Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Diversity Plaza, Queens, a pedestrian exclusive block

The other day I mentioned Las Ramblas, a not quite one mile pedestrian "mall" in Barcelona, and I lamented that at the same time cities began redeveloping their spaces and mobility systems for the car that they didn't simultaneously work to create at least one pedestrianized district to maintain the relevance of Downtown retail.

-- "Why doesn't every big city in North America have its own Las Ramblas?"

This is an extension of arguments I've been making for awhile about creating some/more pedestrianized districts in cities:

-- "Town-City branding or "We are all destination managers now"," 2005
-- "Now I know why Boulder's Pearl Street Mall is the exception that proves the rule about the failures of pedestrian malls," 2005
-- "More about making 17th Street between P and R a pedestrian space on weekends," 2019
-- "Making "Downtown Silver Spring" a true open air shopping district by adding department stores," 2018
-- "Alexandria Virginia looks to pedestrianize the foot of King Street abutting the waterfront," 2020

But I think too often we get overly focused on creating long multi-block linear pedestrian malls like those in cities like Charlottesville, Boulder, Burlington, and Santa Monica, and Las Ramblas.

Or we dream about multi-block pedestrian districts in Europeans cities like Liverpool, Essen, and Rotterdam's Lijnbaan ("Walk the Lijnbaan: decline and rebirth on Europe’s first pedestrianised street," Guardian).

Instead, we should start small, with as little as one block, in those locations where the space, because of the proximity of population, independent commercial districts, cultural and other destinations, and transit, can be wildly successful as a pedestrian-exclusive place.

The conversion of Mare Street in Hackney borough in London is a perfect example.  It looks like it's been a pedestrianized street for decades, but it's a pretty recent phenomenon, having happened just a few years ago, more recently than the creation of Diversity Plaza in Queens, New York.



I haven't been to it, but the weekend article in the Times, "Jackson Heights, Global Times Square," about Jackson Heights in Queens mentions how one block of Roosevelt Avenue, at the Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights transit station, was converted to a pedestrian exclusive space now called Diversity Plaza.  Back in 2012!, although permanent physical improvements were completed only a couple years ago.

New York City, being so large and dense, has plenty of spaces that have the preconditions necessary to support pedestrianized spaces.

Liberty Avenue Plaza, Ozone Park/East New York (Photo: Katrina Shakarian)

In fact, they have almost 75 plazas throughout the city, comparable to Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights.

-- NYC DOT Plaza Program
-- press release on Diversity Plaza construction
-- NYC DOT project webpage

But probably most cities have at least a handful of such spaces, even if only to start out by operating on weekends, when there is a greater opportunity for activation.

NYC's program starts with experimentation ("one day plazas") to interim spaces and "final plazas" involving community design processes and construction.

It's tough now in the time of pandemic to think about pedestrianized spaces, because the whole point of such spaces is the ability to congregate ("In Immigrant Communities, Public Plazas Foster Civic Engagement," Gotham Gazette), although outdoor spaces, with proper social distancing and people wearing masks, are safer than most people realize.

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