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What’s Wrong With Franklin Street?

Photo: vidiot on flickr

Jeremiah takes a walk down Franklin Street and doesn’t exactly like what he sees. Things like “outdoor cafes packed with wafer-thin women cradling chihuahuas in their laps, bars with clever names, ‘craft brew’ beer stores [where is that?], and coffee shops filled with bearded men peering at Mac laptops through chalk-white Wayfarer shades.” In short, everything he saw as authentic on his tour of Manhattan Avenue is threatened by the renaissance of Franklin Street.

Personally, I think the dichotomy of Manhattan Avenue and Franklin Street is a fascinating – and so far positive – urban study. Yes, Franklin Street is gentrifying, but what’s interesting is that it is not gentrifying at the expense of Manhattan Avenue. The two really exist as parallel universes. Nor is the gentrification of Franklin Street pushing out local stores. 100 years ago, Franklin Street was filled with locally-owned ground-floor retail stores. Ten years ago, most of Franklin Street was not retail – the old storefronts were vacant or had been converted to apartments. As new people came into the neighborhood looking to open businesses, they found a ready stock of underutilized commercial space. The same thing has been happening along Grand Street west of the BQE – storefronts that had been vacant for decades are suddenly being reborn as bars, restaurants, boutiques, bicycle shops, book stores and much more. Local businesses owned by local residents, and by and large, none of it is displacing older businesses.

Layers of history – former storefronts that had been bricked in are now being reopened.
Photo: ashfordesign on flickr

This is exactly the kind of development most urbanists would love to see. And it came about not through some planner drawing a line on a map, but rather as a result of a series of individual decisions, all of which started with a recognition of a quality, underutilized building stock. Instead of boarded up storefronts, it’s eyes on the street in the classic Jane Jacobs sense. It’s economic development from the bottom up. It’s more local jobs where none had existed for decades. It’s more income for building owners, many of whom are also locals (and long-timers). Sure it’s (generally) serving one segment of the population, but it can be benefitting many segments. And sure it’s a fragile ecosystem that needs to be carefully nurtured. It could all go to pot and become Soho, or expand east to Manhattan Avenue and displace long-time businesses there.


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