November 2020|Neighborhood Commons: Plazas, Sidewalks and Beyond
Neighborhood Commons: Plazas, Sidewalks, and Beyond Explores New Models of Public Space Stewardship and Programming to Support Small Businesses
New York, NY – November 18, 2020 – The Design Trust for Public Space and the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) announce the launch of a new initiative designed to help New York City activate its public spaces in support of long-term resilience and economic recovery. Supported by a $125,000 grant from SBS, Neighborhood Commons: Plazas, Sidewalks, and Beyond aims to generate new strategies for how communities can leverage public space to support local economies, commercial corridors, and small businesses, a goal that has become especially critical as many recover from the impact of COVID-19. Neighborhood Commons builds on the Design Trust’s mission to serve as an advocate and thought-leader for NYC’s public spaces.
The initiative is being jointly led by the Design Trust and SBS in consultation with an Advisory Board of leaders from the public and private sector groups, including the Association for a Better New York, Bronx Night Market, Center for an Urban Future, Merchants of Third Avenue Bay Ridge, NYC Department of Transportation, NYC Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, Street Vendor Project, and Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, among others. The project will be developed and implemented by four newly appointed Design Trust fellows, professionals in the fields of urban policy, design, engagement, and communications. Applications are being accepted through early December, and appointments will be announced subsequently.
“We’re launching Neighborhood Commons at a critical time for the city’s economic and social health, examining how public space can help small business to thrive, and can be key civic anchors for their communities,” said Design Trust Executive Director Matthew Clarke. “For over 25 years, the Design Trust has elevated the critical role of public space in the livelihood of our neighborhoods. As the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt by local economies, Neighborhood Commons is a timely initiative that will support NYC’s economic recovery and the businesses that anchor its communities.”
Over the course of the initiative, which is expected to run until 2022, the project team will work with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Community Based Organizations (CBOs), the Department of Transportation’s NYC Plaza Program, and neighborhood establishments to improve current models of stewardship of public space, including pedestrian plazas, outdoor dining and sidewalk cafes, streets, and spaces made publicly accessible through citywide programs. The team will produce new research on ways NYC can reshape its approach to the management of public spaces located in the right-of-way, and how different models of local governance can impact outcomes. It will plan and implement a series of programmatic activations in public spaces and develop a toolkit that stewards of public space can use to engage neighborhood businesses in overseeing these shared areas.
“Innovation is key when envisioning how New York City communities manage public spaces for long-term resilience and recovery. The Design Trust for Public Space, a Neighborhood 360 Strategic Impact grantee, leads by example with the launch of the new initiative, Neighborhood Commons,” said Jonnel Doris, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “We are excited for this partnership and look forward to seeing the impact on local communities.”
“During the pandemic, New York City has found creative ways to rethink and reshape how we use public space, allowing us to keep thousands of small businesses afloat and support neighborhoods,” said Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation. “Open Streets, Open Restaurants, and Open Storefronts have together shown just how vital public space is to keeping our city thriving. With special thanks to the Design Trust for Public Space, we now look forward to continuing this innovation approach by being part of the Neighborhood Commons initiative with our partners at the Department of Small Business Services.”
Neighborhood Commons builds on research conducted during a workshop on public plaza stewardship hosted in 2018 by the Design Trust in collaboration with the Neighborhood Plaza Program (NPP) at the Horticultural Society of New York and Uptown Grand Central.
About the Design Trust for Public Space
The Design Trust for Public Space is a nationally recognized incubator that catalyzes change and transforms New York City’s shared civic spaces—streets, plazas, parks, public buildings, transportation, and housing developments—to create a vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable city. Established in 1995 by Andrea Woodner, the nonprofit brings design expertise and systems thinking to the public realm to make a lasting impact. Founded on the tenet that New York City’s cultural and democratic life depends on viable public space, the Design Trust focuses on social justice and equity, environmental sustainability, design excellence, and public engagement. Its innovative model brings together government agencies, community groups, and private-sector experts, utilizing cross-sector partnerships to deliver creative solutions that shape the city’s landscape.
With projects throughout the five boroughs, including critical foundational work for the conversion of the High Line, founding of the Community Design School in Queens, partnering with the Taxi & Limousine Commission in designing the Taxi of Tomorrow, launching Under the Elevated and El-Space to reclaim and transform aging elevated transportation infrastructure and the spaces associated with it, and creating the Design Manual for 21st Century Parks, Design Trust’s work presents a methodology and replicable models for urban issues around public space that inspire other cities.
For more information about the Design Trust for Public Space, visit designtrust.org.
About the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS)
SBS helps unlock economic potential and create economic security for all New Yorkers by connecting New Yorkers to good jobs, creating stronger businesses, and building vibrant neighborhoods across the five boroughs. For more information on all SBS services, go to nyc.gov/sbs, call 311, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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July 2020|AIA New York
“Public space has never been more important than it is today, but it has never been more threatened,” says Matthew Clarke, director of the New York-based non-profit Design Trust for Public Space, pointing out that new challenges with municipal and state budgets will mean there are significant funding gaps to fill if projects are to move forward.
May 2020|Matthew Clarke Appointed Executive Director of the Design Trust for Public Space
AD Pro New York News Editor Tim Latterner’s online roundup including news of Matthew’s appointment. Latterner wrote, “After his previous role as the national director of creative placemaking at the Trust for Public Land, Clarke will be entering his new role with a wealth of experience on urban land use.”
“Distinctive design and public art pique people’s curiosity about their city and elevate their spirit and civic pride.” So believes Susan Chin, the executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, an organization that works with city agencies and the community to advance the role of public spaces. The architect, advocate, and former assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs sees her current role as an opportunity, one that can connect New Yorkers with their city and empower them to stand up for the public spaces they want. “We help local leaders employ creative problem-solving, design, and negotiation skills in order to help them be better advocates for funding, project priorities, and content,” explains Chin. With an office in Lower Manhattan’s 19th-century street grid, the Design Trust is close to the nexus of city government, including City Hall.
May 2019|Untapped Cities
Running through New York City there are approximately 300 miles of linear elevated tracks, from above-ground subways, and bridges to elevated highways. The space beneath this infrastructure is called El-Space, and for much of the city’s history this space has been neglected and under utilized. Over the past few years the Design Trust for Public Space and New York City Department of Transportation have been working on a project to reclaim this space for use by New Yorkers. Last year Untapped Cities partnered with Design Trust to launch the first phase of the project in Brooklyn, and this year guests are invited to check out a new El-Space pilot installation in Long Island City as part of NYCxDesign Week.
January 2019|The Architect's Newspaper
The quest to brighten and enliven the numerous disused public spaces underneath New York’s elevated infrastructure continues. The Design Trust has released the first look at its second pilot space at Dutch Kills Street in Long Island City, which will turn the space below two elevated roadways into a sustainable community gathering space.
January 2019|The Architect's Newspaper
The first El-Space, a repurposing of the area under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park, was such a success that the Design Trust for Public Space and NYC Department of Transportation have followed up with El-Space 2.0. On May 16, a jointly-held event will reveal the project’s next iteration in Long Island City as well as the framework for planning future “El-Spaces.”
December 2018|Women's Wear Daily
“This is really about retaining a unique, creative industry,” said Susan Chin, executive director of Design Trust for Public Space. “We need to acquire a building for garment manufacturing, enlist more owners through the tax incentive program and provide tools to upgrade the industry and train workforce to aid the long-term survival of the heart of New York City’s global fashion capital.”
November 2018|Engineering News-Record
At the benefit, which raised more than $360,000, attendees learned how the trust is revitalizing underused spaces. The nonprofit brings together agencies, community groups and private sector experts, guided by social justice, equity and environmental sustainability, to create parks, plazas and other public spaces. It saved the High Line structure in Manhattan, now an urban park, and last summer its pilot EL-Space project transformed a large, unused section underneath the Gowanus Expressway at 36th St. and 3rd Ave. in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, into a dramatic public space.
October 2018|The Laura Flanders Show
“What difference does the design make for urban agriculture?”
"We’re thinking not only about this network of land but designing systems that connect all of these areas – social capital, workforce development and the environment – that urban agriculture is a benefit to," said Design Trust's executive director Susan Chin, who joined Ysanet Batista and Karen Wahington at The Laura Flanders Show.
October 2018|Architect Magazine
“In this tax-cut world, public-private partnership and cross-sector partnership is really important,” says Susan Chin, FAIA, executive director of Design Trust for Public Space.
July 2018|Staten Island Advance
Members of Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration checked out the installations of "Sonic Gates," a sight-and-sound art walk conceptualized by borough artist Volker Goetze, in partnership with Staten Island Arts and Design Trust for Public Space.
De Blasio reps in attendance Wednesday were Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop and Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. Their visit was part of the week-long visit "City Hall In Your Borough" initiative.
We were gathered to celebrate the opening of the city’s first pilot intervention in the el-space—el is for elevated—which is the name for these overlooked urban veins given by the city’s Design Trust for Public Space, a nonprofit with its eye on the civic realm…What was on display in Brooklyn in May was the first fruit of the Design Trust’s project—soon it will be followed by five other pop-ups in the shadows of New York’s expressways, railroad tracks, and bridges. “We look forward to seeing this all over the city,” Design Trust executive director Susan Chin told the crowd. All over the country too.
June 2018|The New York Times
The Design Trust for Public Space (the nonprofit that helped to create the High Line) and the Department of Transportation are taking on this so-called el-space, which accounts for more than 70 million square feet around the boroughs…They have given a makeover to a walkway underneath the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park.
May 2018|New York Magazine
Design Trust for Public Space is listed in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix (in the Highbrow/Brilliant quadrant!) for the El-Space pilot project that debuts an ensemble of tools for capturing storm water runoff with plantings, and providing better lighting and a safer walkway under the elevated Gowanus Expressway in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation.
May 2018|PIX 11
If you've driven on it or under it, you know the Gowanus Expressway can be a bit of an eyesore…But some of the space under the elevated highway is finally being put to good use. Thanks to a partnership between the Design Trust for Public Space and The Department of Transportation, the El-Space Pilot is unlocking the potential of the underbelly of the BQE.
May 2018|FOX 5
This real estate beneath the Gowanus Expressway might be a place you speed right past and never give a second look. Yet, others see beauty here. Design Trust for Public Space partnered with the Department of Transportation to transform the space at 36th Street and 3rd Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
May 2018|Untapped Cities
With El-Space now in place, the team at The Design Trust for Public Space will be analyzing it for sustainability and pedestrian safety, checking the effectiveness of the low light plantings in cleaning the air and capturing storm water from the highway above, critiquing how the lighting fixtures provide better and artistic illumination for people at the intersection.
May 2018|The Architect's Newspaper
The spaces underneath bridges, expressways, and elevated trains are often more or less voids, disused and often altogether unpleasant. However, The Design Trust for Public Space is trying to change that with “el-spaces” that activate and reimagine these shadowy locales.
Space is forever at a premium in New York City, which can lead to ingenious solutions for creating engaging public spaces in unlikely or inhospitable places…In that spirit, for the past few years, the Design Trust for Public Space has been exploring the possibility of activating one of New York’s largest pieces of underutilized space: the underpasses beneath highways, elevated trains, and bridges, or what it calls “el space.”
The Gowanus Expressway's steal support beams have been bedecked with planters and lights as part of a new city program. The Design Trust for Public Spaces and the Department of Transportation brought their first installation in their pilot program "Under the Elevated/El-Space" to Sunset Park this month.
May 2018|El Sol de Mexico
Recientemente, el Design Trust for Public Space, en Estados Unidos, organizó un taller para recuperar las experiencias de 10 ciudades norteamericanas, entre ellas México…El taller de Brooklyn me dejó un buen sabor de boca, pero también mucho orgullo, porque en algunos casos la instrumentación de los bajopuentes ha sido difícil, pero es un caso exitoso que traspasa fronteras.
May 2018|Staten Island Advance
The ambitious $1.54 million public art series launches the first Friday in June…It's a summer collaboration between New York City's Design Trust for Public Space and Staten Island Arts, supported by the NYC Department of Small Business Services, which invested that million-plus-bucks to jumpstart commerce in Downtown Staten Island through partnerships with local businesses and community organizations.
“Sonic Gates” is a series of ten public art installations that create a “sound sculpture walk” from St. George to Stapleton, Staten Island. Many artists participated in the exhibit, and pieces range from a 17-foot-long wind harp that plays itself to a 90-foot-long mural that pays tribute to the borough’s maritime heritage.
April 2018|Next City
[Luisa] Santos’s role as an equitable public space fellow, in her words: “to make sure that these projects and these decisions that are being made are more equitable.” Changemaking takes time, she’s learned, and one year doesn’t quite allow for all the change to happen. One project Santos worked on is El-Space, an effort in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation to revitalize and make use of spaces underneath elevated infrastructure like highways, subways and bridges.
March 2018|Civil Eats
A public hearing on urban ag policy held last fall left a bitter taste in community organizers’ mouths; advocates said the meeting was largely skewed toward for-profit, primarily white growers, while community growers of color were underrepresented.
Luisa Santos, who testified on behalf of the Design Trust for Public Space at that meeting, called for a citywide task force that would review the proposed plan. A diversity of growers on that task force is key, she said, as is acknowledging resource gaps between community and commercial growers.
January 2018|Urban Omnibus
Mychal Johnson and Monxo López of South Bronx Unite and the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards outlined the benefits of land trusts and why and how they’re implementing the model in their Bronx neighborhood…The group won an award from the Design Trust for Public Space to support Power In Place: Building Community Wealth and Well-Being in Mott Haven-Port Morris, which will use asset mapping and community-driven neighborhood planning to explore the potential of the CLT as a model for public space.
January 2018|Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center Blog
The focus on commercial opportunities in City Council Bill Int. No. 1661 seemed to overlook the long-standing work of community gardeners and soil-based urban farmers in communities across the city...“The industry must focus not only on tech jobs,” said Susan Chin, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, “but also bring attention to more traditional methods of community-based growing that have proven sustainability, resilience, and an array of public health and social benefits for neighborhoods.”
January 2018|Untapped Cities
January 2018|Untapped Cities
January 2018|Broadway World
December 2017|Bronx Times