November 2, 2012, Friday, 306

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Research Proposal

When I found out about this project, I had many different ideas running through my mind. At first, I thought I wanted to investigate the street on which I lived in Long Island, but I eventually concluded that it would be fairly boring especially since it was such a short and ordinary-looking block. Besides, I wanted to explore one of the five boroughs; I figured that the seminar was called “The Peopling of New York City” for a reason, and because I have an apartment here in Brooklyn, taking the subway to the city would not be a horrible commute. However, it took me quite awhile to finally decide on Clarkson Avenue. At first, I considered well-known places, like Times Square, Wall Street, or 34th Street. Yet, as I carefully thought it over, I realized that I didn’t want to travel to a place that I was already familiar with. I needed a change of scenery, perhaps a more tranquil neighborhood that had hidden secrets waiting to be revealed. I chose Clarkson Avenue because I will mostly likely be walking on this street very often four years from now as I attend SUNY Downstate. When I asked some of the former BA/MD students who currently live on campus near Clarkson, I obtained mixed reviews. Overall, they commented that the street was not the safest at night and that there was always something happening. If something is always happening now in the present, I wondered if the same could be said about the street in the past.

There are a number of questions that I am eager to discover the answers to. When and why was the Medical Center built on Clarkson Avenue? When it was first built, what was the community like, what were the demographics, and did a great deal of people receive treatment there? It seems strange that the Medical College, the largest medical school in the state, would be planted right in the middle of such a quiet location.

I paid a visit to Clarkson Avenue on a Sunday morning around 10:30 a.m. Like most places in Brooklyn during this time, the streets were empty, but eerily so. Not only did I feel like I was the only one walking on the street, but I really was by myself. While I was there, I took some notes on the physical features of the street. Lying diagonally across from Downstate was surprisingly, a small square called the Rolf Henry Playground. It was vacant but the slides, seesaws, and benches seemed brand new, as if the park had been recently developed. To the left of the Downstate campus, there was a Duane Reade Pharmacy shop; next to the drug store were four massive lots devoted to parking for the hospital. According to the sign, ESP Group of NY, Inc. was the owner of this huge property, and hospital employees were granted discounts. Most of the buildings and brick walls that I passed by were covered in graffiti, and while the writing was illegible, the assortment of colors that the perpetrators used ironically brightened up the street. On the corner of Clarkson and Nostrand Avenue, the Danny Pizzeria Restaurant and a Unisex Beauty Salon stood as ending markers. Beyond this point, there were a slew of apartment houses that extended beyond my parameters.

The Downstate Medical Center itself resembled the buildings within the Brooklyn College campus. There was really nothing special about how it looked; I wouldn’t have been able to tell that it was a medical college if I hadn’t spotted the white flags with blue writing that read, “SUNY Downstate Graduate School.” What I didn’t expect was that the Kings County Hospital Center was right across the street. Prior to my visit, I had no idea that these two hospitals directly faced one another, which will make my research even more interesting. Why are there two hospitals along the same street?

I continued to walk down Clarkson Avenue, past the corner of Clarkson and East 37th Street. Once again, there were small shops, specifically, the Kings Pharmacy and Surgical store, a law office, and a restaurant that served fried chicken and Mediterranean food. I ended at East 38th Street, noting that these cross streets, including East 37th Street, had rows and rows of identical brick houses where people lived. The paradoxical nature of this neighborhood lies in the fact that the people who live in these houses keep to themselves, but must deal with the cacophonous noises that come with living in a hospital environment. The few people I did see walking on Clarkson Avenue did not talk to one another but rather hurried to their destinations. On the other hand, this serene atmosphere is frequently disturbed by the constant wailing of ambulance and police sirens. These sounds reminded me of where I was and how on such a calm street, there were lives waiting to be saved and around the clock emergencies. Even though I have only scratched the surface of Clarkson Avenue, I am excited to uncover its historical background and find out if and how the surrounding community has changed over time.