A Community Workshop to Re-envision Grand Army Plaza

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All across the city neighborhood groups are coming together to re-envision and plan their own communities. In the last few months we’ve seen valuable community-planning processes taking place in Hell’s Kitchen, the Meatpacking District and, to a certain extent, along Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. People aren’t waiting around for real estate developers or city agencies to tell them how their neighborhoods should be. They are going out and doing the thinking and planning themselves.

Add the neighborhoods around Grand Army Plaza to the list of communities taking pro-active steps to create a streets renaissance in New York City. Grand Army Plaza Coalition organizer Rob Witherwax describes the GAPco community workshop event in more detail:

gapco_man_delivers_results.jpgRecently, we’ve witnessed a great example of community planning and traffic engineering from the top down (DOT Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia’s one-way plan for 6th and 7th Avenues) and seen how well it was received by its intended beneficiaries. However, on a much quieter note, we have also participated in a great example of grassroots community planning: the GAPCo Community Workshop, held on Saturday, March 10 at the Brooklyn Public Library.

GAPCo, as you may recall, is the Grand Army Plaza Coalition. It was formed just over a year ago to study Grand Army Plaza and propose ways to improve access to, and through, Grand Army Plaza for all user groups. GAPCo has grown organically to comprise many community stakeholders: private residents, civic and business associations, cultural organizations like Prospect Park and the other Heart of Brooklyn members, activists, and the city government (community boards, elected officials, and bureaucrats alike). Everyone got on the bandwagon early, and participated: in a site walk-through, the formulation of 14 short term fixes, and taking ownership of the Plaza through clean up efforts.

The culmination of GAPCo’s year of organization and study was the March 10 community workshop. Fifty individuals, representing almost as many different stakeholder groups assembled on an overcast Saturday morning to play Project for Public Spaces’ "Place Game." Seven teams dispersed to various sites around GAP to examine and evaluate how (and whether) those sites worked to their full potential. Returning to the library, those teams brainstormed on improvements to their site, and presented their findings to the other teams.

Literally, dozens of great ideas emerged: some were simple, small scale, easily achievable; others dramatic and more far-reaching. PPS and GAPCo are currently refining and categorizing these ideas, and will shortly issue formal findings. These findings will contain suggestions for improving way-finding and access, addressing the lack of public amenities, leveraging opportunities for historical and cultural exposure, restoring a better balance between ‘car space’ and ‘people space’, and instituting regular programming for the space. 

The important point to emphasize is that each of these suggestions was reached in a consensus-building manner by a broadbased coalition of stakeholders. Rather than having a few guys in a room crunch numbers and redraw maps, many people immersed themselves in Grand Army Plaza, and devised solutions based on their own common observations. Together we came up with a set of ideas that no one indivdual ever could have developed. It doesn’t take an expert to see Grand Army Plaza has issues, and it need not take an expert to solve those issues.

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