Study Provides a New Vision for Allen and Pike Street Malls

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Local residents turned out to give their opinions on the renovation of the malls early last summer.

Residents of the Lower East Side and Chinatown have been fighting for improvements to the Allen and Pike Street pedestrian malls for more than a decade. Now, with the city's Parks Department set to begin a $5.4 million renovation of the malls below East Broadway, their wait for meaningful action might be nearing an end.

The Hester Street Collaborative has just released a final report on the community's visioning process (download the full study), which was coordinated by United Neighbors to Revitalize Allen and Pike (UNRAP) and will be used to inform the upcoming work.

The malls, which run along the center of Pike and Allen Streets from the East River to Houston Street, have long been in a state of disrepair. The pavement is cracked and uneven. There's little vegetation. The roar of traffic is ever-present. "There's a tremendous need for more viable open space here," says Annie Frederick, executive director of the Hester Street Collaborative. "This neighborhood has one of the lowest rates of public space in the city."

This April, a "demonstration mall" was completed on the block between Broome and Delancey, with new planter beds, benches, and sculptures. This summer, UNRAP invited neighborhood residents and organizers to a series of "Take Back Your Park" events to provide feedback and suggest improvements to the project -- like raised planters to better buffer traffic noise, and a meandering path instead of a straight one.

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 Neighborhood kids help to create a vision at a "Take Back Your Park" event.

The new report incorporates comments and suggestions from those events, as well as the ideas of students from the New Design High School who studied the malls as part of an intensive summer program.

Among the priorities that emerged were green space, improved buffers from street noise and traffic, connection to the East River waterfront, and events and art exhibits that highlight and preserve the cultural history of the area. Known as "Avenue of the Immigrants," Allen Street is at the heart of an area that is rapidly changing due to gentrification (the malls themselves, constructed in the wake of slum clearance, occupy space where tenements once stood).

Support also emerged for traffic-calming measures and a bike lane that would connect to Manhattan Bridge access. The city DOT has said it is looking for funds from the state DOT to implement that type of improvement.

"What we're hearing over and over again is that Allen Street is over-engineered as a road," said Frederick. "It's not safe." She added that her experience working with the current DOT makes her optimistic about changes, although budgetary constraints will be a factor. "I'm very hopeful," she said. "There has been a real sense of inter-agency collaboration and willingness to listen to the local community. There's been a shift in culture."

Photos: Hester Street Collaborative