Placemaking on the Upper East Side
Tuesday evening, Project for Public Spaces held a "placemaking" community workshop for Manhattan’s Upper East Side, featuring PPS founder and president Fred Kent. Streetsblog regular BicyclesOnly was there and files this report.
Kent gave a presentation to about 50 citizen and community activists
from the East Side regarding the efforts in New York City and elsewhere
to redesign urban space for the needs of people and communities over
the moving of traffic. The event was organized by State Senator Liz
Kent began with an overview of the
insights of his mentors, Holly White and Jane Jacobs, as to the
challenges and opportunities of creating "great places" in New York
City. Kent then explained what PPS has done in cities around the world
to reclaim public space from motor vehicle traffic. Kent acknowledged
the promising trends under the current DOT, but criticized the slow
pace and timid scope of efforts to date. He advocated for a
dramatic expansion of livable streets measures, such as market rate
curbside parking and conversion of roadway space to non-traffic uses, and
against the privatization of public space, such as the fashion week
event at Bryant Park.
After the presentation, participants
engaged in six different small group discussions. Each group was asked
to come up with a particular spot on the Upper East Side that they
believe could become, with some planning and resources, a "great
One group called for a transformation of
Lexington Avenue and 86th Street, by (among other things) creating a
traffic circle instead of a simple rectilinear intersection; installing
a separated bike path on Lexington Ave and bicycle racks at the
intersection, given the number of commuters who bike to this important
mass transit access point; and additional plantings of trees.
Another group stressed the many
amenities found along Riverside and Hudson River parks — such as the
restaurant at the 79th St. Boat Basin and the cantina at W. 66th
Street — and suggested that the East River Esplanade incorporate similar
concessions and destinations, as well as innovative playgrounds to
attract and anchor people and supplement existing amenities
(monotonous benches and doggie runs). This group also
discussed other interesting ideas, such as utilizing the cul-de-sacs at which many Upper East Side streets terminate at the
East river as public spaces; increasing the number of pedestrianized blocks (such as the
block on 91st Street between Second and Third Avenues); using existing
ferry infrastructure to open up Mill Rock Island for community use; and
curtailing or eliminating cars from Second Avenue.
Kent stressed that making great places requires long term campaigns waged by advocates who are "zealous nuts." While no concrete plans came directly from the workshop, the level of receptivity and support for the ideas presented by Kent and the breakout groups was surprising and inspiring, and may augur big changes for the staid East Side in the future.