aspects of gentrification — the destruction of the fabric of the community, the intimidation of longstanding tenants, endless construction, upper-middle-class homogenization, the eviction of me, the gentrifier! — but the Partnership’s ideas aren’t half bad.
The group of merchants hired the Project for Public Spaces, a respected planning non-profit, to churn out ideas for the avenue. The Project, in turn, enlisted the help of Pratt Institute urban planning professors, held community meetings, and ultimately homed in on four of the most decrepit strips of the avenue: the space between Fort Greene Park and the Whitman and Ingersoll Houses, bounded by Carlton Avenue and Ashland Place; the intersection of Clinton and Myrtle avenues; the crossing of Vanderbilt and Myrtle avenues, and the eyesore of a superblock between Emerson Place and Hall streets.
“We want to attract more foot traffic, make the avenue more interesting, a more creative, active public space,” said Vaidila Kungys, a program manager for the Partnership.
Frankly, the strip can’t get much less attractive. Myrtle Avenue may have more restaurants, beauty shops and bars these days, but it remains as grimly unappealing as Atlantic Avenue on a rainy afternoon.
The Project’s recommendations to change that are pretty commonsensical. But perhaps the most appealing and intriguing suggestion is breaking up the damned superblock.
Right now, between Hall Street and Emerson Place, Myrtle Avenue bifurcates into two roads — the main thoroughfare, and a thinner, 1,000-foot-long service road allowing cars easy access to the supermarket and evoking the sort of suburban, car-centric sprawl more commonly found in Dutchess County (no offense, mom).
The Project for Public Spaces made suggestions ranging from narrowing the service road to outright obliterating it and turning it into a greenspace. That is, turning it into a public plaza where one might actually want to spend some time.
Of course, most of these suggestions remain highly speculative at this point.
The Partnership, rightfully wary of stepping on anyone’s toes, has no concrete plans at this point, aside from more soliciting more community input. But Kungys did say one improvement is indeed imminent: keep your eyes peeled for some new gardening in front of the Vanderbilt Avenue Exxon station, and maybe even a few street trees.
Dana Rubinstein is a staff writer for The Brooklyn Paper.
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