Can 4th Avenue Be Fixed?

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Over the weekend, The New York Times took a look at 4th Avenue, the traffic-choked thoroughfare, above, where low-slung industrial buildings are yielding to rapidly sprouting glassy residential luxury towers. The new apartments rent for unheard-of amounts, but the avenue remains an eyesore.

With no room left to develop Park Slope, spillover — and a rezoning about a decade ago to allow tall buildings — is driving a frenzy of construction. New one-bedrooms rent for about $2,500 a month and up; a three-bedroom typically starts at about $3,200, according to a survey from Aptsandlofts.com cited in the Times story. Apartments in older walkups in Park Slope go for much less, but the luxury apartments appear to be driving up prices there too. The story quoted a young professional whose landlord recently notified her and her roommates that their rent would be going up.

“The landlord is going to renovate and, quote, ‘raise the rent substantially,’ which will make it cost-prohibitive for three young professional women who make perfectly good money to rent the apartment,” she said. “The price of a one-bedroom in one of the new buildings is equivalent to the price of the three-bedroom we’re renting now, and it’s more than I bring home in a month.”

A committee formed two years ago by the Park Slope Civic Council has been calling for more affordable housing in the area and attempting to improve the look of the street. In a survey by the group, “many have described the avenue as unwelcoming and ugly, with new development aggravating the problem,” said the Times. Because the rezoning does not require retail, the new buildings have parking garage entrances, blank concrete or air vents facing the sidewalk.

The new buildings are all rentals, and filling mostly with young professionals without children, although it’s possible developers might start building condos soon, depending on interest rates, said the story.

Residents want a “cleaner, greener avenue with more commerce, to provide a pleasant experience and serve as a destination,” said one of the co-chairs of the Forth on 4th Avenue committee. “We’d like people to stop deliberately avoiding 4th Avenue,” she said.

Our own Montrose Morris recently addressed these same issues in a column. What do you think should be done to improve 4th Avenue?

A Brooklyn Artery in Transition [NY Times]

10 Comment

  • The two items that would bring the best bang for the buck to 4th Avenue in this area are (1) more commercial space (the upzoning was a disaster in this regard) and (2) trees and planters. The worst thing they could do would be to undo any of the traffic calming undertaken so far — perhaps using the newly claimed median space for plantings is the best way to revitalize that space.

  • 4th Avenue is a truck route. Adding trees, especially in the medians creates hazards for trucks and limits visibility. There are only a couple of north-south truck routes in the entire borough and the street developed over time to accomodate that need. I feel for people that purchased high-priced apartments in new buildings on this street however, the fact that this street is directly contiguous to the largest remaining manufacturing and industrial zone in Brooklyn should have been taken account before they moved there.

    • That makes no sense regarding trees in the medians — trucks are not turning across traffic except at the intersections. Visibility across the raised median would not alter truck-related safety.

      Plantings are being made at numerous other avenues that have similar uses — look at the astounding change on the Flatbush Ave Extension. (Or West Street/Hwy 9A in Manhattan.) If the issue is obscuring at the intersection, that’s a different issue but one that can be addessed at each location.

  • NeoGrec

    It’s a crying shame the up-zoning change didn’t come with a overall plan. For starters, I’d like to see ground-floor HVAC systems banned. They belch hot air in the summer and do nothing to improve the street life of the avenue. And why didn’t the Department of City Planning or the Borough President’s office reach out to national retailers like Crate & Barrel, North Face, EMS, Room & Board, Trader Joe’s, Sur La Table etc. etc. to bring in some classy, destination retailers? The anti-gentrification mob may frown on this, but those retailers would sit more comfortably on 4th Ave than on most other commercial Brooklyn streets. It would have been so much better if this should have been mandated, not left to chance.

  • 4th ave wasn’t supposed to be a shopping district. It is a truck route / major traffic artery.
    4th ave doesn’t need to be beautified, it is what it is. Anyone that rents or buys an apartment on 4th then complains should have though about it first.
    It is never going to turn into Park Ave.

    Every avenue cannot be a disneyland with retail.

    • “It is what it is” only because people didn’t think about it when they changed the zoning rules to allow higher density residential without considering (presumably the failure was negligent and not intentionally choosing inferior results) the change to the street level use. And new street level commercial doesn’t need to be a destination (or disney) — it could just as easily be a utility location for the neighborhood as gentrification pushes commercial rents high on 5th Avenue.

  • All neighborhoods evolve and 4th Avenue is no different. Those who (presumably from a distance) mutter that “4th Avenue was always a truck route” (not true – check the MM article) and heap scorn on attempts to improve it, ignore that simple history lesson. The up-zoning of 4th treated the street as a sacrificial lamb on the altar on saving contextual zoning in Park Slope and Boerum Hill – sealing the fate of the hundreds of people who lived in what was moderate income housing along the avenue. The absence of inclusionary zoning rules that would have at least supported future moderate income housing, and perhaps made it harder for landlords to force people out of existing buildings to facilitate property sales, facilitated the spread of high rises that were such an eyesore that Planning again stepped in and mandated fenestration and commercial space in new buildings. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, to date, the commercial space has been singularly unsuccessful in attracting businesses that would contribute to an active street life.

    So what are area residents to do? Happily, some have decided that it’s time to take ownership of the 4th Avenue corridor and recognize that it’s a neighborhood, not just a truck route. There is going to be one “quick fix”, and change takes time, but reclaiming 4th Avenue is the first step in “fixing” it and many partners are stepping up to that task.

    Several hundred residents walk their kids to the half dozen schools either on or close to 4th Avenue and are demanding increased safety for their kids. Groups like Forth on Fourth Avenue (FOFA) have been instrumental in getting close to 60 new trees planted between Pacific and the Expressway and helping with the placement of about a dozen benches in the same area – as well as advocating for still more greening. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy (in addition to continually drawing attention to flooding issues along the avenue) has helped FOFA with the maintenance of the new trees and plantings in the tree beds (Ironically, in their early years, the trees are so small and without much in terms of leaves that planted tree beds become one of the ways of actually making it clearer that trees are there at all). Seven local community groups sponsored a meeting (“A New Look at Fourth Avenue”) in mid-January with local council members Lander and Levin to talk about ways 4th Avenue could be improved. Decreasing affordable housing was a highlighted topic at the meeting.

    Local environmental groups, safety groups, fair housing groups and business groups (such as the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Gowanus Alliance), as well as arts groups are working together to find ways to make 4th Avenue safer, cleaner, greener and more welcoming – as well as affordable. Regardless of how one feels about the proliferation of new high rises, they are bringing literally thousands of people into the 4th Avenue corridor. Those people, as well as folks who have lived in the neighborhood for years, deserve a livable neighborhood. And a growing number of community groups are working to make that a reality.