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.”
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.