Straus Square Renovations Detailed; Plans For Recycle-a-Bicycle Outpost Announced

straus square may 2017

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).

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 7.46.43 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 7.46.59 AM

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

Seward Park Renovation Design Revealed (Presentation)

Proposed design: Seward Park Library Plaza.

Proposed design: Seward Park Library Plaza.

This afternoon we’re posting the presentation delivered to Community Board 3 last week for the redesign of Seward Park. The $6.4 million initiative is part of the city’s Parks Without Borders Program, which is meant to better integrate parks within their neighborhoods.

The main focus of this project is a space dubbed, Library Plaza, currently a desolate area in a de-mapped portion of Jefferson Street. Before CB3’s parks committee, designer Chris Crowley said the plaza would become an inviting public space with new pavement, a meadow, a small amphitheater, benches, tables and chairs and game tables.

The Parks Department will also be repairing the pavilion along Essex Street, removing excess fencing and improving accessibility to the park. Overall, the project will eliminate many of Seward Park’s fences and drop the height of the perimeter fence to four feet. An exercise/fitness area will be added next to the basketball courts, which are currently (ever so slowly) being renovated. The crumbling sidewalks around the park will be replaced.

Amy Robinson, head of the Seward Park Conservancy, spoke in favor of the plan. She called the design “gorgeous,” and said it will, “offer this historic park new life.” Robinson noted that the Seward Park Conservancy is ramping up fundraising for the Schiff Fountain on Essex Street (it will be restored in a later phase of construction).  Emma Culbert of the SPaCE Block Association raised safety concerns about the lower fences, saying the “neighborhood can get pretty sketchy as soon as it gets dark.” Crowley said he recently met with cops from the 7th Precinct, who stated that fence height would likely not impact crime in the park. Culbert responded, “I respectfully disagree.”

Crowley said the plan will go to the Public Design Commission in June. Construction is expected to begin after Labor day 2018.

Community Board 3 Panel Signs Off on Closure of Canal Street Alongside Straus Square

starus square may 2017

Straus Square.

City planners and the Lower East Side Partnership won preliminary support last night from Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee to close a section of Canal Street alongside Seward Park. It’s part of a larger plan to create a more inviting and functional public plaza at Straus Square.

Seward Park is about to undergo a major face lift through the city’s Parks Without Borders program. The Straus Square initiative is meant to complement that renovation, making the area feel like it’s part of the park. The idea is to close off Canal Street between Essex Street and East Broadway, extending the plaza to the edge of Seward Park. A bike share station and taxi relief stand would be relocated.

A survey by the Department of Transportation found that this section of Canal Street, adjacent to the F Train stairwell, is used by many more pedestrians than cars. The city plans to direct all traffic along East Broadway, allowing vehicles to turn right onto Essex Street.

straus square presentation 1

Slide from community board presentation. Straus Square is depicted in the bottom left portion of this diagram.

straus square presentation 2

straus square presentation 3

straus square presentation 4

City officials are planning to move the taxi relief stand to an area just beyond Canal Street, where it meets East Broadway. The change would mean losing two metered parking spaces.  The Straus Square project is expected to be completed by this summer. According to the presentation, the area would be maintained by the NYC Parks Department and “program partners,” meaning the LES Partnership. Next month, CB3’s Parks Committee will be asked to weigh in on the design for the public plaza. Last night’s discussion was centered solely on transportation-related issues.

Conversations are already underway with neighborhood groups, including the Seward Park Conservancy. Representing the organization last night, Linda Jones said the conservancy is “pleased to be collaborating” on the project. She also voiced several concerns.

First off, she said, the group wants to make sure that closing off this stretch of Canal Street won’t cause more traffic congestion on East Broadway. Jones noted that there’s already heavy bus (city and private) traffic in the vicinity, and she urged transportation planners to thoroughly study the potential impacts of the street changes. Second, she said there’s concern about moving the taxi relief stand to the east, near the Seward Park Garden, where it would be a more conspicuous presence. The conservancy suggested a more appropriate spot would be on Rutgers Street, below East Broadway. Finally, Jones said the conservancy worries that the plaza will not be properly maintained. The organization wants assurances that staff and funding will be dedicated for this purpose.

In its draft resolution, the transportation committee decided against asking the city to move the taxi relief stand away from the park. It did, however, call on designers to use materials that would discourage skateboarders from taking over the area. One board member, Yaron Altman, noted that the Delancey Street Plaza has been commandeered by skateboarders.

Following the meeting, LES Partnership President Tim Laughlin said his organization is committed to working with community groups on both the design and maintenance plan for the plaza. The Partnership oversees the nearby Division Street Plaza (at Ludlow Street) and the Delancey Street Plaza. Responding to complaints about the condition of these areas, Laughlin said plans are in place to upgrade both plazas. The Division Street triangle was initially renovated as part of a demonstration project, he said, and it will be spruced up along with Straus Square. Improvements on Delancey Street will take place when construction on Essex Crossing site 2 winds down next year. That project will coincide with the city’s installation of protected bike lanes on Delancey. Laughlin said the Partnership is working on securing funding for maintenance of the plazas.

On a related note, the Parks Department is ready to unveil plans for the larger Seward Park project. That will happen at tomorrow night’s meeting of the Parks Committee. The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the BRC Senior Center, 30 Delancey St.

Girl Scouts Advocate For Statue Paying Tribute to Women in Seward Park

As you may know, the city is getting ready for a big improvement project at Seward Park. The historic Lower East Side space was awarded $6.4 million through the Parks Without Borders Program. Lots of people have been weighing in about what they’d like to see as part of the redesign. Among them: several young activists making the case for a statue paying tribute to a woman or women.

At two community meetings held during the past few months, Lower East Side Girl Scouts have spoken up in favor of the idea. There are very few statues dedicated to women in New York City parks. Recently we met with three of the girls – Thea Diongson (Troop 3012), Ella Goodman (Troop 3012) and Sasha Leitner (Troop 3724) – in Seward Park to talk about how the idea came about.

We’re told the next step will be talking with the team at the Seward Park Conservancy about possibly collaborating on the statue project. The scouts want to focus on honoring immigrant girls and women. While there has been some talk of naming the statue for social worker Lillian Wald, who co-founded the park, the current thinking is to have the community vote on a few different options.

We’ll keep you updated on this fledgling campaign!

Let the Resurfacing Begin! Crews Are on the Job at Seward Park’s Basketball Courts

seward park basketabll court

Here was the scene a short time ago in Seward Park. Crews are getting started on the long-awaited resurfacing of the basketball courts.

At a recent community board meeting, Parks Department officials said the project was set to begin on Monday. A couple of days ago, we noted that nothing appeared to be happening. TLD reader Aan LeNoble pointed out to us yesterday afternoon that construction crews had finally arrived. They were back out in the park this morning, putting up a chain-link fence around the courts.

City Council member Margaret Chin allocated $600,000 for the resurfacing three years ago. The project is expected to take about three months.

Parks Department Details Plans For Seward Park, Tompkins Fence Controversy Resurfaces

seward park gate

A $6.4 million improvement project in Seward Park will create an inviting plaza in front of the public library, open up and expand the garden on the south side of the park and make entrances and fencing less foreboding. These were some of the details revealed by city designers during a meeting Feb. 16 of Community Board 3’s Parks Committee.

Seward Park was one of the winners of the Parks Without Borders competition last year, which is focused on, “reimagining the role of parks in communities by redesigning where they meet the streets and sidewalks.” A community visioning session was held last fall and landscape architect Chris Crowley and his team have been working on schematic designs. He expects to unveil them publicly in a couple of months.

The plans were generally well received. One sticking point could be the height of fences. Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver is determined to lower them in parks citywide, while some community members have pushed back against the idea for safety reasons.

Slide from Parks Department presentation.

Slide from Parks Department presentation.

Before launching into his presentation, Crowley said, “This is not the design,” but “just a little bit about what we’re anticipating to do.” The goal, he explained, is to make the park more welcoming, to “make it look great from the outside,” and to create “vibrant community spaces.”

The main focus of the project is what’s being dubbed, “Library Plaza,” a barren asphalt corridor created when a section of Jackson Street was closed off many decades ago. Designers are somewhat limited in what they can do in the area because there’s still a sewer system under the street and no actual construction can take place on the plaza. They’re envisioning new permeable surfaces, tables, chairs and, perhaps, an area for community performances.

The design is expected to include the removal of fences around the garden and an expansion of the greenery behind the neighboring bathhouse. The redesign will make it easier for people to walk from the library into the main park area. A series of chain link fences surrounding the bathhouse will be taken out and there will be better access into the basketball courts on the north side of the park.

seward park: library plaza

seward park: sidewalks

The project will also include replacing the sidewalk bordering the park, on East Broadway and Essex streets. Right now the crumbling surfaces on the two streets are different (hex-box on Essex, regular concrete on East Broadway). The new sidewalks will be made up of a single material and steps will be taken to alleviate drainage problems, especially on the southern border of the park.

The upcoming project will not include the restoration of Schiff Fountain, the broken down relic on Essex Street [the Seward Park Conservancy is in the midst of raising money for that multi-million dollar initiative). But Crowley said he hopes to set aside some money to improve the plaza area around the fountain. Top priorities include: reducing fencing, adding new foliage and repairing bluestones.

seward park: schif mall

Straus Square, located just to the southwest of the park, is another area that was at one point being looked at for improvements. Designers were evaluating whether it could be made more appealing (there’s no place to sit in the square and has always felt disconnected from Seward Park.) At last week’s meeting, it was announced that Straus Square will not become part of the current project. But as a separate initiative, the city’s Department of Transportation may close off Canal Street alongside the park to create an expanded pedestrian plaza. The plan would require the city to move an existing taxi cab rest area.

Most of the discussion at the parks committee meeting concerned the possibility of lowering fences at Seward Park. “We’re contemplating lowering the perimeter fence,” said Crowley. “We’re looking at that situation. We’ll listen to your feedback on that one.”


A couple of public speakers pointed to child safety concerns in the middle of the park. “In the center there,” said one parent, “you have a very large children’s playground that will have no fence around it, so how do you propose to keep our children safe?” Crowley raised the possibility of keeping Seward Park’s southwest gate closed, so that kids can’t run out into the street. “We will work with you to make sure that the kids are safe,” said Crowley.  “The last thing I want to have is a hazard for children. Parents need to keep an eye on their kids but we don’t want a situation where children can run out in the street.”

Amy Robinson, president of the Seward Park Conservancy, noted that the park is currently operated on a “dawn to dusk” schedule. She asked if the hours might be changed if the fences are lowered. Crowley said the department would work with the community to determine hours but that the park would still be locked when it’s closed. Although it would be easier for people to hop the lower fences after hours, Crowley said police would be called on to step up enforcement in the park and to ticket trespassers.

Another conservancy leader, Linda Jones, said, “the fence is an extremely emotional issue in our community. I can envision the fence being lower or not even existing. It would be gorgeous. But I also think people are very fearful. We do have a homeless population. We do have drug users who use the park, and occasionally leave needles.” Jones added, “I’m not taking a position one way or the other, but it’s something we really have to think about.”

The issue of high fences has already become an issue elsewhere in the neighborhood. City Council member Rosie Mendez and the community board have been critical of the city’s decision to lower the fences in Tompkins Square Park. A public meeting will be held this evening on the subject. The Council member has started a petition, urging the Parks Department to reverse course. Earlier this month, the 9th Precinct’s commanding officer said he was opposed to the plan.

During the committee discussion, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said she didn’t understand why the Parks Department seemed open to having a dialogue about fence height at Seward Park when it resisted community input at Tompkins. “In other parks,” said Stetzer, “you’re forcing the community to have lower fences when they don’t want to and it makes no sense to me.” Stetzer said the department was being “inconsistent.”

Mitchell Silver (second from right) at a community meeting on the Lower East Side last fall.

Mitchell Silver (second from right) at a community meeting on the Lower East Side last fall.

Crowley said “Parks Without Borders” is a program, “calling for lowering fences (citywide). This is what we’re thinking the commissioner is going to want (on the Lower East Side).” He added, “we may have to adjust this one (if there’s community opposition). It may come down to a commissioner determination.”  Bill Castro, Parks’ Manhattan borough commissioner, also responded, saying, “You can call it inconsistent if you wish,” but fence height is determined on a case-by-case basis in each park. He also said NYPD leadership has been briefed on the “Parks Without Borders” plans and has offered its support.

Stetzer continued to press the issue, however. “I’m sure you heard us all gasp when you said the commissioner” would be the decider when it comes to fence height. “Are you saying that despite community input… if the community really wants something one way, the commissioner can still overturn it, or he may disregard the community input?”

Castro replied, telling Stetzer, “I am confident we can work it out. I don’t want people to get alarmed about this.”

“We want to work with the community,” the borough commissioner explained. “Community boards are advisory, however we like to work with them. We take their recommendations seriously. But the commissioner has the final say on things, which is appropriate. We have a very good track record working with the community.”

The Parks Department is expected to return to the community board with a schematic design for Seward Park in April.

CM Chin: Nike Courts Should Not Have Been Put on Fast Track While Other Local Projects Wait

Seward Park basketball courts, November 2016.

Seward Park basketball courts, November 2016.

City Council member Margaret Chin wants to know why the renovation of basketball courts at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, paid for by Nike, happened so swiftly while other projects, funded by the Council, have been languishing for years.

Earlier this month, Nike and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver debuted the Stanton Street courts with great fanfare. While community activists were pleased that the renovation took place, they were unhappy about the lack of community input. They weren’t even told the project was happening until and hour or two before a ribbon cutting ceremony.

On Nov. 15, Chin wrote a letter to Silver expressing concern over the lack of communication with her office, Community Board 3 and the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition (a community advocacy group). Chin added, “I am particularly troubled at how quickly the Parks Department approved and completed this corporate-funded project when capital renovation projects funded through the City Council’s discretionary capital budget remain unfinished for years.”

Back in 2014, Chin allocated $600,000 in discretionary funding to resurface the courts at Seward Park. The project had been a priority of CB3. Local residents have been complaining for years about the drainage problems on the courts (even a small amount of rain renders the courts unusable). The community has been waiting ever since for the improvements to be made.

In her letter, Chin noted that Department of Parks officials recently told her that the project was “still in the procurement phase.” She also mentioned that DeSalvio Playground in Little Italy, another project she funded, has been on indefinite hold.

Nike courts on Stanton Street.

Nike courts on Stanton Street.

Referring to the Nike courts, Chin told Silver:

…a corporate-funded public space seem(s) to have taken priority over public projects that received discretionary funding and community support. In the future, I hope to see the same, if not greater, urgency from the Department of Parks and Recreation to complete capital projects and other renovations funded by the City. Furthermore, it is my wish that the Parks Department to be more transparent to local advocates when large-scale changes are being made to any public parks throughout the City.

CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said Parks Department staff mentioned during budget consultations over the summer that they were trying to get Nike to pay for the Stanton Street courts. But there was no public presentation before the community board and no notice that construction was actually happening. The Nike courts include a mural by KAWS (aka Brian Donnelly), a Brooklyn artist. The community board, said Stetzer, is normally asked for input about public art initiatives on city property.

As previously reported, City Council member Rosie Mendez vented at a CB3 meeting earlier this months about a lack of communication from the Parks Department. At the time, she brought up several projects in her district, including the renovation of a playground in Tompkins Square Park. Mendez and the community board have urged the city to reconsider plans to lower the fences around the playground (they’re concerned about safety and about worsening the park’s homeless problem). Since that meeting, Parks Department officials have reaffirmed their decision to lower the fences,  in spite of neighborhood worries.


Fall Cleanup Day in Seward Park

Photo via Seward Park Conservancy's Instagram.

Photo via Seward Park Conservancy’s Instagram.

The Lower East Side is in a pretty dark mood following last week’s national political shocker. So it was nice to see some volunteers giving back to the community in Seward Park on Saturday. Sam Hahn of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch brought the volunteers to the neighborhood as part of the New York Cares Program.  By the way, there’s a chance to become involved in the upcoming improvements at Seward Park. There’s a public meeting at the Manny Cantor Center tonight at 7 p.m. to begin planning renovations through the Parks Without Borders initiative. We wrote more about what’s going to be happening last week.

You Can Help Plan Seward Park Renovations Monday, Nov. 14

Rendering by Ron Castellano.

Rendering by Ron Castellano. Could this be the future of Straus Square?

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.

Carol Anastasio, Linda Jones, Amy Robonson in the Seward Park garden.

Carol Anastasio, Linda Jones, Amy Robonson in the Seward Park garden.

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.

Seward Park Library plaza.

Seward Park Library plaza.

Rendering by Ron Castellano.

Rendering by Ron Castellano.

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. ”

Straus Square, across from Seward Park.

Straus Square, across from Seward Park.

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.

seward park fountain

Rendering by Ron Castellano.

Rendering by Ron Castellano.

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.


Public Input Session For Seward Park Renovations Takes Place Nov. 14

Renderings by: Studio Castellano for Seward Park Conservancy.

Renderings by: Studio Castellano for Seward Park Conservancy.

You’ll want to save the date — Nov. 14 — for a Seward Park public visioning session. This past spring, the Lower East Side park was one of eight winners in the city’s Parks Without Borders competition. The award recipients will be splitting $40 million for renovations to widely used public spaces. The local campaign, spearheaded by the Seward Park Conservancy, was focused on improvements to the area in front of the Seward Park Library, the dilapidated fountain on Essex Street and Straus Square, on the park”s southern boundary. A location is not yet set for the public input event. We’ll let you know when we have more information.

Summer Movies in Seward Park: Wreck-It Ralph


Seward Park movie night is back as part of their outdoor summer series, in partnership with Seward Park Conservancy, The Metrograph Theater and Henry Street Settlement. Starting at dusk, enjoy a screening of Wreck-It Ralph on Tuesday, August 16th. The screening is free AND popcorn is provided. Bring your own picnic and a blanket or chairs.

If you prefer your movies indoors, the Metrograph has a plethora of screenings from Disco and the Movies to Roald Dahl Weekend Matinees. Check out the schedule here for a full list of screenings.

Seward Park a Winner of “Parks Without Borders” Competition

Renderings by: Studio Castellano for Seward Park Conservancy.

Renderings by: Studio Castellano for Seward Park Conservancy.

Seward Park will be receiving an infusion of money for large-scale  renovations. A few minutes from now, city officials will announce that the Lower East Side public space has won a grant through the Parks Without Borders Program.

A local organization, the Seward Park Conservancy, launched a robust campaign for a piece of a $40 million pie that will be divided among eight recipients.  Here’s more from the New York Times:

Those selected were Seward Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; Faber Pool and Park on the north shore of Staten Island; Jackie Robinson Park in northern Manhattan; Van Cortlandt Park and Hugh Grant Circle and Virginia Park in the Bronx; Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens; and Fort Greene and Prospect Parks, both in Brooklyn…

Residents say (Seward Park) is not reaching its full potential. They point to the fountain that has long been out of service, the play equipment with chipped paint and the few points of entry. The park has two gates, plus a third that is unlocked when the public library branch within the park is open. Elsewhere along the perimeter, gates are locked or a high fence stands in the way… Amy Robinson, the president of the Seward Park Conservancy, which was formed almost two years ago, has helped lead the campaign for the park to be considered for Parks Without Borders. She said the objectives of the program aligned with the ambitions of Seward Park’s boosters. Part of that is access: “As times have changed, we’ve been able to get one other gate open,” Ms. Robinson said, “and there could be six gates open.” But she also envisioned a park that was even more connected with its neighbors. “The more care that is given to the park,” Ms. Robinson said, “the more people respect the park — the more people respect the plantings and what’s in the park.” And more than that, she added, “the more people use it.”

We’ll have more details after 3 p.m., when the city officially announces the awards.  Note: the rendering posted above was prepared as part of the conservancy’s campaign; it’s not necessarily a depiction of any proposed design from the Parks Department.

UPDATE 3:32 p.m. The Parks Department says the project at Seward Park will include “opening boundaries and sightlines within and outside the park and improving connections to adjacent spaces.” The competition included online voting. A total of 659 votes were received for Seward Park, second only to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. In his remarks, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver praised local activists for a brochure they prepared as part of their proposal (renderings were created by local architect Ron Castellano).  Here’s a look at what they put together:

UPDATE 5:12 p.m. More details from the Parks Department. While $40 million has been allocated for the eight projects, it is not yet know how much each park will receive. A spokesperson tells us community input and scoping sessions will take place first. Then city planners will determine how much is required in each community.

Excerpts from the Parks Dept. press release:

Parks Without Borders launched in November 2015 with a call for community involvement. NYC Parks asked New Yorkers to nominate the best sites. Utilizing an online survey and 37 conferences with citizens at Community Board Meetings, NYC Parks Computer Resource Centers, and public libraries, Parks received more than 6,000 nominations for 691 parks, or over 30% of our park. Drawing from this community input, NYC Parks chose eight parks based on criteria including community support, park access, and current physical conditions and context…

“Seward Park is a central part of our community that has too often been left behind — its selection as a park without borders is great news,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “This initiative is an exciting step in continued parks access and equity efforts, and I thank Commissioner Silver for including Seward Park. The Seward Park Conservancy, with support from Community Board 3, was instrumental in moving this proposal forward, and I thank them for their continued commitment to our community.” …

“Our neighborhood is honored and excited to have Seward Park chosen for Parks Without Borders. We look forward to working with the parks department on its vision for our park and we stand ready to be helpful in realizing it. Seward Park; created in the 19th century and flourishing in the 21st!” said Amy Robinson, President of the Seward Park Conservancy.

Renderings: One Vision of An Improved Seward Park

Renderings from: Seward Park Conservancy.

Renderings from: Seward Park Conservancy.

Seward Park, home of America’s first municipal playground, has a lot going for it. But could it be improved? Members of the Seward Park Conservancy say, “Yes!” This is why they’re pushing hard for new city funding through a competition called Parks Without Borders.

Last week, officials with the Parks Department came to Community Board 3’s Parks Committee meeting to help local residents envision how the public space could be transformed. The $40 million NYC initiative is meant to enhance the connections between local parks and surrounding communities. Through the elimination of high fences, the renovation of adjacent spaces and other design innovations, “Parks Without Borders” seeks to improve accessibility.

seward park map

seward park/straus square

A new vision for Staus Square.

The Seward Park Conservancy was at the meeting in force, encouraging locals to vote for Seward Park in an online poll. They also passed out a brochure to get people thinking about what might be possible; the renderings included here are just ideas, nothing official. If the Lower East Side is chosen, the Parks Department will return to the community board for a full-scale visioning session. In the brochure, the conservancy suggested:

–Transforming the plaza in from of the public library, greening the space and offering accessibility to the rest of the park.

–Renovating Straus Square on East Broadway, creating a new gateway to the park and removing fencing.

–Revitalizing the promenade along Essex Street, including the broken-down Schiff Fountain.

If you would like to vote for Seward Park, follow this link. You have until Feb. 28. The Parks Department hopes to announce the winning projects in the spring.


There’s Still Time to Vote For Seward Park in “Parks Without Borders” Competition

seward park fountain

Seward Park border along Essex Street. File photo.

As the temperature dips below freezing this week, recreating in Seward Park might not be the first thing on your mind. But it is, in fact, a very  good time to stay focused on improvements in the historic community space. This is because the city will be making some important funding decisions in the weeks ahead that could transform Seward Park.

As we reported last month, the Parks Department has launched “Parks Without Borders,” a $50 million initiative aimed at improving “entrances, edges, and park-adjacent spaces” in eight public green spaces throughout the five boroughs. The funding decisions will be made. in part, based on feedback received from the public. You can weigh in until Feb. 28 via this link.

Last month, Community Board 3 approved a resolution in support of Seward Park. It noted that the park is the only one in Community District 3 eligible based on very specific criteria. The resolution also pointed out that NYC Parks Department officials have already “indicated (that) Seward Park would be an extremely viable candidate for the program.” There will be a presentation on the initiative and a chance for community feedback at CB3’s January Parks Committee meeting. It will be held next week, Thursday the 14th, at the BRC Senior Center, 30 Delancey St., at 6:30 p.m. The Seward Park Conservancy is urging local residents to attend as a show of support for funding on the Lower East Side.

Parks Department officials have said at least one park in each borough would receive funding. The winning locations will be announced in the spring.

For many years, people have criticized the high fencing around Seward Park, which makes access difficult from Essex Street. Park advocates have talked about new landscaping and seating in front of the Seward Park Library, located just to the east of the park. There’s also been talk about improvements at nearby Straus Square on East Broadway and reactivating a building within the park now used to store maintenance equipment.

The Parks Without Borders website is a bit cumbersome. If you would like to nominate Seward Park, check out this “how-to” guide from the Seward Park Conservancy.


You Can Help Ensure Funding For Seward Park Improvements

The broken down Schiff Fountain at Seward Park.

The broken down Schiff Fountain at Seward Park.

In the past several months, the Seward Park Conservancy has been advocating for improvements in and around the popular Lower East Side recreational space. Thanks to a new city program, Parks Without Borders, their efforts could get a big financial boost. But the organization needs your help.

Big plans for the future include the restoration of the broken-down Schiff Fountain (pictured), the repurposing of a building on the east side of the park as a community facility and the transformation of a corridor in front of the Seward Park Library.

Parks Without Borders is a $50 million initiative “to make parks more open, welcoming, and beautiful by focusing on improving entrances, edges, and park-adjacent spaces.” The city is asking members of the public to help choose which parks receive funding. You can go here to nominate Seward Park. But we suggest you first head over to the conservancy’s website for some tips on navigating the system.