A New Look for Varick Street? Come to June 14th’s Plaza for A Day

Finn Square

Finn Square, Tribeca, Manhattan. Image Courtesy of Tribeca Trust.

Since sprouting up during the Bloomberg administration, new pedestrian -friendly public plazas have served as urban pit stops, places where time pressed New Yorkers can people-watch, grab a bite and have some down time before heading back to school, work, or a rigorous day of shopping.

But this NYC Department of Transportation Plaza Program is important in other ways. These plazas have lured new businesses, increased sales in existing shops, slowed down traffic and decreased accidents in the surrounding areas.

DOT studies show that Union Square’s expansion of public space has resulted in 26% less crashes and decreased speeding by 16%. Downtown Manhattan’s new Pearl Street public plaza increased business activity by 16% for the fronting businesses. The newly anointed Bogardus Park on Chambers Street eased traffic in what had been a confusing web of intersections. These new public spaces, anchored by patches of green, tables, and flexible seating–function as what urban planner David Engwicht dubbed “mental speed bumps.”

“Data shows that the presence of people and the activities in public plazas encourage drivers to be more careful,” said Transportation Alternatives Director of Planning Jennifer Godzeno, “These public plazas –and the activity within them—are low cost tools to enhance quality of life for local residents and make drivers recognize that they’re in a neighborhood, not on a highway.”

Today the DeBlasio administration’s Vision Zero initiative –a plan to lower speeding and reduce traffic fatalities to zero means that “placemaking” the buzzword used by urban planners to describe the implementation of new public spaces—is here to stay.
Currently, Tribeca’s Finn Square is a candidate for redesign and on June 14, from 10am to 5pm, “Plaza for a Day”, sponsored by Tribeca Trust, and approved by the DOT will show you the possibilities. 16,000 square feet bordered by Leonard and Franklin Streets on the north and south and Varick Street on the east –will be transformed into a public square, with rotating art, street musicians, choice food trucks, free dance and yoga classes for kids (with parents), as well as an operatic performance. Bring your own musical instruments too.

Everyone is invited to attend, and Tribeca Trust hopes to raise awareness for the need for a public plaza at this location, and attract community involvement and donors. You can see plans for the Varick Street redesign and traffic will be rerouted to West Broadway.

“We think Finn Square demands a public plaza,” said Alessandra Galletti, an architect, Tribeca resident and Director of Design for the non-profit Project for Public Spaces. “Cars speed down here as if no one lives here. There is no spot of green within five minutes. The population is highly mixed-with public and private school students, commuters, office workers, tourists, artists, senior citizens and the increasing number of young families. And sometimes, they just want to take a breath and sit outdoors.”

New York Law School, located on the southern edge of Finn Square, is an early supporter of the project. “Students would become part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” said Anthony Crowell, Dean and President of New York Law School, “They’ll be able to study outside and meet people in the community.”

Patricia Wadsley is a freelance writer and a Tribeca resident.

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