Dwell Creative Director Kyle Blue recently introduced me to the diverse and inspiring work of the New York-based graphic design firm Project Projects. So I was excited to get my hands on one of their most recent projects, the book Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall, part of the Inventory Books series published by the Princeton Architectural Press.
I used to live near the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, but rarely visited the eight-block shopping district. Like many newcomers I considered it somewhat blighted, owing to its cracked pavement, boarded-up windows, and prevalence of cheap-looking shops. Now it's rezoned, due for uncertain redevelopment in the coming years.
As it turns out the street actually has some of the highest retail rents in Brooklyn—in fact, in some cases that's why the upper floors of shops have been boarded up (since the ground floor rents are so high, many landlords opted not to build staircases to the second floor). Authors Rosten Woo, Meredith TenHoor, and Damon Rich unspool this and other misinterpretations in Street Value, pointing out, in the introduction, that "in spite of its incredible vitality, variety, urban design, and superlative rents, Fulton Mall has rarely been celebrated as a successful public space."
The book offers an in-depth look at the history of the strip, established in the 1880's and known in the 1940's as "the Fifth Avenue of Brooklyn." There are interviews with current and past shop owners, as well as city planners, preservationists, and government officials who ushered the Fulton Mall through its two major periods of renovation, one in the late 60's and another from 2004 to the present.
A photo essay by Gus Powell captures the street's surprising physical contrasts: "buildings with bustling stores on the ground floors and vacant upper stories, packed sidewalks flanking strangely empty streets, palimpsests of signage juxtaposing new businesses and stores past." The images, like the one below, depict a neighborhood that's concurrently vibrant and thriving, and also "in a period of upheaval and transformation."