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Posts from the "Public Space" Category

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Is This the First NYC Community Board Meeting Held in a Public Plaza?

I can’t say with certainty that this is the first NYC community board meeting held in a public plaza, but it certainly is the first I’ve heard of in my 22 years in New York City. On Thursday, Queens Community Board 3 held their monthly meeting amid the hustle and bustle of Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza on 37th Road between 73rd and 74th Streets.

By my count the meeting began with at least 150 people seated or standing. Plenty of on-lookers stopped by and admired the proceedings. The plaza was quite crowded.

City Council Member Danny Dromm (to the right of the mic), an early and vocal supporter of the plaza, spoke to the crowd. Without his steadfast leadership, there’s a good chance this meeting space wouldn’t exist.

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DOT Working on Maintenance Initiative to Expand Reach of Plaza Program

DOT’s plaza program has brought new public spaces to neighborhoods across the city, and even most City Council members can appreciate that. To ensure that the new plazas don’t deteriorate after implementation, the city only installs them if a local partner pledges to maintain the space. Sometimes, finding a maintenance partner can be challenging — and this is especially the case in less affluent parts of the city.

In an article today celebrating public plazas, Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman mentioned a new program that DOT is developing to provide assistance to communities looking to maintain their plaza space:

The Transportation Department is working with the Horticultural Society of New York and the nonprofit ACE Programs for the Homeless to develop a jobs initiative in which ex-convicts and homeless people provide horticultural services and general upkeep. Communities pay on a sliding scale for the help.

Last September, Streetsblog reported from a community board meeting about a proposed plaza in Astoria where DOT said it was developing the program. Details aren’t available yet, but it looks like a promising initiative for areas where a well-funded business improvement district or partner isn’t there to take on plaza maintenance.

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Eyes on the Street: Checking Out Books at Putnam Plaza

The Uni, a portable library, visited the Putnam Plaza on Sunday as part of a FAB Friday event. Photo: FAB Alliance

When Putnam Plaza opened nearly two years ago in Clinton Hill, it was welcomed with a dance party. Last Friday, the dancing continued as the Fulton Area Business Alliance, the local business improvement district, held one of its FAB Friday events in the plaza. The space featured games, live music, and a portable library allowing people to sit and relax with a book. On Sunday evening, the BID hosted Soul Aerobics in the plaza. FAB Friday events are also scheduled this summer for Cuyler Gore Park and Fowler Square plaza in Fort Greene.

The event included hula-hooping, live music, and games. Photo: FAB Alliance

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At Pioneering Ped Plaza, Paint and Planters Are Now Curbs and Concrete

All smiles at today's ribbon-cutting for Willoughby Plaza in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYC DOT’s plaza program hit a milestone today, when officials cut the ribbon on a block of Willoughby Street reclaimed from car traffic between Pearl and Adams Streets in Downtown Brooklyn. What used to be, essentially, a private parking lot for government placard holders, is now the first plaza program project to make the transition from temporary materials to permanent construction.

The 14,000 square-foot plaza, set in motion in 2006 with a street reclamation by Iris Weinshall’s DOT, was folded into DOT’s Plaza Program after Janette Sadik-Khan took charge of the agency. It then entered the capital project pipeline for the Department of Design and Construction, which raised the plaza to the same grade as the sidewalk and worked with DEP to replace water mains.

The project cost $2 million, paid for by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds. Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez was on hand for today’s ribbon-cutting, along with Sadik-Khan, DDC Commissioner David Burney, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Tucker Reed, Jeff Kay of Muss Development, and Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“It’s a pleasure when the commissioner and I can be on the same side of a project,” Markowitz said, before launching into a gregarious bit inviting the single people of Brooklyn to make the plaza their new meeting spot.

The overall theme this morning was not match-making, but retail sales. Sadik-Khan cited research showing that plazas help improve retail sales, adding that DOT expects to release a complete study of those effects this summer.

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Proposal for New Park Near Lincoln Tunnel Endorsed by CB 4

Image: CHEKPEDS

A community-driven proposal to create a new public space on a street near the Lincoln Tunnel was endorsed by Manhattan Community Board 4 Wednesday.

The plan, as reported by DNAinfo in December, is to convert three lane-widths of leftover asphalt on Dyer Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets into a park. That stretch of Dyer currently has three lanes for vehicle traffic exiting the tunnel and one lane for inbound vehicles. The Port Authority, which owns the street, plans to eliminate one of the outbound lanes. A coalition of neighborhood groups, including the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association and CHEKPEDS, envisions a park on the east side of Dyer, encompassing about 7,200 square feet.

DNAinfo reports that last night CB 4 voted unanimously to recommend the plan to the Port Authority.

There is still money to be raised, and the board wants “at least two” public feedback sessions. But organizers are upbeat — and with good reason, especially considering that the idea for the park came about only a few months ago.

“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress so far,” said Jeffrey Peyser, who’s part of the effort to create the park.

“We’ve done outreach for corporate sponsorship to fund the initial aspects of the park and are working on getting matching grant programs.”

Meta Brunzema, an architect who helped create the initial design for the park, said that despite its tiny size, the green space would include new trees, seating areas and other amenities.

“Our group’s intent was really to make this a park for everybody — for seniors, for people with disabilities, for young people, for old people,” she said.

“The goal here is to make a real park.”

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Brooklyn CB 2 Committee Unanimously Supports Permanent Fowler Plaza

Last night Brooklyn Community Board 2′s transportation committee voted 7-0, with one abstention, to support the conversion of Fowler Square Plaza in Fort Greene from a temporary public space to a permanent feature of the neighborhood. The committee vote followed a DOT presentation showing that Fowler Square Plaza has had a minimal impact on traffic and is overwhelmingly popular with businesses, plaza users, and nearby residents.

CB 2's transportation committee wants Fowler Square Plaza in Fort Greene to be made permanent. Photo: Stephen Miller

For its report, DOT surveyed 360 plaza users and 100 residents who live within one block of the plaza. The agency found that 64 percent of plaza users visit the space at least once a week, and 63 percent come from Fort Greene and adjacent neighborhoods. Both users and nearby residents overwhelmingly support the plaza:

  • 83 percent said the plaza has made overall quality of life better. Only 1 percent said it’s worse, while 5 percent say it’s the same, and 11 percent are unsure.
  • 76 percent said the plaza has improved pedestrian safety and 81 percent said it has improved the area’s aesthetics.
  • 97 percent said the plaza is positive addition to neighborhood. This includes 99 percent of people surveyed in the plaza and 92 percent of residents surveyed door-to-door.
  • Of the adjacent businesses, 26 are in favor of a permanent plaza, with only one against (Mullane’s Bar) and two (Gourmet Deli and Fresh Garden) not taking a position.

DOT also studied traffic impacts between October 4 and 22, including days with events at the Barclays Center, as well as SAT and PSAT testing days at Brooklyn Technical High School. The amount of traffic diverted because of the plaza has been minimal. “We’re only talking about adding one to two cars maximum per minute onto South Portland,” explained DOT’s Emily Weidenhof, referring to a parallel street.

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Tonight: Permanent Fort Greene Plaza Up for a Vote at Brooklyn CB 2

It didn't take long for Fowler Square plaza to disprove the prophecy that it would "split the neighborhood apart." Photo: @LincolnRestler

A reminder for readers who live in and around Fort Greene: The Brooklyn Community Board 2 transportation committee is taking up the matter of Fowler Square plaza tonight, and if you head over to 180 Remsen Street to weigh in, you can help this new public space become a permanent neighborhood fixture.

NYC DOT installed the plaza with temporary materials this spring and began evaluating its impact on traffic and street life. The agency will present the results of that study this evening before the committee vote.

If you’ve walked by the temporary plaza at the triangle where Fulton Street and South Elliott Place meet, you’ve probably seen that it’s quickly become a very well-used gathering place. The businesses around the plaza either appreciate it as a neighborhood amenity, or simply don’t mind the change to the street grid. Still, it’s hardly a given that the upgrade to a permanent plaza will sail through the CB 2 committee.

For whatever reason, this plaza project has brought out some especially outlandish NIMBY behavior from a small band of opponents. One early planning workshop was disrupted by a plaza antagonist who argued, “This is a city, not the country.” Anonymous flyers were distributed before the plaza opened, predicting it would “split the neighborhood apart.”

So you can bet the CB 2 committee will be hearing it from them tonight. If you’d like the committee to hear from you, too, the meeting gets started at 6:00 p.m. at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street.

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Monday: Help “Post Plaza” Take Shape Across the Street From Peter Luger

Image: NYC DOT

We’ve got a heads up for an event early next week. There’s a public plaza in the works for the triangle where Bedford Avenue meets Broadway in Brooklyn, right by the Williamsburg Bridge. As you can see, there’s currently a lake of asphalt occupying some space that could be doing a whole lot more for the neighborhood than it is now.

NYC DOT is hosting a workshop to collect ideas for the new plaza. The agency will present existing conditions and collect feedback to help develop a proposal for the site. If there’s enough local support, implementation could come as soon as spring 2013. Here are the details:

6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Williamsburg Art & Historical Center
135 Broadway

I won’t be attending, but I’d like to see the benches arrayed so everyone can peek over at Peter Luger, where history gets made.

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Businesses on Fowler Square Plaza: Go Ahead, Make It Permanent

DOT is scheduled to go before Community Board 2′s transportation committee on December 18 with plans to make the new pedestrian plaza at Fowler Square in Fort Greene a permanent redesign. Before the city went ahead with reclaiming this block of North Elliott Place for the plaza, a small, vocal contingent — mostly upset that they would have to slightly alter their driving routes — predicted that the new public space would be unsafe for walking. Previously, another opponent claimed the plaza would “split the neighborhood apart.” Now that everyone has had the summer and fall to see the plaza in action, we thought we’d check in with some local business owners about what they think of the project.

Getting Fowler Square plaza in Fort Greene ready for business yesterday morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

By and large, nearby business owners either actively welcomed the plaza or had no objection to giving people a place to sit, even if it changed their commutes a little bit.

J.J. Lee, owner of La Bagel Delight, supported the plaza. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s for everybody in this neighborhood.” Lee had heard some people complaining that the plaza removed parking spots. If they think that losing a handful of parking spaces would make or break the neighborhood’s businesses, he said, “they’re out of their mind.”

Ed Tretter owns 67 Burger on Lafayette Street and said he’s heard plenty of arguments for and against the plaza, but he likes what it’s done for the area. “It’s nice and clean and people are enjoying their neighborhood,” he said. He did say he would prioritize other initiatives above the construction of a permanent plaza, and wants something done about speeding. “We call this the Lafayette 500,” he said. “They don’t care if the light’s red or green.”

Jay Rajani owns the Sahil Magazines and More bodega. “I don’t care, actually,” he said. “I lost my parking, that’s it,” he said, adding that it didn’t have an impact on his business.

Sung Lee, manager of Luxury Nail and Spa, said he experienced one big change since the plaza was installed. “Now I have to go around” the block when driving, he said. “I don’t mind.”

Shira Glouberman lives in the neighborhood and was walking on Lafayette Avenue yesterday morning. “It’s a wonderful idea,” she said, noting that the plaza serves a different need than the grassy expanses of nearby Fort Greene Park. “A lot of people use it.”

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Trick or Treat in the Street

All photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

We interrupt our post-Sandy coverage to bring you these pictures from Halloween last night at the 78th Street Play Street in Jackson Heights. The Jackson Heights Green Alliance put on the event, “Trick or Treat in the Street,” and Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson sent over these photos. This is the kind of thing residents can do in the neighborhood after a successful grassroots campaign to permanently repurpose this block, which used to be a through street for motor vehicle traffic, as a public space.