Take to skateboards in an exploration of four-wheeled transportation and local architecture along one of Brooklyn’s most iconic thoroughfares. Participants of all ages and skills are invited to join in this tour that aims to disrupt our conceptions of how we pass through a street. Following the tour, we’ll collaborate on a map-making exercise considering how skateboarding can be a vehicle to reimagine the city. The program will also feature insight from Damon Rich, designer, artist, urban planner, and co-author alongside Rosten Woo and Meredith TenHoor of Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall.
This tour is inspired by the project Slope Intercept by Sara Hendren.
Presented by Van Alen.
Saturday, June 11
Fulton Street & St. Felix Street
Skateboards and protection gear will be provided.
Fulton Mall is a busy street with many shops in downtown Brooklyn. When I first encountered Fulton Mall around 2008, I was fascinated by the ornate architectural elements that coexist with distinct visual design of the shops. Around 2010, a group of artists and curators I was working with got free access to a giant storefront in 177 Livingston Street, a block away from Fulton Mall. I started coming to the area more frequently and I organized a few classes and performances and also shopped in the Fulton Mall. In 2013, I started working at a studio in Metropolitan Exchange in 33 Flatbush Avenue, where I continue to work today.
Through out this relatively short period of time, I observed the rapid change of the architecture and public spaces in the area. National brands and chain retails began popping up in the Mall. There continues to be small shops that predominantly cater to the taste of African American and Caribbean shoppers and the street stalls have unique vibrant energy. However, the change is obvious. Many historic old buildings were taken down, new residents moved into shiny buildings. This change continues to be a point of conflict as this New York Times article illustrates.
The narrative of the loss and the real factors behind the visible changes in the area have complex relationships. In Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall, the authors chronicle an intricately intertwined history from the perspective of the developers and residents. The report from Fulton Street Mall: New strategies for preservation and planning details the actual usage of the space through the development. Both of the research were published in the mid 2000s, but the spatial conflict in Fulton Mall is an ongoing process. Groups like Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) continues to address the pressing issues through organizing, films and protests.
As an artist and a recent resident of the area, I’m very careful about the possibility of my work misrepresenting the local issues or excluding the local community. We are partnering with Stoked, a local non for profit organization that supports youth through outdoor activities. I also made a trip to New Design High School to visit students that will be participating in the tour alongside the Van Alen community. I think it’s important to ask the question of accessibility and ownership to the youth. Many of the students are frequent visitors or commute through the Fulton Mall area. Through the tour, I hope to collaborate with the students to imagine what the accessible space can look like, and what that accessibility will entail. With Damon Rich, I hope to question the social, economic, racial accessibility of one of the most complex sites in Brooklyn.
One aspect of the history that struck to me was Fulton Mall existing as a center of youth culture in Brooklyn. There are number of rap musicians that reference Fulton Mall and the neighboring areas as the source of inspiration. To this day, there are many young students and youth in the area. I want to hear their voice about the area.
I was inspired by Slope Intercept by Sara Hendren, a series of ramps that provoke the issues of accessibility in urban space. Her work and writing encouraged me to pick up a skateboard, after close to ten years, and navigate the area. In the original proposal to Van Alen, I expressed my wish to invite Sara Hendren as a collaborator to bring the ramps from Slope Intercept to the tour. With limited funding and schedule, we decided to postpone the invitation until the next iteration.
The experience of skateboarding in Fulton Mall and the surrounding area gave a new perspective to see the space. My interest shifted from the history of the mall, to defining mobility, accessibility and occupancy in Fulton Mall. In this tour and workshop, we will create maps of the Fulton Mall and discuss present and future possibilities of the area while asking questions surrounding accessibility and architecture.
Image from the Downtown Brooklyn Improvement Association
Fulton Mall has been a site of conflicting ideas about what Brooklyn can be.