Exploring significant opportunities for Brooklyn's Montague Street, starting at Borough Hall Plaza and ending on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade

The current situation

Montague Street has a tired, old, not-cared-for feeling. There are multiple empty storefronts, uncared for buildings, limited to no seating, few places to gather, weak entranceways, few outdoor cafes, a limited restaurant experience. All this was greatly impacted by the pandemic which has exposed these flaws and given visitors and residents a reason to avoid using the street and thus lessening the vitality that foot traffic and social life bring to such an important street in one of the most important historic districts in all of New York...That history is not evident and could be an important part of the renewal.

Assets and Basic Ideas

There are tremendous assets. The variety of buildings is very evident. Each building has a story to tell and needs to be a big part of the future. Sprucing up and embelishing these buildings is important, plus bringing their insides out to be part of the sidewalk experience. This could create a very interesting and dynamic street that everyone would be proud of.

Double loading the sidewalks on some block faces could help a lot as well. Some areas of the street might be better with wider sidewalks, even without removing a lane of parking; on some blocks, the travel lane could be narrowed.

Intersections are key and corners could be extended. They represent an immediate and inexpensive improvement. One such corner could be the southwest one at Hicks/ Montague which could be quickly improved by moving the bike station.

Banks, schools, churches, and the casino are important anchors and each need to add to the street experience. Montague Street needs a strong anchor at Borough Hall. The link below describes how that could be possible:

Community Discussion: Creating the Heart of Brooklyn — Brooklyn Borough Hall, Court House, Cadman Plaza down to Fulton Landing
This article is meant to help build a campaign around a concept for a promenade from Borough Hall doown to Dumbo and Fulton Landing — an idea that we first introduced in the New York Times in 2007. The concept has in part been carried forward by Downtown Brooklyn Partnership as
The Best Sidewalk in North America
Sidewalks are the foundation to making the social life of communities thrive. The best sidewalks share certain traits that make them welcoming, accessible, and socially active places.

The Power of 10 idea is where a street needs 10 distinct places along it to become specific "destinations" that collectively give it the identity it needs. Clearly the Borough Hall/ Cadman Plaza is one, along with the Brooklyn Promenade. Both are significant challenges and need to be the high points of the experience at each end. We show a few benchmarks below to help begin shaping some ideas.

But where are the 8 additional places needed to build a sense of a destination that carries enough stature to warrent that designation? The southwest corner of Hicks and Montague is one. Perhaps the fences along Saint Anne's and The Casino could be two more. An exercise we call the Place Game could be used to seek out ideas for each block, intersection and smaller places that could be highlights of interest as the street becomes the destination it needs to become.

Court House- A truely ugly building that needs eye catching uses in front and on each side.

Borough Hall/Court Street Intersection

Montague/Clinton West Corner Entrances from Subway to Brooklyn Heights

Montague/Henry Southeast Corner

Montague/Henry Southwest Corner and Block Face

Looking West from Montague/Henry toward Hicks Street intersection

Montague/Hicks Intersection Looking West

Southwest Corner Montague and Hicks

Hicks Montague 

Immediate Actions - Move Bike Station to another Corner

Montague/Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Activating The Brooklyn Heights Promenade may seem like an impossible task. It might be, but it also represents an enormous opportunity to add some small features that give it a richness to make it even more special. A few small kiosks with some seating could make it a strong gathering place for the Brooklyn Heights Community. Stockholm's Kunstragarten has a narrow layer of cafes along the promenade to the waterfront. Art and special seating areas could also add to the experience.

Some general possibilities

Area Map or Historical Exhibition - food kiosks, seating and art

Benchmarks - Paris Neighborhood Market Streets

There are major market streets in Paris that act as anchors for entire neighborhoods. They allow traffic, but no one would think of driving on them. They are very engaging year around as much of the business is directly on the sidewalks. The buildings are open and engaging. They create "porches" not "walls" along the street. Walking along those streets is an experience that draws many people for shopping and exploration, for connecting with merchants and friends, chance encounters, or just to watch the scene. It is high entertainment and these streets perform as a major economic and social generators for the entire community.

Paris rue Mouffetard

Paris rue Montorgueil

Paris Plac Maubert

Benchmarks - improve corners - Buenos Aires, London and Paris

Narrow Kiosks and Shallow Cafes - Santa Monica and Stockholm

To Save the Planet, Start with Sidewalks
Rich street life is no frill. It is an expression of the most ancient function of a city—a place for people to come together, all kinds of people, face-to-face. — William “Holly” Whyte
Creating the Streets We Want
Rich street life is no frill. It is an expression of the most ancient function of a city—a place for people to come together, all kinds of people, face-to-face. — William “Holly” Whyte
Turn Places “Inside Out” to Revive Social Connection and Local Economies
Thresholds where storefronts and buildings connect with the sidewalk —is the place to reunite communities and jump-start local economies after these long, hard months.
Seating is Fundamental City Infrastructure: The Proof is in Paris
A well-designed seat placed in the right location sets the stage for lively activity along a sidewalk, in a park, or on a waterfront.
Driving the Local Food Economy with Social Life: Munich’s Victuals Market
The Victuals Market (Viktualienmarkt) in Munich, Germany Central “Market Square” is typical of the historic squares around Europe, showcasing the local commerce, culture and diversity in the center of each city.
Emerging Social Hubs in Brooklyn: Building Back Better
A social hub is by nature community led. It is local, even hyper-local. It can ripple out from a single enterprise on a block, spread to others, and evolve organically

Who we are:

We set up the Placemaking Fund as the next part of a trajectory of the placemaking movement we started when we established and grew Project for Public Spaces into a global organization to create catalytic projects in cities around the world. The Fund is now focusing on three efforts - The Social Life Project, PlacemakingX (a global network of 16 local and regional efforts on every continent and major region) and Catalytic Projects done around the world that collectively add up to create transformative change that then become part of larger goal to support climate change and deliver healthy, sustainable, inclusive and equitable communities everywhere.

Kathy and I are neighbors who live in Cobble Hill with our two sons and their families who lead PlacemakingX. We all care deeply about the neighborhoods where we live. Our global travels and work has led us to over 60 countries and most major cities, working and exploring what is the best out there. This has allowed us to share what we have found which could be used as examples to help all of us think about how we might create a better future. COVID-19 has allowed us to stay home and has given us enough time to explore the wonderful communities where we all live.

Placemaking is a humbling experience. Below are some places we have worked on, often as a catalyst and sometimes leading a team.

The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities. We gladly accept donations to advance our work.
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