In Unanimous Vote, CB 2 Embraces People-Friendly Astor Place

CB 2 voted unanimously to create this new public plaza at Cooper Square, though they want there not to be seating at night. Image: DDC.

CB 2 voted unanimously to create this new public plaza at Cooper Square, with the proviso that seating be removed at night. Image: DDC

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 2 resoundingly endorsed the city’s plans to transform Astor Place and Cooper Square from asphalt expanses into pedestrian-friendly public spaces. After including some language in its resolution to appease the concerns of certain residents, the roughly 40 community board members in attendance voted unanimously for the plan to transform street space into plazas and expanded sidewalks.

The plan includes a new 8,000 square foot pedestrian plaza at Cooper Square, a plaza replacing one block of Astor Place below the cube sculpture, widened sidewalks, 113 bike racks, 64 new trees, and thousands of square feet of new plantings and environmentally-friendly permeable surfaces.

In the days before last night’s vote, some opposition to the plan had emerged from former CB 2 members active in the NoHo community. At the meeting, Jeanne Wilcke, the president of the Downtown Independent Democrats, requested a delay to “fine tune” the plans, which has been in the works for about a decade, worrying about the traffic effects of narrower streets and the management of the new public spaces.

Another speaker, Marty Tessler, demanded that the plan’s hard-surface open space be replaced with landscaping in order to keep too many people from gathering there. “We are hopeful that we will not be subjected to the street performers and all that,” he added.

Following testimony from six people, the community board voted unanimously for an amended resolution supporting the city’s plan. None of those amendments take away from the overall support for the redesign.

The resolution recommends that the city follow some best practices in building and managing the new public space: avoiding the removal of existing trees where possible, ensuring that the plaza space is actively managed, and double-checking with the fire department to ensure that emergency vehicles will be able to use the narrowed streets. As transportation committee vice-chair Ian Dutton explained, however, the board fully expects that the city has already been doing all those things. “The current DOT administration has been very collaborative,” he said.

In fact, those criteria are already being met. The Grace Church School announced last night that they’d take the responsibility for maintaining the new Village Plaza, which will be in front of their new high school. “We think it’s going to be beautiful,” said the school’s representative. “We’re just delighted with the design.”

The sole request for a substantive change came at the request of Community Board 3. They wanted the seating at the southern end of the project to be removed late at night, a condition which CB 2 agreed to. “They were concerned about noise for the elderly people” in nearby senior housing run by the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, said transportation committee chair Shirley Secunda. Secunda added that JASA was thrilled about having more open space and safer crossings; late night noise was the only worry.