Last March. residents got the chance to tell city officials what they’d like to see done with Forsyth Plaza, the triangle at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. Asian Americans For Equality, the neighborhood advocacy organization, had received a grant from the Department of Transportation’s Public Plaza Program — setting the stage for the renovation of the long-neglected space. At a visioning session, community activists shared their ideas for reclaiming the vacant patch above Forsyth and for improving the popular (and sometimes chaotic) street-side produce market.
Ten months later, city planners came back to Chinatown last night with the beginnings of a plan. In a presentation before Community Board 3’s transportation committee, they updated the Department of Transportation’s progress and showed off the rather vague “conceptual drawing” you see above.
Vaidila Kungys, a DOT planner, said the plans had been delayed because Xu Bing, the acclaimed Chinese artist who agreed to create a permanent exhibition in the plaza, was not immediately available. Now that he has the time to work on the project, Kungys said, more rapid progress can be expected. The city expects to revisit CB3 next month or the month after with much more detailed plans. At that point, the board will be ask to approve the proposal, so that it can be forwarded to the Public Design Commission.
Kungys showed committee members the location of a “grand staircase” leading from street level to the plaza. The elevated area will include benches, plantings, a kiosk (for a future food vendor) and an area for bike parking. Xu Bing ‘s idea is to create poetry that will somehow be somehow incorporated into the plaza landscape.
Last year, there was some controversy about changes potentially impacting the Forsyth Produce Market vendors. The 5th Precinct began cracking down on the vendors for parking their trucks alongside the market. The Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project applied with the city to create a green market on Forsyth Street as a way to protect the merchants. CB3 declined to hear the proposal since it had previously backed AAFE’s plaza plan — and the city rejected the green market application.
Last night, Kungys said street level changes were completed late last year. They include the relocation of street lights, the widening of the sidewalk and new regulations prohibiting extended parking on Forsyth Street.
Community board members were generally supportive of the plan, but said they were anxious to see more specific drawings. They asked designers to take steps to discourage skateboarders from using the plaza. They also urged the city to use materials that would keep rats from descending on the new park. Kungys acknowledged the concerns and indicated designers would take both issues into account.
The DOT now hopes to have a final design by the end of this year. Construction would theoretically start in June of 2013, with completion of the plaza expected in the summer of 2014.