Trottenberg Announces Plaza Equity Program at Plaza de Las Americas Reveal

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photo: Brad Aaron
Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photos: Brad Aaron

Just eight months after the groundbreaking ceremony, officials held a ribbon-cutting this morning at Plaza de Las Americas, an impressive new public space in Washington Heights. Also today, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a City Hall initiative to assist plazas in neighborhoods without the resources of a major business improvement district.

Plaza de Las Americas reclaims one block of W. 175th Street, between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, with 16,000 square feet of pedestrian space. Bookended to the north and south by the United Palace theater and a grocery store, respectively, the plaza comes equipped with electric and water service for vendors. Other amenities include a public restroom, decorative pavers, benches, trees, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás.

The block has been the site of a farmers market since 1980, and since 1994 vendors have set up on the street to sell household wares, clothes, and other items. Sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation, the proposal to make those uses permanent received $5 million in city funds when it was chosen in the first round of the plaza program in 2008. The project was designed and built by DOT and the Department of Design and Construction.

“After years of planning, today we come together to celebrate the location our community has valued for decades transformed into an even better venue,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in prepared remarks. “La Plaza de Las Americas will be a focal point for the communities of Northern Manhattan and assuredly a boon to local business and our very active street vendors.”

Other electeds on hand included Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Trottenberg announced the OneNYC Plaza Equity Program, which will allocate $1.4 million from the city budget to provide maintenance and management assistance to 30 “medium and high need” plaza projects, most of them in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Trottenberg said projects are eligible to receive up to $80,000, along with other assistance, such as organizing and fundraising help, for up to three years. Plazas that lack resources for upkeep can quickly fall out of favor with the public.

Another tidbit: Rodriguez said he’d like to see Plaza de Las Americas extended to St. Nicholas Avenue, two blocks east, as a “gateway” to Washington Heights and Inwood.


  • Alexander Vucelic

    does it take less money to maintain a plaza or a motorized street ? I am guessing the motor street costs more to maintain

  • Sweeping by hand is more expensive than sending the mechanical broom through twice a week. Also have to scrape up gum and keep the fountain running.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    versus repaving every 5 years and patching potholes every spring ?

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention the city can and has in the past used welfare recipients and/or prisoners to sweep public areas, essentially getting the labor for free. Well, not really free, but the costs of incarceration or welfare would have to be paid anyway. Getting some productive work out of the recipient comes at little additional cost.

  • Kevin Love

    If you consider that human dignity has zero value.

  • walks bikes drives

    The parks department uses welfare recipients to do maintenance work such as picking up trash, sweeping leaves, etc. This workers are called JTPs, or job training participants. The ones who show an interest are often trained to run mechanical equipment, such as leaf blower, lawn mowers (push), and weed whackers, etc. Most importantly, while it is a 6 month position, it gives a job reference. So, while you might think the job relates to lack of dignity, for those who have no skill set, and no experience or job history, it gives a possibility of later employment. When I worked for the parks department, most of the JTPs I came across just wanted to finish their 6 months and go back to collecting their welfare checks for nothing (their words, not mine), but there were a few who wanted to make something of it. I even managed to hire a half dozen of them into permanent positions myself, and they were greatful for the opportunity. Not to me, because I hired them based on performance, but for the program, which gave them the opportunity to show what they could do. So there are two sides of that coin.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. You’re giving people an opportunity to do more with their lives than just sit back and collect a check. That to me gives them dignity, not takes it away.

  • ahwr

    A city program that allows people a chance to build a work history, one that sometimes leads to jobs internally, is great. Creating opportunities for those who only have to be given that chance to get their lives together is great. Are there so many people who want to participate that there is a waiting list? Enough eager volunteers to clean up the existing parks where maintenance is lagging and still have enough surplus labor to add plazas all over the city? Or will you have to coerce those who don’t volunteer?

  • ahwr

    versus repaving every 5 years

    Average is closer to once every 20 years.

    The city has ~19k lane miles of streets.

    More than 1,200 lane-miles to be repaved this coming year, highest in 25 years

    Average is less than a thousand lane-miles a year.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    avenues with truck traffic ger repaved every 3-5 years

  • This is not a truck route.

    The issue with this particular plaza is that as Mr. Aaron’s article states clearly, it has been used six days a week for a flea market/fruit stand for the last 20 years. Meanwhile, WHIDC has been paying the bill to keep it tidy; the fruit stand at least creates a decent amount of mess.

    The plaza equity program gets WHIDC out of the sweeping-up business, so they can use their operating money for something else.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    thanks for clarification !

  • Jackson Wandres

    The design consultant for the project, working under contract to the City of New York, was The RBA Group, a local urban landscape architecture and engineering company.


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