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One Piece of F-Train Brooklyn, an Expansive Creative Economy

By Jason Moriber • Sep 21st, 2009 • Category: Analysis, Insight & Analysis

I’ve been a participant within three Expansive Creative Economies (ECE) during my adult life (so far). The late 80’s East Village in NYC (which is still booming), Center-City Philadelphia in the early 90s (fluctuated, but still growing, maybe blossoming), and F-Train Brooklyn (the neighborhoods that are serviced by the F-Train line of the NYC subway system, from Dumbo down to the South Slope, and expanding) in the early to mid 00’s (still going).

The foundation for each has been affordable rent for both live and work, public transportation or ease-of-movement (foot, bike), decent schools, cheap yet good food, and easy access to transportation hubs to be accessible to, and to connect with, the greater area. These elements attract boot-strapping creative professionals who both live and work locally, and lead towards greater prosperity, not only for themselves, but for their overall neighborhood (increased property values, greater choice of services, more infrastructure attention, safer streets).

This Sunday the New York Times offered an article (Brooklyn’s Tide of Chains, Decidedly Local) that sheds light on the burgeoning center of the F-Train ECE, Smith Street between Atlantic Ave and Hamilton Ave (but more specifically ending closer to 2nd street, where the south-end subway entrance/exit stands like a wide-mouth pagoda, perches where the elevated train dips underground). I lived within this neighborhood for over 10 years, having participated within this ECE (our initial office was in a neighborhood store-front) and witnessed it’s amazing results.

If you’re interested in building creative economies there are five items within the NYTimes article worth noting:

1. “…a different retail species has taken root in this still-gentrifying quarter: the chain that is distinctly, even aggressively, local.”

These local/small businesses seek to plant strong roots and build upon them in an organic manner, they don’t seek rapid expansion. They respond to the needs of the neighborhood and match their services to opportunities. Acting as the opposite of a traditional 90’s retail chain (whose low-price wars required them to be ‘everywhere’ to gain enough volume) these venues seek to break-up their offerings into new locations (a cheese shop here, a wine store there) instead of creating a mega-mart (this past Spring, Starbucks has begun trying out this retail technique, seeking to astro-turf the grass-roots, by opening new stores under different names, “Starbucks tests new names for store“).

2. “The cluster retail model really works,” said the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer

Density is the answer, a creative economy cannot survive unless there is the density to support it. Towns/cities can support this notion by rezoning neighborhoods to allow this type of growth. Pockets here and there wont work, you need to combine forces to create “areas of intensity,” neighborhoods that are actively working towards growth.

3. “The trend may have started with Alan Harding and Jim Mamary, who opened Patois, a bistro…”

Yes! That restaurant was the pioneer space on a a strip of mostly empty storefronts. It takes a dedicated trailblazer or two to lead the way, to anchor the block. Their space was down the block from a subway stop, near a bus stop, and within walking distance for most neighborhood folks. Mr. Harding went on to open a handful of restaurants, a mini-empire really, where you’d offer see him puffing on a cigar or driving his suburban from one to the other, and for a while had a TV cooking show “Cookin’ in Brooklyn” on the Discovery Home Channel. His restauranta changed the neighborhood, but not in an exploitative way; he was a local fixture, both old-timers and new dwellers knew Alan as a local product who stayed local, invested locally. Street cred goes a long way.

4. “…residents seek niche establishments for goods, services and entertainment within walking distance.”

Walkable neighborhoods that offer all of the above, you build that, they will come. Plus your citizens will be healthier, friendlier, and more likely spend their $ within locally owned businesses.

5. “You have a density of population that is for the most part pretty well educated, employed and, obviously, through basic aesthetics, is used to a certain quality of life,” Mr. Falcinelli said. “It’s maybe not the top finance guy at Goldman Sachs — it’s the back office of Condé Nast, the writers, the producers.”

The creative professionals support the local businesses owned and operated by other creative professionals. By focusing on the local market, businesses are able to provide excellent, high-quality, service.  Education is also an important factor, professionals with degrees seek the best opportunities for their children. If the local schools are solid (as they are in the districts that serve this area) the neighborhood will attract the new professionals who then invest in the neighborhood through tax revenues (local and sales) which increases the quality of life. Good schools attract creative professionals.

F-Train Brooklyn is a unique chain of neighborhoods. There is a lot to be written in regard to the creative economy about each link on the chain. The ECE model as illustrated above is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. These neighborhoods can blossom nearly anywhere with support from the municipality, landlords, and the spark found wherever creative professionals see an opportunity.

Jason Moriber is a veteran product/project/marketing manager, underground artist/musician, and online community developer, Jason expertly builds/produces/manages clients' projects, programs, and campaigns. Follow me on twitter http://twitter.com/jelefant
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