Residents envision a revitalized Jay Street

October 22, 2014 Heather Chin
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Is Jay Street a place to move through or is it a place to be?

That was one of the central questions at the heart of “Rethinking Jay Street,” a public forum held on October 7 at CUNY City Tech. The event was a vibrant one, with residents, students and leaders in the real estate, transportation and urban planning arenas bouncing ideas, questions and critiques about what Jay Street could and should become.

Jay Street is one of several projects slated to benefit from millions of dollars in city investment in Downtown Brooklyn cultural, business and educational institutions.

At the meeting, just about everyone agreed that Jay Street needs work and that they would like the corridor to be a “vibrant, active street” with more public space that celebrates community, is less congested and links Fulton Mall all the way to MetroTech.

“Our streets are designed to get people down into Brooklyn instead of to Downtown Brooklyn. That prioritization has led to car-centric infrastructure,” added Jason Montgomery, assistant professor of architecture at City Tech.

However, “The reality is that there are more people on foot here,” said Caroline Samponaro, senior director of campaigns and organizing at Transportation Alternatives (TA). “We don’t need new cafés to make it more appealing. We just need more space to make people feel valued and safe.”

As Michael Lydon of urban design firm StreetPlans noted, “A sense of place is missing.”

However, forum participants had different, sometimes opposing, ideas about how a Jay Street transformation could take place.

Ryan Grew of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership described existing plans to revitalize Fox Square and BAM Park, create Willoughby Square, bring retail into the ground floors of city-owned buildings, and connect the “Brooklyn Strand” – a strip of parks, plazas and greenways between Borough Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront.

Lydon outlined several potential changes, based on suggestions made by residents. They include widened pedestrian islands and timed crossing lights that give pedestrians a head start at Tillary Street, bike lanes between Tillary and Sands Street and at Johnson and Prospect Streets, and “enhanced bus stops” and bike racks on MetroTech Plaza.

However, City Tech student Leah Hall noted that the plans didn’t address parking. “I spend at least 20-30 minutes looking for a spot because of double-parking and bike lanes,” she said. “Do you have any plans to increase public parking?”

“No,” Grew noted. “There is lots of parking in Downtown Brooklyn, but most is private. And there’s a big problem with illegal parking.”

Flatbush resident Delia Williams asked another key question: What is the social impact of these changes on the low-income community? And does the planning take into account the area’s diversity?

“I don’t know,” admitted Grew. “We can probably do a better job of outreach, but you being here and asking makes a difference.”

“Let’s bring Summer Streets to Jay Street,” suggested Lydon. “It’s an easy way to get people in one place.”

Samponaro agreed, offering TA’s help to City Tech in applying for temporary street closures to accommodate an event like Summer Streets, which closes blocks to car traffic for a few hours on select weekend evenings so businesses, shoppers and residents can eat, stroll and mingle.

Williams maintained that development “is all about developers, not the average person [who isn’t] rich, young and part of gentrification. . . Whatever happens, happens, and then they move on to the next spot.

“What makes Brooklyn so great is its diversity. We need to measure the social impact on the community before building,” Williams added. “We need a Social Impact Study.”

Grew enthusiastically agreed. “That’s great idea,” he exclaimed, noting the potential similarities with current Environmental Impact Stud[ies].

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