The section of the Lower East Side below Grand Street used to fly under the radar, but that’s starting to change. As more restaurants and bars find their way to stretches of Division, Canal, lower Orchard and East Broadway, neighbors want to make sure the area doesn’t lose its distinctive character. It’s a key reason that residents came together to create SPaCE, a new neighborhood association. Recently we sat down with Emma Culbert, who taking a leading role in building the organization.
As previously mentioned, SPaCE stands for “Seward Park around Canal East.” The rough boundaries are Grand Street, Orchard, Pitt and East Broadway. Culbert and a few other locals have been attending community board meetings for several years when a topic of special interest came up. SPaCE became official in the eyes of Community Board 3 last fall. Why was a new group necessary? “I noticed how much the area north of here (not so affectionately dubbed “Hell Square”) changed in such a short period of time,” she explained. “It went from a nice place to live to a place where you were hearing fights break out at 3, 4, 5 in the morning, where you wake up with vomit on your doorstep and whatnot.” The idea behind SPaCE is to make sure that above-Delancey situation doesn’t repeat itself. “It’s partly preserving what’s great about the neighborhood as well as curating the change in such a way that it becomes both a sustainable and an enjoyable place to live,” Culbert said.
Many times, block associations are literally confined to a single block, but SPaCE settled on more expansive boundaries. “A lot of the issues that affect my block or two actually impacts a much broader area,” she said, in explaining the decision to represent a wider area. There are chapters within SPaCE for individual blocks.
While it’s not the single-minded focus, the group is concerned with liquor license applications, and has begun discussions with would-be operators of nightlife venues. There’s a range of opinions when it comes to bar issues. Some members are strongly opposed to any more venues in the area. Others have a more flexible point of view. The owners of at least two local restaurants are SPaCE members.
“We wanted it to be a collaborative effort between both business and residential,” Culbert said. “We are all living together. We are all intertwined with each others lives. I think the only way for us to co-exist peacefully is to speak openly about what issues come up and try to resolve them before we involve other people outside of our neighborhood… We’re not looking to shut everybody out. We’re not trying to stop businesses from coming in. We just want this to be a pleasant place for everyone to live.”
The organization is concerned with many other neighborhood issues beyond nightlife. Culbert mentioned the sorry state of the East Broadway subway station, resources for Seward Park (including funding to restore the Schiff Fountain) and the proliferation of intercity bus carriers as three topics members are particularly interested in tackling.
Another top priority is recruitment. While the area has a large Chinese speaking population, that community is not currently represented within the group. Culbert said they have approached Gigi Li, the chairperson of Community Board 3, to help get the word out about SPaCE to Chinese residents.
Culbert said SPAcE welcomes all members of the community within its borders. The group holds monthly meetings and has a variety of committees working on specific issues. You can check out their message board here and sign up for regular emails.