- In Pictures
- Meat Market
- Union Square
BY JENNIFER FALK | I have walked Union Square Park every week of the last five years and I am amazed at how spectacular it looks, and how dramatically it — and the entire neighborhood — has changed.
The park bristles with activity from end to end with record numbers of people enjoying the thriving Greenmarket, the refurbished north pavilion, the increased number of seating areas with their bright royal-blue umbrellas and sparkling green bistro tables and chairs and the lush new landscaping and blooming trees.
Because we believe a clean park is a clear indication that a neighborhood is thriving, our Clean Team scours the district seven days a week, removing graffiti, painting street furniture, cleaning and maintaining the park’s restrooms and plazas and power-washing high-trafficked areas in and around the park.
Not only is the park more beautiful and safe than ever, it is the epicenter of a thriving, bustling neighborhood that is a go-to destination for community residents, tourists, leading-edge tech companies and diners enjoying restaurants that appeal to every palate and price range.
The park and businesses around it have increased pedestrian traffic to more than 150,000 people daily — and more than 200,000 on Saturdays. Recent M.T.A. statistics show ridership at the Union Square-14th St. station skyrocketed an incredible 40 percent to 34.9 million people between 2000 and 2011. On weekdays, Union Square is the city’s fourth-busiest subway destination; on weekends, it’s the second-busiest.
Over the last year, 19 companies, accounting for roughly 213,000 square feet of office space and 900 jobs, have made Union Square home. Four of the city’s top 10 largest venture capital firms are located in the area and a fifth — FirstMark Capital — is leaving Midtown for Union Square this summer. With nearly 70,000 residents, more than 142,000 employees, and 40,000 students from N.Y.U. and The New School alone, Union Square is one of the most vibrant 24/7, mixed-use neighborhoods in New York City.
It wasn’t always so. When I joined the Union Square Partnership as executive director on Jan. 3, 2007, I quickly realized there was much work to be done to make it a top neighborhood in the city — and we all got right to work, planning, soliciting community input and then rolling up our sleeves to do the job.
Whenever I talk to people about the Union Square district, I always stress the organization’s five great achievements over the years.
The first was the completion of the North End Project, the final phase of our park renovation. A collaboration with the city Parks Department, the project included creation of a 15,000-square-foot playground, hailed as one of the city’s best, finishing the plaza with new utilities for Greenmarket farmers, planting new trees, installing new light poles, renovating the pavilion to accommodate seasonal concessions and opening new public restrooms.
The second great achievement was the neighborhood’s overall resurgence. Union Square is fast becoming home to pioneering tech companies and venture capital firms, including, but by no means limited to, Apple iAd, Net-a-Porter, Mr. Youth, eMusic, Yelp, Freewheel Media, First Round Capital, IA Ventures and Canaan Partners. The neighborhood boasts the city’s lowest retail vacancy rate and is among the lowest in office vacancies. More than 40 new retailers and eateries have opened in and around Union Square over the past year.
Next, we’ve expanded and upgraded activities in the park. This includes cardio, yoga and body sculpting classes and a performance series. We also will launch a 10-week “Dancing in the Square” program in mid-June, featuring everything from Zumba to salsa to hip-hop.
The Parks Department and the Department of Transportation partnered with us to expand seating at the park’s north and west sides, and D.O.T. helped create public plazas with colorful umbrellas and tables and chairs.
Last but not least, we’ve improved our financial picture, which includes raising the Partnership’s budget 40 percent in the last five years and putting the organization on stable footing.
Since we don’t believe in resting on our laurels, we are busy with new plans for the future: working with the pavilion’s concessionaire to build out the kitchen for a new seasonal restaurant that will open in spring 2013, planning new community activities, and launching a capital program to erect better and more user-friendly signage in the park.
Success like this doesn’t just happen. We owe it all to our talented staff, our dynamic board of directors, including our co-chairpersons, Lynne Brown of N.Y.U. and Carole Stein of Con Edison, and former co-chairperson, restaurateur Danny Meyer.
It has been an incredible first five years, and I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish together in the year to come.
Falk is executive director, the Union Square Partnership