Van Brunt Street

For all the questionable writing that’s abused or insensitively applied the term “urban frontier”, Brooklyn’s sleepy, sometimes desolate Red Hook neighborhood actually feels like one — and nowhere is this more apparent than on somnambulant Van Brunt Street.

The neighborhood’s main commercial thoroughfare sets the pace for Red Hook’s streetlife with its lack thereof: as much a testament to the street’s sedateness as to the pioneering urban horticulturalists who tend them, giant sunflowers sprout from the sidewalk cracks, leaping to human height. The still life composition of Van Brunt’s Hopperesque facades brings to mind country hamlets closed up on Sunday. And on a streetscape that conjures the Great Plains, a prominent restaurant bears a coincidentally appropriate name — Fort Defiance.

Of course, by the standards of New York neighborhoods, Red Hook — seemingly within reach of the shadows stretching from Wall Street’s skyscrapers — is hardly as antipodean as the Bronx’s City Island, or as remote as The Rockaways. Sidewalk gap gardens are not even that uncommon in the rest of Brooklyn. And Red Hook is hardly underpopulated; a large number of people live in its vast public housing complex.

But the Red Hook Houses are relatively removed from Van Brunt. And the neighborhood’s revitalizing waterfront, home to New York City’s only Ikea, imports customers from Manhattan via its own, dedicated ferry, serving Red Hook as if it were some inaccessible village along Alaska’s Inside Passage, which merely adds to the sense of distance — and difference — between the neighborhood and the wider city.

A similar street in most other North American cities would still go unheralded for its quietude. It’s really the fact of the rest of New York’s density and crowding that makes Red Hook seem so far-flung. In a city where summer finds people crowding claustrophobically into dumpster pools, Van Brunt Street, with its liberal parking and empty (save sunflowers) sidewalks, feels as wide open as a wilderness highway.

This entry was written by Christopher Szabla , posted on Tuesday August 10 2010at 03:08 pm , filed under Public Space, United States and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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