Ped Plazas in Low-Income Neighborhoods Get $800,000 Boost From Chase

Elected officials announce an $800,000 donation from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to help maintain plazas in low-income areas. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Public officials announce an $800,000 donation from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to help maintain plazas in low-income areas. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Under cloudy skies this morning at Corona Plaza, elected officials and community members gathered to announce an $800,000 contribution from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to help fund the upkeep of pedestrian plazas in low-income communities. The funds are going to the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP), a program of the Horticultural Society of New York that works with merchant associations and non-profits to maintain plazas in neighborhoods including Corona, Jackson Heights, East New York, and Ridgewood.

The city’s pedestrian plaza program depends on local partners to maintain the spaces. Without someone to tend to the plazas, they could quickly fall into disrepair — and no one wants a neglected plaza in their neighborhood. In less affluent communities, though, it can be tough to muster the resources to keep these public spaces in good condition.

“The model was created, really, for big BIDs in Manhattan, and it’s a very different game in a neighborhood like this,” said NPP’s Laura Hansen. Her group is working with the Association for Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE NY) to create transitional jobs for former convicts, who will clean and maintain the plazas. The funds from Chase allow NPP to offer those services at a discounted rate to local partners that have signed up with DOT to take care of plazas. Hansen said she hopes to have up to 20 of the city’s 59 plazas participating in the maintenance program within two years.

“The idea here is to make sure that every neighborhood has the same opportunity,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner for Planning and Sustainability Andy Wiley-Schwartz. “The program was always designed to be citywide, and to work in every neighborhood.”

Even if they don’t benefit directly from Chase’s donation, said Hansen, smaller plaza caretakers can reap benefits from working together. For example, NPP could help a handful of plazas close to each other pool funds for maintenance or security. It could also serve as a venue for sharing knowledge about programming, fundraising, and sponsorships. “It’s basically the same maintenance issues at every plaza,” Hansen said. “It’s about not reinventing the wheel.”

Students from P.S. 16 at The Uni reading room in Corona Plaza this morning. Photo: The Uni
Students from P.S. 16 at a reading room set up by the Uni Project in Corona Plaza this morning. Photo: The Uni Project

Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan was joined at this morning’s announcement by Council Members Julissa Ferreras and Danny Dromm, State Senator José Peralta, musician David Byrne, and students from P.S. 16.

Ferreras presented the Daily Point of Light Award — issued by a national foundation that promotes volunteerism — to Edgar Gutierrez, manager of the Walgreens store on Corona Plaza. Ferreras called the Walgreens “one of our closest partners, and usually the one that saves us in crisis,” saying that Gutierrez has opened the store’s doors and offered assistance to volunteers cleaning the space and hosting events in the plaza.

Noting that JPMorgan Chase chairman Jamie Dimon grew up in Jackson Heights, Dromm said creating plaza space in all of the city’s neighborhoods is a social justice and economic justice issue. “Our communities deserve to have plazas just as much as the communities where there are large corporate sponsors,” he said. Dromm’s staff is already working with merchants around Diversity Plaza to raise money. “We need to add to the $800,000 for each of the plazas,” he said. “We want people to literally get to buy in to this program.”

NPP is seeking additional corporate and individual sponsors while also looking to elected officials for assistance. Hansen said she hopes council members will dedicate some of their discretionary funds to help support plazas in their districts.

  • Kevin Love

    This is good, but why are car infrastructure projects not required to rely upon private donations?

  • Emmily_Litella

    Crumbs. We can do better than relying on the charity of our abuser. Largest-settlement-ever.

  • Mark Walker

    Call me a pessimist, but every time I see a plaza with features that require constant upkeep, I wonder what will happen to it when times get leaner and the maintenance money disappears. Wouldn’t it be better to design these things with permanent fixtures that would stand the test of time, in good times and bad? Europe is full of beautiful public spaces that seem to require little or no upkeep.

  • überfahr

    You’re a pessimist.

  • überfahr

    Soon.

  • Joe R.

    This is a token gesture from an organization with the same mentality as the one which stopped sponsoring the wonderful model train display at Citicorp Center, which I looked forward to seeing every holiday season, just to save a lousy $240,000 per year ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/12/10/us-citigroup-train-idUSTRE4B93KO20081210 ). If we need to depend on their charity for maintenance of the plazas they’re sponsoring then we’re out of luck. $800,000 is a rounding error to an organization like JPMorgan Chase. If they really want to show their commitment here, they might start with 8 or 9 figure donations. What they just paid out in settlements would have built plenty of ped plazas, bike lanes, plus a few new subway routes.

  • Gentleman

    Pretty much every temporary plaza in NYC is slated for capital upgrades. Willoughby Street in Downtown Brooklyn became a temporary plaza in 2006 and the permanent plaza finished just last year, so over the next 5 years you are going to see permanent spaces opening up left and right.

    Go to nyc.gov/citymap and click on the “Design/Construction” checkbox and you can see when the projected completion date is for any capital project in the pipeline. Some of the newest ones aren’t in there yet, but plenty are.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    If Chase paid taxes at a fair rate, and didn’t make scads of money by breaking laws and flouting regulatory rules, we wouldn’t need their so-called charity, and they wouldn’t have this pr opportunity. To be clear: Chase didn’t make this donation, we did, and at far higher price than is evident.

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