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Future Streets: Little West 12th Street in NYC’s Meatpacking District

Little West 12th Street in the Meatpacking District has been transformed from an underused open street into a bustling, lively hangout thanks to 5,000 square feet of donated sod — Exhibit A in the open-and-shut case for more car-free streets in pedestrian-majority neighborhoods.

It’s a pleasant place to sit or stroll — and it’s good for business. “There’s an organic visual appeal — you see a street like this and you want to walk down it,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, the executive director of the Meatpacking Business Improvement District, which created the one-block vision of utopia as part of the “Future Streets” collaboration of the American Institute of Architecture, the American Society of Landscape Architecture and the American Planning Association.

The block-long stretch between Washington and Greenwich streets has been largely transformed — first by the elimination of car storage (which still typically mars the de Blasio administration’s “open streets” program), then with the installation of tables and a large, grass-covered seating area on the western end of the block. That’s created foot traffic, which creates more business. “We’ve had twice the normal number of customers,” said Courtney McKamey, the manager of the Little West Wine and Spirits on the block, who provided a reminder that businesses that rely on walk-in customers have no need for streets filled with parked cars.

StreetFilms
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Central London’s New Aldgate Square Opens

On assignment in London to cover bicycle superhighways, I once again had the pleasure of a tour with the charming and insightful Iain Simmons, assistant director of city transportation for the City of London. He took me around to several recent projects, including the brand new public space at Aldgate Square, which opened the day before.

London has embarked on an ongoing quest to remake its busiest districts with high-quality public space, taking real estate that used to belong to cars and designing areas where people come first and drivers behave accordingly. The Aldgate project is the latest example, repurposing several lanes of car traffic so people can enjoy themselves outside. What used to be a stressful traffic circle is now a place where people can congregate in central London.

Several areas in New York City are teeming with pedestrians and could use similar treatment -- think of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. The more room we devote to car-free public space, the less people will drive, which is better for everyone.