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Volume 79, Number 8 | July 29 - August 4, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

The Meat Market
A special Villager supplement

Villager photos by Lincoln Anderson

Stacks of slab-style seating structures in the new plaza areas have attracted graffiti, above, while tree planters have become garbage receptacles, below. Everyone agrees that better maintenance of the plaza areas is needed.

Traffic-calming plan will be getting some tweaking

By Gabriel Zucker

In the little more than a year since six plazas were carved out of the street bed in the Meatpacking District, the installations have polarized public opinion in the area. Reactions have ranged from celebration of a more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, exasperation with slower traffic flow, confusion over who is responsible for maintenance and bemusement at the suggestive design of some of the new street furniture. 

Now, in recent months, the Department of Transportation has begun a project to revamp the installations — which were originally intended as a temporary pilot project — in response to community feedback. The landscape architecture firm Balmori Associates is leading the redesign process, which was undertaken in large part after increasing objections from area property owners and businesses. 

“To be honest, we’re trying to change it a lot,” said Annie Washburn, director of the Meatpacking District Initiative, an organization that markets the neighborhood and represents many of the businesses there. M.P.D.I. had been taking responsibility for maintaining the pedestrian spaces, but funding for the project ran out in the fall; since then, according to M.P.D.I., the spaces have become dirty and unruly. 

“There’s graffiti on the blocks and bollards,” Washburn said. “It needs to be changed — and it needs to be funded.” 

One side effect of the new plazas on Ninth Ave. is that grass is now sprouting up, in foreground, between the cobblestones in the areas that have been marked off with bollards and large granite blocks.

In an effort to gauge public opinion and facilitate public discussion about the spaces’ redesign, Balmori held an online forum via Twitter several weeks ago. Entitled “Making Public Places,” the event used the Meatpacking District installations as a case study to discuss what elements contribute to an effective public place. Participants brought up issues like the lack of shade and greenery in the current plaza areas, proposed the addition of bike parking and movable furniture and discussed how the six distinct plazas could be better unified through a single identity. 

Although Balmori has not yet released any elements of its own proposed design, the firm has settled on some important issues to address. 

“One of the things we’re critiquing about the current design is that they have placed elements that really give limits to where cars should go and people should go,” said Monica Hernandez, an architect with the firm. She said Balmori is working to create a less “limiting” and “more fluid space.” 

Community Board 2 Chairperson Jo Hamilton, who advocated for the installations in the first place through the Greater Gansevoort Urban Improvement Project, said she thought the redesign would benefit the whole community.

“Aesthetically, there is a lot of room for improvement,” she said, summarizing the feedback that C.B. 2 received at a January public hearing. She maintained, though, that the plaza spaces had been very popular so far, and had been successful in calming traffic flow, as they were intended to do. 

The community board has not yet been involved in the redesign process, but expects to review any proposals before they are finalized. 

“Our position is that it’s a really great project that seems to be doing really well, and we’re really glad that the property owners are stepping up to deal with it,” said Hamilton. “There are so many opportunities with these spaces, and when they’re well operated and well managed, they’re better for everybody.”

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