I never imagined that I would spend my college years in the same borough that I grew up in. But when I was accepted to Pratt Institute’s prestigious School of Architecture, there was no question of where I would be receiving my higher education.
Fort Greene was on practically the opposite end from where I lived in Brooklyn. My family and I would skirt the edges of the neighborhood on our way to one of our regular Chinatown dinners but it wasn’t until I started college that we actually got to know it.
To say it was a shock to my sheltered, young and very “unworldly” self was an understatement. This was the early 80’s and Fort Greene was pretty much a battle zone. Drugs and crime were a heavy presence and I was firmly ordered to NEVER venture past a 2-3 block perimeter around Pratt’s main campus. I got a car shortly after I started school so this was not a problem, but I do recall always being on high alert when walking to and from class – especially since the architecture school was housed in a separate building 2 blocks from the main campus.
Going to Pratt in the 80’s was like being in the eye of some incredible creative storm – music, dress, art – that transported me far away from my mainstream existence at home. And although the blocks around school were to be walked with caution, they were nevertheless some of the most beautiful I’d ever seen – a far cry from Canarsie. Block after block of old, magnificent brownstones on broad, tree-lined streets. It would have looked like a movie set if not for the boarded up or busted out windows and graffiti-covered buildings.
So you could imagine my surprise when, almost 30 years after graduating I read an article about a new and upscale flea market that would be taking place in a schoolyard a mere 3 blocks from my alma mater. Of course, over the years I had read countless articles about the “new” Brooklyn, and the droves of young families that were moving there, but I assumed they were referring to areas like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. I was as curious about the changes that had taken place in Fort Greene as I was about this new market so one summer Saturday a few years ago we took a ride to check it out.
I could not believe my eyes – it was as if the entire neighborhood had been given a power wash and a makeover – the streets were clean, the buildings lovingly restored and there was a calm and quiet that I never experienced when I was a student. There were flower boxes and planters everywhere. Young Pratt students were now strolling around (safely……….) with young couples pushing strollers. People were eating in outdoor cafes and coming in and out of any number of funky new stores. Even Chelsea said to me, “Wow Mom – you went to school in such a nice neighborhood!”.
Here are some photos of Fort Greene today………