Times Square used to be gridlocked with yellow cabs and black S.U.V.s., it had no square — even though, for decades, pedestrians vastly outnumbered motorists passing through the area: 90 percent of the users were being squished into just over 10 percent of the area. This was also the case for cyclists who since the early 90s chose this same very spot in Times Square to raise their bikes over their heads and claim for safer bike infrastructure – bike lanes, bridge access and green infrastructure that most cities around the world already were enjoying.
Eventually, after much persistence, a big portion of Times Square is now an auto-free zone. The pedestrianization of Times Square was the flagship to get many of the city’s parks and plazas in far better shape than they were before, but reclaiming space alone is not sufficient to create the sort of vibrant public plaza we’d all like. That requires real stewardship. Civic culture needs cultivating and curating. Unless we do so, public space can become a public nuisance.
The Times Square Alliance was founded in 1992, it works to promote the creativity, energy, and edge that have made the area an icon of entertainment, culture and urban life. In addition to providing core neighborhood services with its Public Safety Officers and Sanitation Associates, the Alliance promotes local businesses; encourages economic development and public improvements; co-coordinates numerous major events in Times Square (including the annual New Year’s Eve and Solstice in Times Square celebrations); and advocates on behalf of its constituents with respect to a host of public policy, planning and quality-of-life issues. The Alliance is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, accepts tax-deductible contributions, and is governed by a large, voluntary Board of Directors.
The Alliance’s public space programs are aimed at improving the street level experience, reducing pedestrian congestion, encouraging high-quality private-sector design, and exhibiting exciting temporary public art – reinforcing Times Square’s status as the Crossroads of the World.
The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space is located on Avenue C, between East 9th and 10th Avenues. The Museum serves as an archive, documenting the history of activism in the Lower East Side, East Village, and Alphabet City. Through its exhibitions, community workshops, and guided tours of the neighborhood, the Museum preserves the history of grassroots activism and promotes environmentally-sound, community-based urban ecologies. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space celebrates local activists who transformed abandoned buildings and vacant lots into vibrant community spaces and gardens. Many of the neighborhoods’ innovative, environmentally sustainable concepts have spread to other parts of New York City, and the rest of the world.
155 Avenue C, New York, NY 10009
Founded in 1979, the Loisaida Center is the oldest Puerto Rican nonprofit organization in the Lower East Side. Since then, its mission has been to address the “social and economic disenfranchisement of poor, low-income, and working class residents of the Lower East Side.” Every year, the Loisaida Center hosts the Loisaida Festival, which attracts over 18,000 visitors. The Festival celebrates Puerto Rican and Latino culture through music, food, and the arts. It began as an event for the community and has now grown to attract visitors from all over the city. It also serves as a platform to disseminate critical information regarding education, health, or other public interest information to the neighborhood. The Festival is held on Avenue C, or Loisaida Avenue, from East 12th to East 6th Streets. The 2017 Loisaida Festival will be held during Memorial Day weekend, on May 28th.
The building of the former Public School 64 was made into a community center, known as El Bohio/CHARAS, beginning in 1977, led by the community organizations Adopt-a-Building and CHARAS. The grass-roots transformation of the unoccupied building was part of the Lower East Side’s reclaiming and revitalization by community members. El Bohio became a thriving space for arts, culture, fitness, and youth activities. In the words of the website Place Matters, “[El Bohio’s] special significance is in its identity as a public building, dedicated to the revival of community and of cultural survival.”
El Bohio/CHARAS is currently fenced off and not used as a community center; its status is actively contested. It was auctioned off my Mayor Giuliani to a developer 16 years ago, and has been the focus of activism to return it to community use.
Read more about the struggle to return El Bohio / CHARAS to community members at the links below: http://www.sohojournal.com/content/Save-Landmarked-former-PS-64CHARAS-El-Bohio, https://rosiecitycouncil.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/save-our-community-center-sign-the-petition-for-charasel-bohio-join-us-january-6-2015/,
605 East 9th Street, New York, NY
The 9th Street Community Garden Park rests atop the basements of five buildings that fell down, formerly occupying the space. Along with the wave of abandoned buildings, property disinvestment, and the economic downturn that came through the Lower East Side (and New York City more widely) beginning in the 1970s, there was a mobilization in the Lower East Side to take back the buildings and grounds as squats and gardens.
Rainwater is captured through a series of drains and bins. Composting also takes place, producing soil for the garden’s plots. The city has studied and recognized both the composting techniques and the rainwater capture when looking to spread techniques to other parts of the city.
Strategies and tactics
Northeast corner of East 9th Street & Ave C