The Gansevoort Project Aims to Turn a Chaotic Intersection into a Grand Piazza
At Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's transportation policy conference last week, DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall said she was committed to working "with communities and other city agencies to reallocate street space" to "create public plazas in neighborhoods in all five boroughs."
"These open spaces," Weinshall said, "will make walking more enjoyable, preserve neighborhood character, and can serve as the heart of a neighborhood through which all activity can pulse."
The Commissioner's vision of community collaboration producing great new public spaces is a refreshing departure from DOT's traditional, top-down, engineer-driven focus on moving cars and trucks to "maximize vehicular level of service." The question is: How is Weinshall going to make it happen? How will New York City's Department of Transportation transform itself into something more like a Department of Streets and Public Spaces?
An answer to that question appears to be materializing along the cobblestone streets of Manhattan's Meatpacking District. Flying below the radar for more than a year now, a community-driven initiative to transform the broad, chaotic intersection of Ninth Avenue and Gansevoort Street into a thriving piazza is well underway. In the process, the Greater Gansevoort Urban Improvement Project (GGUIP) is quietly emerging as one of New York City's most promising Streets Renaissance initiatives.
What is, perhaps, most notable about the Gansevoort Project is that it isn't being put forward by a big real estate developer or Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's Economic Development Corporation. Rather, it is a grassroots, community-driven effort. If city officials and Livable Streets advocates want a concrete example of how to make Commissioner Weinshall's public space vision a reality, this is the project to keep an eye on.
The Gansevoort Project is the brainchild of two neighborhood stalwarts, preservationist Jo Hamilton and restaurateur Florent Morellet. Last Monday evening, Hamilton and Morellet convened 150 residents and business owners from around the Meatpacking District to meet with an impressive group of experts and elected officials to share ideas and hammer out a collective vision for their neighborhood.
The process began in early 2005, when Project for Public Spaces began working with business owners and local residents to define problems, identify best practices, and formulate a vision for what people wanted their neighborhood to be (Click here to download PPS's findings). PPS's philosophy is that "If you plan a city for cars and traffic you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places."
The PPS approach, honed over decades of developing great public spaces in cities around the world starts with the notion of "community outcomes." By leveraging local knowledge, accounting for unique neighborhood characteristics and balancing competing priorities and modes of transportation, the community outcomes approach helps a neighborhood articulate a vision of what it wants to be. Read more...