Mapping the Road Ahead: Living in a Rapidly Changing Community

On June 21, 2012, Bridge Street Development Corporation (BSDC) hosted nearly seventy concerned community residents, business owners, and representatives from local nonprofit organizations at Fashion Rock Hall for Mapping the Road Ahead: Living in a Rapidly Changing Community. This important panel discussion about the changing face of Bedford-Stuyvesant was organized by Kenneth Mbonu, BSDC’s director of economic development, and brought together a diverse group of guest speakers, including NYS Assemblyman and congressional candidate Hakeem Jeffries; regional director of the Brooklyn Small Business Development Center, Catalina Castana; co-owner of Bed-Vyne Wine, Rotimi Akinnuoye; and community planning and development expert, Rex Curry.

Mapping the Road AheadThe panelists discussed the economic impact of living in a quickly changing neighborhood, and how residents can build broad business participation for community renewal. The discussion specifically focused on the exciting and sometimes concerning changes along and around Malcolm X Boulevard and the opportunities for thoughtful and diverse development that these changes present. Assemblyman Jeffries told the audience that the cultural and economic changes which Bedford-Stuyvesant is currently undergoing should not and cannot be stopped, but insisted that local residents and merchants need to plan ahead so that the community can benefit from and help to influence the direction of those changes.

Rex Curry, president of ReidCurry Consulting and former Associate Director of the Pratt Planning & Architectural Collaborative, provided attendees with an in-depth summary of his detailed retail analysis of the Malcolm X Boulevard commercial corridor, a study that BSDC’s economic development department commissioned last year with generous financial support from JPMorgan Chase. Mr. Curry highlighted the need for a diversity of retail and service businesses on Malcolm X, in place of the currently dominant bodegas, hair salons/barber shops, and take-out food, if the corridor is ever going to become a shopping and dining destination for local residents and visitors from beyond the neighborhood and the borough. More than a decade ago, Mr. Curry conducted a similarly detailed analysis of Myrtle Avenue’s retail environment and his recommendations, carried out by the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project, were an important element in the dramatic transformation of what was formerly called “Murder Avenue” into a thriving retail and dining destination.

“Like Myrtle Avenue in the early 1990s,” says BSDC’s Mbonu, himself a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident, “Malcolm X Boulevard today is brimming with untapped potential. It is up to us as residents and business owners, to take a role in positioning ourselves to take advantage of that. Because when Malcolm X Boulevard changes—and there’s no denying that it will change—it is important that we are not left behind.”