04 June 2010


fig. 16 
Detail of Crown Heights and Franklin Avenue site (adapted by the author)    

Crown Heights is a diverse neighborhood that occupies the central portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Approximately two square miles, the community lies northeast of Prospect Park and is situated next to neighborhoods Prospect Heights (west), Bedford Stuyvesant (north), and Flatbush (south), and Brownsville (east). Eastern Parkway is the main thoroughfare, which spans east-west through its center. Two commercial districts, Nostrand Avenue and Franklin Avenue [fig. 16], are situated north-south.

    The area began as a high-end residential neighborhood for the city’s elite in the early 1900s. Demographically, the neighborhood has diversified economically and ethnically from the 1930s to the present. Nearly forty percent of the neighborhood population is first generation immigrants11. Residents from the Caribbean, Eastern European Jews, and African Americans all call Crown Heights home. 

    In the 1970s, the energy crisis, inflation, and rising operating expenses sent New York City into extreme financial decline. Suburban flight left many neighborhoods, such as those along Eastern Parkway, with vacant buildings. Moreover, the quality of life waned with underperforming schools and excess housing stock. Widespread arson swept across Brooklyn and the South Bronx, initiated by landlords seeking claims from insurance proceeds12.
    Franklin Avenue is a survivor of that period. During the 1970s and 1980s, rampant robberies forced banks and small businesses to relocate to a safer area. Extensive crime and violence made residents fearful to be outside while forcing businesses to close early. Tony Fisher, long-time owner of Fisher Supermarkets on Franklin Avenue, described the street being so dangerous in the 1980s, that one had to “duck and run”13.  Consequently, more than half of the corridor’s sixty-six storefronts moved due to the ongoing violence14.
    The 1990s saw a decrease of crime throughout New York City as gentrification and urban renewal spread. Local grassroots organizations like the CPC (Community Preservation Corporation) and the CHCA (Crow Hill Community Association) have helped to reverse the trend of decline. Since 1999, the CHCA has focused on rehabilitating the half-mile stretch of Franklin Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway. When the project began, the street had a total of 90 local storefronts, with a one-third of them vacant. By 2003, 108 storefronts were operating and only 17 were vacant15.

Table 1    
Franklin Ave. Survey between Atlantic Ave. and Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY (conducted November 2009 by author)

    The Franklin Avenue thoroughfare has since become a magnet for attracting young professionals, college graduates, and artists. Affordable rent and easy access to mass transit offer an alternative to the higher priced neighboring communities – Prospect Heights and Park Slope – within Brooklyn. Recent business and restaurant openings offer alternatives to the many bodegas and salons on the street. Unfortunately, the 2007 recession has slowed down construction and development along Franklin. New openings have become less frequent. As a result, vacancy and blight still continue to plague the corridor in the three typologies outlined earlier [fig. 17]. Over twenty percent of the street corridor now remains vacant [Table 1].    

11 Cissner, Amanda B. and Amy Ellenbogen. “Op Data, 2003: Crown Heights, Brooklyn: Community Assessment and Perceptions of quality of Life, Safety, Services”, 1. Available from Center for Court Innovation.

12 “CPC’s 30 Year Investment in Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway Corridor Neighborhoods Result in Thriving Communities”. Available from the Community Preservation Corporation.

13  Warren, Matthew. “Two Coffeehouses mean competition in Crown Heights”. New York Times, 22 November 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/23/nyregion/23coffee.html>.

14 “Listen To This: Crown Heights Oral History Project: A Visit from Evangeline”. Available from Crown Heights Oral History Project: <http://crownheightshistoryproject.blogspot.com/2010/02/visit-from-evangeline.html>.

15 “Crow Hill Community Association: History”. Available from Crow Hill Community Association: <http://www.crowhillcommunity.org/history.shtml>.