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Something Gained, Something Lost on Fulton Street

As renovations begin on Fulton Street, how will they shape the future of the strip and the neighborhood as a whole?

A Trinidadian man in the health food store tips his hat and says, “good night empress;” a Senegalese girl in the fabric store points me to a print she’s sure I’ll love; and further along Fulton Street, an Indian man gives me a handheld electric fan to fight the sweltering heat.

The warm community spirit on Fulton Street is contagious. Yet, as Bed-Stuy’s busiest commercial corridor, the strip still is in need of major changes before it will truly flourish as the neighborhood's central economic organ.

Bed-Stuy Gateway Streetscape Enhancement Project, BSGSEP, together with the Mayor’s Office of Comprehensive Neighborhood Economic Development and the NYC Economic Development Corporation are embarking on those changes.

After six years in the making, the BSGSEP has begun its $10 million renovation efforts on the bustling thoroughfare. The one-mile stretch from Bedford Avenue to Troy Avenue is getting a makeover complete with sidewalk planters, bicycle racks, pavers, 144 new trees and information kiosks.

Another beautification in the works is an 8,000 square-foot plaza on the corner of Fulton and Marcy Avenue. Spearheaded by Restoration Plaza, the new pedestrian space will feature a tile mosaic, 2-foot granite planter for sitting, trees and flowerbeds.

This much-needed urban revitalization will undoubtedly play a role in facilitating Bed-Stuy's gentrification, which raises the question, Is Fulton Street capable of urban renewal and development on its own? Or will a reliance on outside resources ultimately dictate the look, feel and direction of Fulton Street's future?

The truth is, with gentrification and "urban renewal," we can look forward to an entirely new culture on Fulton Street. Yes, we all want improvement, but at what cost? Furthermore, what can we do as a community to minimize that cost?

Let's start with basic sanitary maintenance: No littering. In fact, let's take it a step further: Why not allocate time to do weekly or even daily street cleaning? In this way, we can invest the money we spend on street-cleaning efforts on other more important things. When you see trash, pick it up; and when you see someone littering, call him or her out.

How about, start a "Bed-Stuy Alive" kickstarter campaign, and apply for grants to raise funds to see the changes we believe we deserve? Artists, church constituents, laborers, architects, designers etc., can sit down and figure out, "How can we build this place up with the people and things to which we already have access?"

Storeowners can invest in the physical appearance of their storefront by taking small steps with maintaining cleanliness; changing their decor and getting new paint jobs. And take it a step further by contacting the BID or talking to customers to find out what the community really needs. Find out why residents spend so much outside the community. Try to meet those needs even if it means re-thinking your business type.

But... maybe this is a nostalgic yearning for things to stay the same, when in fact, hard change is what's needed and top dollar is the only way to get it. Maybe flagship stores are necessary to allow Bed-Stuy to compete with other parts of Brooklyn. Perhaps the current stores cannot reinvent themselves to cater to a shifting market.

Rolling up the Gates (RUG): Storefront Stroll -- Organized by Pratt Area Community Council and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, -- recently took entrepreneur's on a trolley ride to tour available storefronts along Fulton Street. The initiative had local financial and business resource organizations on hand, and detailed the benefits of starting a business in the area.

While changes to the Fulton streetscape, undoubtedly, will attract new businesses, hopefully, it also will give current business owners new incentive to invest in the appearances of their storefronts and also give the neighborhood a fighting chance.

Renovating Fulton Street will not only change the commercial strip, but also, will help direct the path of Bed-Stuy’s future. As diverse businesses move in, new tenants will move in, and their presence will bring even more businesses and private investments. As the neighborhood value increases, rent, property taxes, and cost of living will rise.

Do you look forward to a totally revised Fulton Street, or would you like to maintain some of the energy, the people and the stores who contribute to Fulton Street's current vibrancy?

If you are one who cherishes the old, but looks forward to parts of the new, then we must work in unison to alleviate plight-- a burden that should be shared by the entire community, and not soley outside forces.

The bottom line is, if we rely on others to bring about change, what we feel and believe about the end results will no longer matter.

Sylvia A. Harvey (SAH) is a freelance journalist: you can check out  her work at www.sylviaaharvey.com or link with her on  facebook or twitter.

renette July 27, 2011 at 10:53 AM
herkimermaid July 27, 2011 at 06:06 PM
I live around the corner on Herkimer Street and am excited to see improvements however I really love the general vibe and cultural variety as it is... bit conflicted. I would like to see more mom-and-pop stores and a greater investment/caring in the overall area but not if it's going to push out the existing shops. I just hope that the outside money doesn't push out those existing shops in favor of big box retail. Love it or hate it, Fulton developed in response to a need which hasn't exactly dissipated.
iheartputnam July 27, 2011 at 09:20 PM
"Do you look forward to a totally revised Fulton Street, or would you like to maintain some of the energy, the people and the stores who contribute to Fulton Street's current vibrancy?" I wouldn't say that these are mutually exclusive!
Linda Federico-O'Murchu July 28, 2011 at 04:29 AM
Gorgeous photos!!! :)
JT July 28, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Small Business Owner & Bed-Stuy: This is not a chicken or egg scenario. These so-called provocative analysis of "outside" resources and gentrification as the neighborhood is finally beginning to see marked improvements are disingenuous. The native members of the community have had 50 years to get it together and have failed. Bottom-line many customers are unwilling to pay "Manhattan or Park Slope" prices for products that business owners could use for improved storefronts or refurbishment. I daily encounter "customers" who ask why is your price different from (insert-multi-million dollar conglomerate) or chain-store name_ here. The problem is not lack of resources or lazy business owners its the irrational consumer. Good follow-up article; How can we break the mental strangle-hold of billions in advertising dollars so we can improve local communities by supporting small businesses?


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