Placemaking on the Upper East Side

Tuesday evening, Project for Public Spaces held a "placemaking" community workshop for Manhattan's Upper East Side, featuring PPS founder and president Fred Kent. Streetsblog regular BicyclesOnly was there and files this report.

1490933783_e158f931cd_b.jpgKent gave a presentation to about 50 citizen and community activists from the East Side regarding the efforts in New York City and elsewhere to redesign urban space for the needs of people and communities over the moving of traffic. The event was organized by State Senator Liz Krueger.

Kent began with an overview of the insights of his mentors, Holly White and Jane Jacobs, as to the challenges and opportunities of creating "great places" in New York City. Kent then explained what PPS has done in cities around the world to reclaim public space from motor vehicle traffic. Kent acknowledged the promising trends under the current DOT, but criticized the slow pace and timid scope of efforts to date. He advocated for a dramatic expansion of livable streets measures, such as market rate curbside parking and conversion of roadway space to non-traffic uses, and against the privatization of public space, such as the fashion week event at Bryant Park.

After the presentation, participants engaged in six different small group discussions. Each group was asked to come up with a particular spot on the Upper East Side that they believe could become, with some planning and resources, a "great place."

One group called for a transformation of Lexington Avenue and 86th Street, by (among other things) creating a traffic circle instead of a simple rectilinear intersection; installing a separated bike path on Lexington Ave and bicycle racks at the intersection, given the number of commuters who bike to this important mass transit access point; and additional plantings of trees.

Another group stressed the many amenities found along Riverside and Hudson River parks -- such as the restaurant at the 79th St. Boat Basin and the cantina at W. 66th Street -- and suggested that the East River Esplanade incorporate similar concessions and destinations, as well as innovative playgrounds to attract and anchor people and supplement existing amenities (monotonous benches and doggie runs). This group also discussed other interesting ideas, such as utilizing the cul-de-sacs at which many Upper East Side streets terminate at the East river as public spaces; increasing the number of pedestrianized blocks (such as the block on 91st Street between Second and Third Avenues); using existing ferry infrastructure to open up Mill Rock Island for community use; and curtailing or eliminating cars from Second Avenue.

Kent stressed that making great places requires long term campaigns waged by advocates who are "zealous nuts."  While no concrete plans came directly from the workshop, the level of receptivity and support for the ideas presented by Kent and the breakout groups was surprising and inspiring, and may augur big changes for the staid East Side in the future.

Photo: slurv/Flickr