Coming up on Monday evening, local residents will have an opportunity to help shape the future of Seward Park. Back in May, the Lower East Side park won a competition that will result in a $6.4 million infusion from the city for improvements to the historic public space. Recently we sat down in the Seward Park garden to talk with three community leaders who were instrumental in the successful campaign. They’re getting the word out for next week’s public visioning session, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Manny Cantor Center (197 East Broadway).
The Parks Without Borders Program is, in the city’s words, all about, “reimagining the role of parks in communities by redesigning where they meet the streets and sidewalks.” The Seward Park Conservancy, a two-year-old organization, reached out to lots of different neighborhood stakeholders earlier this year to get the conversation started. They enlisted local architect Ron Castellano to dream up some preliminary renderings. There was a big response from the community, which was called on to vote for Seward Park on the Parks Without Borders website.
During our recent conversation, Amy Robinson, Linda Jones and Carol Anastasio told us they hope lots of different people in the neighborhood will weigh in with more specific ideas of what they’d like to see in the redesigned park. “The most important thing is for the community to say what the community wants.,” said Anastasio. “Our concept was just get people thinking.”
In its proposal to the Parks Department, the conservancy identified three areas for improvement. The first was the plaza in front of the Seward Park Library; the second was the promenade bordering the park on Essex Street; the third was Straus Square, the triangle located on the southwest corner of the park.
Robinon, who is the conservancy’s president, said, “The library is so well used and, obviously, what’s in front of it is not pretty and there’s nowhere to sit. My vision is (an area) where kids can sit and read their books, and adults can sit.” Ideally, she said, the fence between the library plaza and garden would be taken down. Jones added, That area has almost a natural amphitheater because there’s a slope in the back… You could have a small-scale performance or a story hour there. ”
On the corner of East Broadway and Rutgers streets, the plan for Straus Square could involve creating a pedestrian plaza with tables, benches and umbrellas, and possibly a small food concession. There will likely be discussion next week about relocating a taxi stand and Citi Bike station bordering the park and creating stronger connections between Straus Square and Seward Park.
People in the community have been talking for years about renovating the broken down Schiff Fountain, which was a gift to the people of the Lower East Side in 1894. it was relocated in the 1930s from Straus Square to the Essex Street promenade. The total cost of restoring the fountain has been estimated at more than $3 million. The conservancy hopes the city will chip in to run plumbing below the fountain (there’s no water service currently). The group would then raise the money for the actual restoration from private sources.
The conservancy is an outgrowth of the Friends of Seward Park, a 10-year-old organization. Speaking of the not-for-profit group, Robinson said, “We were very fortunate that it coalesced just at the moment that this initiative (Parks Without Borders) happened. The idea is to seek support from private individuals, foundations and developers who are now building large-scale mixed-use projects in the neighborhood. If you’d like to join their efforts, click here for more information.
Monday night’s visioning session will be run by the Parks Department. After receiving community input, designers will get to work on schematic drawings, which will then be presented to Community Board 3 in the next year. After securing all of the necessary approvals, the city hopes to begin the improvements in Seward Park in the fall of 2018.