NEW YORK—Carly Fox used to live in Jackson Heights in Queens. She remembers lines of trucks filling up the park around the Corona Plaza subway station and pigeons turning the area the place into a mess. Last fall, the area was turned into a pedestrian plaza, with flowers, tables, and chairs. Fox thinks it’s “fabulous.”
The plaza was especially upbeat Tuesday. Colombian rhythms of a band called La Cumbiamba drew attention as Commissioner of Department of Transportation (DOT), Janette Sadik-Khan, prepared for a speech.
“It really is hard to believe that just 18 months ago we would be standing in the middle of the street,” Sadik-Khan said.
Corona Plaza is one of 22 plazas the DOT has opened since 2008. The department’s goal is to put all New Yorkers within a 10-minute walk of a “quality open space.” Three more plazas are on the way.
Sadik-Khan came to announce an $800,000 donation from JPMorgan Chase & Co. to the Horticultural Society of New York (HSNY.) The money will be used to create 100 jobs for workers maintaining 20 of the city’s plazas.
To fill the positions, HSNY partnered with Association of Community Employment (ACE), a nonprofit helping the homeless and ex-convicts find jobs. ACE clients will get the job for up to six months while receiving vocational training to find a permanent job.
The plazas’ managers still have to pay for the maintenance service, but the money from JPMorgan will allow HSNY to offer it for lower-than-market prices for two years.
Julio Cirino has been working at Corona Plaza for the past two months, watering the plants and keeping the place clean. In the future, he sees himself with a permanent job in maintenance.
Laura Hansen, executive director of Neighborhood Plaza Partnership under the HSNY, hopes fCity Council will fund the program going forward and plans to request the money next year.
How to Get a Plaza
To set up a plaza, local nonprofits have to apply to the DOT and prove they will be able to maintain the place. “The city will not just give it to anybody,” Hansen said.
A local manager also has to raise community support, but that seemed easy in Corona. According to Hansen, locals went out of their way for the plaza.
Once approved, the city will plan and build the plaza, supply plants, benches, umbrellas, and hand it over to the local partner.
As a surprise, musician David Byrne attended the announcement. From what Byrne learned in other countries, like Columbia, plazas are a “more organic way” to lower crime, help local businesses, and provide a sense of community. He hopes more will pop up.
“It has no downside,” he said.