InstaBlog: Avenue U, Sheepshead Bay

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

When I think of Sheepshead Bay, I tend to think of the area around the bay itself, with its docks, restaurants, and the like. If pushed, my mind then goes to the streets and neighborhood north of the Belt Parkway, surrounding the Sheepshead Bay station on the B & Q trains. On a map, however, the neighborhood continues well north and inland, encompassing (just) this stretch of Avenue U west of Ocean Parkway. Places like this, to me, highlight the difficulties of labeling neighborhoods—not only how arbitrary boundaries can be, but how our mental maps leave many hazy, hard-to-describe lands between them.

Crossing Ocean Parkway, you quickly feel the street's Jewish character begins to fade out and a heavily Russian (and other ex-Soviet states) presence begins to fade in. Soon, Avenue U here begins to resemble a less-dense version of Brighton Beach and its heavily Russian population. It makes sense: as noted, neighborhoods are amorphous things and spread out wide. I am no Russian or Soviet expert, but compared to Brighton Beach, which is still a major attractor for Russian immigrants, I get an older, more established vibe here—at least from the stores. It feels more ex-Soviet than ex-Yelstin/Putin, if that makes any sense, down to a restaurant which cheekily advertises its "Soviet" cuisine.

The avenue has stretches of intense density & relative sparseness. The buildings are a mix of low-rise forms, few taller than two stories. There are 1920s & 30s taxpayers (simple shopping blocks with office space above), individual store and office/apartment buildings, converted rowhouses, and even a number of townhouses which have been adaptively reused into commercial structures without heavy modifications—something I love to see. The side streets are classic New York outer-borough vernacular: tightly packed, modest houses, sometimes touching, sometimes with narrow driveways in-between. It's certainly more than dense enough to be urban, lively, and walkable, and readily supports busy pedestrian shopping streets like Avenue U.

Finally, there is Coney Island Avenue, just as awful and dehumanizing a highway here as it was further north (see my #MidwoodCIAve). This important street desperately deserves a rethinking in order to support the vibrant neighborhoods it passes through.

Based on an Instagram post.
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