The (Guilty) Pleasures of Gentrification

January 25 2012

This morning when I was walking to work I saw, to my surprise, that H & M is opening a store on the Fulton Mall here in Brooklyn, right down the block from my studio. Hmmm, I thought, this is getting interesting. The Fulton Mall is turning into another version of East 86th Street, that outdoor uptown shopping “mall” on the Upper East Side. In a real harbinger of what’s to come, Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack also opened about a month ago, which is also the best and upscale fast food option anchoring the shopping area on 86th Street.

For many years now the Fulton Mall has been perceived as an inner city shopping non-destination. Even the presence of Macy’s, situated in the landmarked Abraham & Strauss building, had no effect on the mix of low-end retailers, fried fish joints and MacDonald-like food options that line the street. Meanwhile, Atlantic Avenue in Cobble Hill has gentrified fairly extensively in the past five years, and is a mere three block walk from the Mall. Now the neighborhood seems to be experiencing a seismic shift. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC), Fulton Street Mall Improvement Association (FMIA) and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) have recently completed the $15 million Fulton Streetscape Project as well, so that the street looks cleaner, more contemporary, and altogether more pleasant. It turns out that the Mall attracts 100,000 shoppers per day, meaning that people are dropping quite a bit of coin. Future tenants include Sephora and Aeropostale just opened, completing the sense of having shopped the same brands, in the same order, but on another street.

I have to admit that I’m not unhappy with the impending homogenization of my working neighborhood. It seemed inevitable, with the Mall situated between Fort Greene (which has shown a higher increase in residential property value than any other neighborhood in Brooklyn), Cobble Hill, and Brooklyn Heights, long considered to be Brooklyn’s Gold Coast. Some may see it as the continued march of big brands wiping out the nighborhood individuality, but I have to admit that I do love those Shake Shack burgers.


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