After months of gathering and compiling input from Jackson Heights community members on what they want to see in a redesigned Diversity Plaza, a design team at the city Department of Transportation presented their ideas at an unveiling at the oft-used public space last Saturday.
Six tents, each containing one large rendering depicting a different aspect of the makeover, including showing modern amenities standard in new plazas, such as circular bike racks and lighting, revealed that there are plans to reconstruct the whole triangle of the plaza, raising it to sidewalk level, plant trees, and create safer crossings on Broadway around the corner.
Shekar Krishnan, chairman of the Friends of Diversity Plaza group, said the plaza highlights the neighborhood’s unity.
“One of our core beliefs since our inception has been that if we in the community come together around this space, if we make it our own neighborhood space, we have a presence down here and we show care and dedication to it, it will be a special public space that we cherish in Jackson Heights,” Krishnan said.
Throughout the two-hour session, residents also reinforced the issues that they see as plaguing the area, such as loiterers after dark, particularly near the E, F, M and R subway entrance, trash and shade.
Tenzing Chadotsang, deputy director at the advocacy group Chhaya, whose members helped get the word out about visioning sessions in the early stages, said he hoped the unveiling was an “engaging community experience.”
While looking at the Broadway side of the redesign, which includes lighting, wayfinders, plantings and tables, a few residents became concerned with the possibility that pigeon droppings falling from the overhead No. 7 train tracks on the tables and chairs possibly planned to be below would render the amenities unusable. Others suggested the strip could be a place for public art.
David Breen, associate project manager of public spaces with the DOT, said the tracks are MTA-owned, but his agency is going to see what’s going on and what it can do.
Residents also brought up the need for a permanent stage, seating or shade structure.
Andrew Ronan, a DOT community coordinator, said permanent structures can also exacerbate already present issues of litter. He also explained to a group of residents that anything permanent becomes the responsibility of the maintenance partners.
One resident said she didn’t want bike racks as she doesn’t want the plaza to be a storage space, but a gathering space. However, she wanted more trash cans.
The DOT presented the plans to Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee on Monday evening; the plan will be revealed to the entire board at its monthly meeting on Thursday, May 21. The design is scheduled to be completed by this winter and construction will tentatively start in the summer of 2016.
Completion will be sometime in 2017.
“Diversity Plaza has become known world-wide,” said City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), said, adding that following the April 24 Nepal earthquake, every report showed people gathering in the plaza, which is the center of many activities spanning several area community groups. “That corner, right over there, 73rd Street and 37th Road, was the corner with the most accidents and the most crashes in all of Jackson Heights, and since the implementation of this plaza there has been no crash at all on that corner,” Dromm said.
He added that he believes what the DOT team working on the project has planned will “improve this area tremendously.”
Other organizations present included the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Jackson Heights Green Alliance, Birchwood Cooperative and the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership.
Agah Saleh, a Community Board 3 member and founder of the group Sukhi New York, which played a role in outreach, was also there. He echoed Dromm in noting that the plaza is an important epicenter.
“This Diversity Plaza has truly become the capital,” Saleh said, adding that $30,000 was raised for victims of the Nepal earthquakes from the plaza.
“I really know from working around the city at 20 other sites like this that the community building that’s happening here around this space [is] inspiring, so keep going,” Laura Hansen, managing director of the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, said.