Last Saturday I went to the visioning session for the plaza on 37th Road in Jackson Heights. Commonly referred to as Diversity Plaza, this spot has been a place of contention, first the placement of and now the discussion of what to do with it and the waiting game for something, anything, to be done there.
Currently the area exists as two closed off streets, one on 37th Rd between 73rd and 74th Streets, and one on 73rd Street between Broadway and Roosevelt Avenue. These sit as the entranceway to the community, at one of the biggest transit stations in New York City, making it a spot with incredible potential.
The area is frequently used for festivals, and for a place for people to gather. As of today, the spots for anyone to sit has been paltry, as temporary places to sit yield increasingly less places to sit as temporary furniture inevitably breaks and is never replaced. A few planters are there but it increasingly looks just like a closed street with people strolling around. The planters have added some effects, but it’s still a skeleton of what it could and should be (by now).
On Saturday, Oct 18th, there was a visioning session from the Department of Transportation to get some ideas from the community. They gave us maps and we were put in groups to discuss ways to make the area more useable. Lots of members of the community, including many who currently use the plaza and others who stay away from it, came up with many suggestions, which are going to be digested by the DOT. The DOT will then come back with a plan for the plaza and we will then discuss…
As someone connected to people who live in the area, tourists who visit the area, and political and non-political groups in the area I’d like to lay out a few ideas for the plaza – some inspired by my group at the meeting, some inspired by others, and some are things that I have been thinking about for a long time. Here are my suggestions for Diversity Plaza:
– Permanent seating. In prior planning discussions for the plaza, I had gotten major blowback when I suggested permanent seating because of the fear that homeless people will sleep there. It is a terrible waste of space for people to be standing around at all hours of the night as they do now. This area is a 24-hour experience, with many people who live and visit using the area at all times of day and night. I believe we need to serve us all. Rinky dink temporary seating is not cutting it, anyhow. Come to the plaza, and you’ll see that the current chairs are out of place and certainly don’t have enough of an impact.
That and the chairs are generic. They are made in France too. You can find the same chairs in plazas all over the US. Why don’t they hire Build It Green to make us some chairs and tables. We have the talent here.
The area is an amazing people watching experience, and right now it isn’t inviting enough. Permanent seating is needed here.
– Create a Point of Significance on the triangle between 73rd Rd, Roosevelt Ave, and Broadway. This island is currently known for having massive amounts of bird poop on it. The obvious thing to do is make efforts to encourage birds to poop elsewhere, but I don’t think many people thought about actually getting the area populated. The 37th Road section of the plaza is a natural draw because it is right near all the stores and the subway entrance, but this island needs to give the people some more encouragement. I believe it needs something large, inviting, with seating to entice people to come to that space. Maybe an everchanging art wall or maybe a large sculpture where people can be drawn to, that they’ll feel comfortable sitting at.
– Eliminate the bicycle lanes. It is a fallacy to think that bicycles belong in the same category as pedestrians. I don’t think bicycles should be encouraged in the plaza if they don’t get their own lane. Bikes should be considered in the same place as cars. The plaza has people walking all over it, to have bicycles navigating around for the purpose of travel is a dangerous situation. Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt is a great book on the subject.
-Permanent performance space. The area is home to many cultures who appreciate the spectacle of performance. At the many festivals, and even impromptu, there are people performing here all the time. There are the amphitheaters in Roosevelt Island, where a theater would double as seating when not in use.
– Temporary, permanent-style seating. The projected completion date is 2017. We cannot wait 2 years for something to happen. We deserve some major seating for the interim. Something that could be trucked away when construction occurs. We cannot wait 2 more years.
-Extend the plaza eastwards. All of 37th Avenue should be a plaza. Much more seating and play area. The street does not get much use as it is, and the traffic down those roads are slow and don’t alleviate much traffic as it is.
-Public WiFi. duh.
What do you think should go in the plaza?
Photos courtesy Rodrigo Salazar