Students Study How Downtown Brooklyn is Changing
“Researching our Past, Building our Future” has been a semester-long theme in spring 2013 sections of an English course taught by Dr. Mary Nilles. As the skyline of Downtown Brooklyn rapidly changes, Dr. Nilles’ students not only have been reading literary selections about the area, but also have been trying to create a historical context for the assigned literature.
A trip to the Brooklyn Historical Society introduced students to the study of maps, land conveyances and photographs related to Downtown Brooklyn buildings erected along or intersecting Jay Street over the past 150 years. The documentation of City Tech’s Klitgord Center, a 1962 building scheduled for demolition this summer to make room for construction of a new state-of-the-art academic complex, was of special interest. Students have used past history to better understand present-day initiatives to make Downtown Brooklyn a center for technology education.
After discussing selected literature as a reflection of history, Nilles’ students walked around the MetroTech area. They first took photos for their Power Point presentations: images of Jay Street, the College’s Klitgord Center and Namm Hall, as well as its Pearl, Midway and Voorhees Buildings.
Then they were introduced to sculptor Esther Klas, whose installation entitled “Gelift” is part of the current Public Art Fund installation in the MetroTech Commons. The artist explained her work and the meaning of “Gelift,” a word from the Luxembourgisch language. The class then paused at the site of a home once inhabited by Walt Whitman’s family and recalled how Whitman had an office near what would become the City Tech campus when he edited the Brooklyn Eagle.
Next they photographed four historic houses on Duffield Street moved there from Johnson Street before construction of MetroTech Center in 1988. On the corner of Duffield and Willoughby Streets, they caught a glimpse of Ft. Greene Park to the east. To the west, they encountered a demolition crew at work, its foreman explaining how 19th century Downtown Brooklyn buildings are fast disappearing to make room for sites like that for the future Brooklyner on Bridge and Willoughby Streets. When completed the luxury apartment building will be the tallest structure in the borough. The trip ended with a discussion of writings about the benefits and costs of urban development.
Photo courtesy of Gurpreet Singh