Local residents will start to see changes in Straus Square during the next several weeks, as the neglected area at East Broadway, Rutgers Street and Canal Street begins to look more like a full-fledged pedestrian plaza. The changes were outlined last night at a meeting of Community Board 3’s Parks Committee.
As previously reported, the community board has already approved the closure of a one block section of Canal Street alongside Seward Park. Last night’s presentation before the parks panel dealt with design and programming aspects of the plan. Seward Park is about to undergo a $6.4 million renovation as part of the Parks Without Borders Program. The idea behind the Straus Square changes is to make the plaza feel like it’s an extension of the park.
Tim Laughlin, president of the Lower East Side Partnership, walked community board members through the plan. His organization is teaming up with the Parks Department to operate the plaza. Temporary seating will be installed in the next few weeks. Benches will be created using jersey barricades (see the rendering below). A more permanent and elaborate plaza setup will be in-the-works in the spring of 2018 (funding needs to be locked down for that).
Laughlin said the Citi Bike station currently located alongside Straus Square will be temporarily removed (probably at the end of this month). It hasn’t been decided for certain where it will be relocated. One possibility is the wide sidewalk on Rutgers Street adjacent to Wu’s Wonton King, a Chinese restaurant. In response to concern from committee members, Laughlin offered assurances that the heavily used station would not be eliminated. It will likely be out of commission for 2-4 weeks.
Another feature of the plaza, to be implemented next year, will be a bike repair operation from Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York. It will be established in a shipping container set up in the plaza. Recycle-a-Bicycle gave of a storefront on Avenue C this past spring after 17 years on the LES, so the operation will mean a return to the neighborhood for the not-for-profit organization.
The repair station will be a regular presence in Straus Square during warm weather months. In addition to bike repair, classes for children and adults and other free programs will be offered. Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York already provide similar services in seven city parks. Staff members, said Laughlin, will be “eyes on the street,” and be able to assist in breaking down plaza elements like bistro chairs and tables at the end of each day.
In a previous meeting, members of the Seward Park Conservancy raised questions about traffic congestion in the area. City officials conducted a survey that indicated the stretch of Canal slated for closure is used by a lot more pedestrians than cars. In the new configuration, vehicles will continue on East Broadway, rather than having the option of veering off onto Canal. They’ll turn onto Rutgers/Essex Street. In response to the concerns, the Department of Transportation is conducting a traffic study to evaluate the impact of the proposed changes.
Last night, Carol Anastasio, one of the leaders of Seward Park Conservancy, reiterated the concerns about traffic. But she was generally optimistic about the plan. “We believe something good has come from this design even though there’s not much money (to work with right now).” The conservancy does not want to see granite blocks used in the plaza (they’re a prominent feature of some other plazas in the neighborhood).
The parks committee approved a resolution in support of the changes. The area will be resurfaced at the end of this month with installation of the interim seating taking place in July.
You can see the full presentation below.
Straus Square Redesign by The Lo-Down on Scribd
Photos courtesy of 100 Gates Program.
A public art initiative born on the Lower East Side is expanding to two more New York City neighborhoods. The Lower East Side Partnership was recently awarded a grant to take its “100 Gates” program to Staten island and East Harlem.
During the past couple of years, the Partnership transformed the metal roll-down gates of 100 local businesses in this neighborhood. The Department of Small Business Services (SBS) offered financial support for the project, which was the inspiration of LES artist and skateboarder Billy Rohan. Now SBS is providing another $140,000 for 50 gates in downtown Staten Island and another 50 in Harlem.
The other day we stopped by the LES Partnership’s offices to talk with Natalie Raben, 100 Gates’ director, about the expansion.
After the 100th gate was completed at Katz’s Deli last fall, the Partnership was looking for ways to replicate the successful program. Officials with SBS had just launched their new Neighborhood 360 initiative, which is meant to revitalize commercial areas throughout New York in collaboration with local groups. The Lower East Side business improvement organization felt 100 Gates would be a good fit.
The LES Partnership is teamed up with the New Harlem East Merchants Association and Staten Island Arts for the next phase of the program. “Our community partners are really excited to be able to bring this project to their communities,” said Raben. “We’re reaching out to as many arts organizations as we can in each of these neighborhoods,” she added, to find artists with local ties. At least half of the gates will be painted by artists who either live or work in the community.
While the Partnership is coordinating the project, the idea is not to bring the Lower East Side to Staten Island and Harlem. Instead, local stakeholders will mold it to fit their own neighborhoods’ sensibilities. “I think these projects are going to take on the shape and flavor of the new neighborhoods,” said Raben. “I’m excited to encounter and learn about these communities and to allow the project to be a reflection of these communities.”
If you are an artist or small business in East Harlem or downtown Staten Island, click here to become part of the 100 Gates program.
For a sampling of 100 gates on the LES, see below:
Orchard Street visioning workshop; February 2014.
Coming up tomorrow night, the Lower East Side Partnership is hosting a community visioning workshop focused on the future of Ludlow Street. It’s part of a larger community engagement effort the organization has launched ahead of a possible expansion of its 25-year-old business improvement district.
The Partnership already staged a visioning session on Canal Street. The Ludlow Street workshop will be aimed at streetscape improvements such as curb extensions, new trees, benches, parking changes, etc. It’s also aimed at addressing some of the impacts from the neighborhood’s nightlife businesses.
Like a similar visioning workshop revolving around Orchard Street a couple of years ago, people will be able to work with a 3D model of the block. The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the Lower East Side tenement Museum, 103 Orchard St. You can also will out an online “needs assessment” survey and/or work with an online tool that allows you to create a new Ludlow or Canal Street.
To read our previous coverage of this project, click here.
A new public art project is coming to Delancey Street this summer. The Lower East Side Partnership and ArtBridge are teaming up for the installation, which will be located on the south side of the thoroughfare, leading up to the Williamsburg Bridge. There’s an “open call” for submissions through April 3.
You know the spot. It’s where the “Babel Blocks” project has been featured since the summer of 2014. The space, alongside the Essex Crossing construction fencing, stretches from Norfolk Street to Clinton Street. It’s one of the city’s most visible locations; 200,000 cars and trucks use the speedway daily. Here’s more from the ArtBridge website:
We’re looking for illustrators and graphic designers to draft a proposal that hails cycling as a vital component of urban transportation. The installation will be printed on vinyl that will adorn the two 200 ft. fences along the bike path at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge in the Lower East Side. It will be seen by thousands of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, so the artwork should be visually digestible from those various perspectives. Proposals should be related to cycling and reflect pattern, narrative, or variations on a single graphic. However, artists should create only one proposal for one 200 ft fence; it will be duplicated and installed on both stretches of fencing. Chosen artist will receive an honorarium.
And here’s more about ArtBridge:
ArtBridge empowers emerging artists to transform urban spaces. New York City currently has a staggering 192 miles of street-level construction scaffolding. This ubiquitous construction eats away at the fabric of our neighborhoods. ArtBridge transforms this eyesore into a canvas for local, emerging artists. These exhibitions result in incredible exposure for artists, while artfully reinvigorating our urban landscape.
Click here to begin te application process.
DayLife 2014, the LES Partnership’s summer festival on Orchard Street.
The Lower East Side Partnership is taking another look at expanding its boundaries. Tim Laughlin, the organization’s president, tells us a steering committee has been set up to explore the idea. Among the services that could potentially be provided: supplemental security and maintenance to deal with the impacts of the neighborhood’s nightlife scene.
The Partnership (previously known as the LES Business Improvement District) pursued a wide-ranging expansion plan several years ago. The organization eventually concluded it was too ambitious. But now the Partnership is taking some preliminary steps to evaluate a more modest plan. Last month, the board of directors approved the creation of an expansion steering committee. It will be led by Meghan Joye (co-owner of Lucky Jack’s and Donnybrook) and Trever Stahelski, a local property owner.
This is the organization’s current district map.
Currently, the district covers Orchard Street and a few adjacent blocks. It does not include Ludlow Street or the area around the Division Street Triangle (below Canal Street) areas with heavy concentrations of restaurants and bars. A significant portion of the BID’s budget is devoted to sidewalk cleanup and maintenance. The organization also coordinates public events, such as the summer DayLife festivals, on Orchard Street. In recent years, there’s been a greater focus on streetscape improvements (new pedestrian plazas, public art, plantings, etc.)
Laughlin said the steering committee will be reaching out to a variety of stakeholders, including property owners, local businesses and residents. “We want to hear from our neighbors about the potential need for additional services,” he explained. One topic sure to come up is the neighborhood’s nightlife industry. Many residents are, of course, exasperated by the continuing proliferation of bars and restaurants. The late night noise and crowds became a serious quality of life issue years ago.
Photo: LES Partnership Annual Report, 2015.
The Partnership’s maintenance staff, Laughlin said, is out on Orchard Street every Sunday morning, cleaning up after late night revelers. There’s a major contrast, he argued, between Orchard and Ludlow Street, where no cleanup services are provided. Also under discussion is the possibility of adding private security personnel to augment the 7th Precinct’s nightlife detail. “We want to have a better understanding,” said Laughlin, “of whether additional security would be helpful in mitigating some of the quality of life complaints in the neighborhood.”
There have already been some tentative conversations with Lower East Side stakeholders. Among them is Ariel Palitz, a former member of Community Board 3 and owner of Sutra Lounge (the club was closed in 2014). Palitz runs a consulting company called Venue Advisers. While on the community board, she was a controversial figure, loathed by some neighborhood activists for fiercely defending bars and clubs. Laughlin said the Partnership is talking with Palitz because “nightlife operators must be at the table” if the conversations are to be fruitful. “She has a breadth of experience, contacts in the industry and the ability to represent a particular point of view,” he said.
Laughlin emphasized that the possible expansion is not simply aimed at addressing nightlife issues. If the LES partnership decides to move forward with a proposal, it will consult with Community Board 3. Property owners in the expansion area would need to be on board, since they’d be paying a new assessment. The plan would go through the Department of City Planning and would eventually require the support of the City Council.