Street Fighters Too
For the past six years, thousands of people a day have descended on a 150-foot long stretch of black top across from Borough Hall. There, nestled among planters and folding chair, Brooklynites and visitors, workers, students and tourists would all relax, meet up, hang out, maybe enjoy a shack stack.
Willoughby Plaza was one of the very first asphalt strips formerly dedicated to cars that was closed to vehicles, taken over and transformed into a space for pedestrians, helping to inaugurate the city’s popular if occasionally controversial NYC Plaza Program. Before Times Square and the Broadway Boulevard, before the new Grand Army Plaza or Fordham Plaza, before Janette Sadik-Khan even became DOT commissioner, there was Willoughby Plaza.
And now it is permanent, a thoughtfully designed, well-integrated piece of the streetscape rather than a bastardized piece of roadbed dressed up as well as DOT and the local business groups could manage. This is the dream for all 50 (and counting) of the city’s new temporary plazas, and 16 finished spaces are already in the works. But standing in the freezing cold with Commissioner Sadik-Khan and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz trading barbs, one wonders how many more plazas might be in store for the city.
on the rebound
Basketball is back. Three weeks after opening night was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, four months after the Knicks let Jeremy Lin slip out of town, 13 years since the Knicks’ fluke run to the NBA finals, and two decades since Pat Riley’s tough-guy team captivated New York in the early years of the Giuliani era, fans in the world’s greatest basketball city care without cynicism again.
The Isiah Thomas era and the Knicks’ failed pursuit of LeBron James are old news. The Nets’ long struggle for big-city relevance got lost somewhere in New York harbor. When the teams squared off Monday night in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center, the city had plenty to cheer about: real stars, the top two spots in the Atlantic Division standings and the eyes of millions upon us.
Amid reports that looting has occurred in neighborhoods like Sea Gate and Coney Island in Brooklyn, as well as the broader recovery needs of hard-hit areas, Borough President Marty Markowitz has called on the military for further help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation.
“Governor Cuomo also acted quickly by activating the National Guard prior to the storm, and I urge him to allocate as many troops as possible to Brooklyn—troops from New York or any other states that can spare them,” Mr. Markowitz said in a statement. “During my tours of the hardest-hit Brooklyn neighborhoods yesterday and again today, it was apparent that the devastation is so widespread and overwhelming that it’s in the best interest of all of our residents for a more significant National Guard presence to supplement the great work being done by our brave—but overwhelmed—first responders, including our amazing NYPD and FDNY.”
Sodom by the Sea
Called “the People’s Playground,” Coney Island is perhaps the most popular piece of New York City’s entertainment puzzle, Times Square and the Bowery having been thoroughly scrubbed of any excitement the past few decades. Chic and refined it’s not—at least not yet—but in terms of crowds, ice cream cones, corn dogs and cheap(ish) amusements, this corner of the city is the one calling.
The season may be over, but the enthusiams persists.
Today, the city’s Economic Development Corporation announced an RFP seeking the development and operation of new amusement rides, game booths and other entertainment attractions at a vacant site at the heart of the Coney’s amusement hub.
Mysteries of Brooklyn
Sure, it lacks the slow pace of life and comfortable weather of Miami or Scottsdale, but at least Brooklyn has plenty of places to play shuffleboard? Marty Markowitz makes a not-altogether-unpersuasive argument that downtown Brooklyn is a good place to retire, The Brooklyn Paper reports.
For those of us living in the outer boroughs, navigating Manhattan during the holidays can serve as a great reminder as to why we migrated off the island in the first place. New Years Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving…the term “amateur hour” was practically invented to describe the hoards of revelers who descend upon NYC like a plague of locusts to “celebrate” these annual events by getting as drunk as humanly possible and clogging up the sidewalks and public transit systems.
Now, most of the time, this does not pose too much of a problem for Brooklynites and Queens residents, who would just as soon stay in their district anyway, throwing Skrillex-themed rooftop parties.
But the 4th of July poses an issue for non-Gotham-dwellers: since 2009, the incredible light show thrown by Macy’s has been held on the Hudson River, making it almost impossible to view from the top of a Brooklyn Heights townhouse.
“People said we were crazy to build in Brooklyn, no one would ever come to Brooklyn,” Doug Steiner said from the rooftop terrace of his biggest development in the borough. The Jersey-born builder was wearing his usual polo shirt and jeans, comfortable in the unseasonably warm weather in late February, the sun glinting off his clean-shaven head. “In those days, there were wild dogs running in the streets,” Mr. Steiner added for effect.
“But look at these views,” he continued, pointing out across Wallabout Bay and the span of the East River beyond. “You’ve got the gritty industrial underbelly of the city in the foreground, the financial capital of the world in the background.” One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building bookended the panorama.
It was 1999 when Doug Steiner brought the family development business to Brooklyn. As he and so many other fortune seekers have since proved, the decision was anything but crazy. But it was not condos or artists lofts that Mr. Steiner was selling. He was in pictures.
Two weeks ago, with the mayor standing just in front of him at the podium, Mr. Steiner opened five new sound stages at his eponymous Steiner Studios inside the sprawling Brooklyn Navy Yards, bringing the total to 15. That is halfway to the ultimate goal of 32 and, at 50 acres, the largest American film production facilities outside of Hollywood—behind Warner Brothers and Paramount, and rivaling the Walt Disney and CBS backlots.
Presented without comment: Two gentlemen of great stature spotted in the wilds of Brooklyn Borough Hall yesterday, for the announcement of a new rooftop farm in Sunset Park, to be the borough’s biggest. Can you guess who?
Tales of Retail
Joseph, a slender 19-year-old from Fort Greene, stood inside Downtown Pawn Shop Sunday afternoon turning an almost-new Nokia flip phone over in his hands. On either side of him were glass display cases, chipped and fluorescent.
Those before him held more new and used phones, neatly arrayed. Beside that were purses in an array of colors and material. Across the way was perfume—Lilac for Women, Yacht Man Chocolate—and more jewelry than the Zales across the street, in maybe one-fifth the space. Bomber jackets hung on the wall, besides po sters of President Obama, still smiling, celebrating his inauguration. Bills from every Caribbean nation were taped up next to that. In the back was a tattoo parlor and an optometrist. “Designer Frames Start at $59.99.”
Like generations of Brooklynites before him, Joseph had come to the Fulton Mall to do some shopping. Some historians credit the centuries old strip with pioneering urban department store shopping, with the opening of Abraham & Weschler in 1865 and the many stores that followed, all now long gone but for the Neo-Grec and Beaux Arts temples to retail they erected.
When he arrived on the mall this day, Joseph had passed by the T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and MetroPCS outlets and come here for his new-enough phone. “They don’t want so much here,” Joseph said, a Dodgers cap—L.A., not Brooklyn—resting on his head. “It’s a good deal.”
But for how much longer? It is getting to be that they want more and more on the Fulton Mall. Just like the rest of Brooklyn before it.
Just 20 minutes before opening Tuesday, there was no line outside the Brooklyn Shake Shack. Lines are as much a part of the burgeoning brand as grass-fed patties and seasonal custards. It is even part of the company motto, “Stand for Something Good.” Both sidewalks of the Fulton Mall were clogged with shoppers, students and suits, but none of them had yet queued up outside the boutique burger shop, which was about to have its grand opening.
Marty Markowitz was there, though. He had even come the night before and helped himself to a double cheese burger, Shack-cago Dog, fries and one of the signature concretes (what Danny Meyer likes to call his Blizzards.) that had been named after him, the Fudge-gadabout. (The other was the Borough Precedent, with vanilla custard and granola, not exactly Mr. Markowitz’s cup of custard.)
Mayor Bloomberg was on his way, not only to feast but also to boast—a city program had helped speed the opening, done in just under a year, and facilitated the hiring of 52 Brooklynites.
But where was the crowd? This was the great white hope on the Fulton Mall, the game changer that would gentrify this last unruly stretch in the heart of the once boisterous borough. The opening had been blasted across blogs citywide since it was revealed on Friday.
Had Danny Meyer’s great Brooklyn adventure backfired?