Our streets are the City’s biggest open space asset, making up 27 percent of New York City’s land area. For many New Yorkers, their local street is also their backyard: a place for neighbors to gather, children to play, and folks to take a rest or a stroll. DOT sees our streets not just as conduits for people and goods, but as public spaces essential to the life and vibrancy of the City. DOT is continuing its efforts to make our streets more inviting places for pedestrians, transforming them into attractive public spaces for people of all ages. This strategy works hand in hand with Vision Zero. The more attractive our streets and sidewalks are, the more pedestrians will choose to use them. As pedestrians fill our streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks, drivers become more aware of the need to drive slowly and attentively.
Beyond improving our sidewalks and streets, DOT is supporting Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to create signature open spaces across the five boroughs, especially in neighborhoods with few open space resources. DOT continues to partner with local communities to convert under-used streets into public plazas. A well designed plaza provides residents with a place to gather, promotes local businesses, reconnect neighborhoods, and creates a venue for recreational and cultural events. DOT is now providing financial assistance to plaza partners in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods so that all communities can benefit from the program (see the box below). The agency is also exploring ways to activate and beautify areas under elevated highways and train lines (see the box below). These programs are an important part of the City's effort to ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a quality open space.
The Plaza Equity Program
The NYC Plaza Program works with local communities to create new public open spaces by reclaiming underutilized streets. The City plans and creates the pedestrian plaza with input from the neighborhood, while a community partner, such as a civic organization or business improvement district, maintains and programs the space. To date, DOT had developed or is planning 73 plazas across the five boroughs. Unfortunately, not every community has a partner organization that can afford the required upkeep a public plaza demands. This is particularly true in low-income communities, many of which are in need of more public open space.
That is why Mayor de Blasio created the Plaza Equity Program to provide $1.4 million in technical assistance for designated medium- and high-need plazas citywide. The program provides funding to under-resourced communities to support their plazas, providing needed funds for maintenance services, including daily cleaning, trash removal, furniture management, and horticultural care. Partner organizations also receive technical assistance with navigating City permitting processes, maintenance, and event planning. Of the 73 plazas throughout New York City in some phase of design, development or implementation, 30 have been identified to receive support, enabling these diverse communities to have a high quality public space.
The El-Space Program
New York City has over 300 miles of bridges and elevated highways and rail lines. Beneath this elevated transportation infrastructure lie millions of square feet of space—“el-space”—that is a largely unused and often uninviting. These elevated structures can also divide neighborhoods. In response, DOT is establishing the El-Space Program to enhance, activate, and reclaim el-spaces, reconnecting neighborhoods and providing more open space to communities.
Currently, DOT is completing the first phase of a comprehensive asset inventory of el-space sites across the five boroughs. DOT is developing a toolkit of elements to enliven these spaces, including a multi-media seating installation, el-space lighting, green infrastructure, a concession booth, and more attractive fence designs. Simultaneously, the agency is pursuing two pilot projects in partnership with the Design Trust For Public Space, one in Sunset Park beneath the Gowanus Expressway and a second in the Rockaways beneath the elevated A train. Three additional agency-initiated pilots focused on el-space lighting enhancements are underway.