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Manhattan unveils plan to create more open space in Union Square

The Vision Plan for the Union Square-14th Street neighbourhood responds to the city’s current challenges and proposes a series of targeted enhancements.

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 The Vision Plan places the needs of the Union Square-14th Street community at the forefront. Image: Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership
The Vision Plan places the needs of the Union Square-14th Street community at the forefront. Image: Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership

Manhattan’s Union Square Park footprint could increase by one third under a transformational proposal to make the public space more connected and accessible and for parkgoers to “know they have arrived at a place that is special”.

 

The Union Square Partnership and architects Marvel have released a plan to expand the New York City-owned green space. It includes extending pedestrian areas in the park all the way to surrounding buildings, construction of a new gateway and joining a nearby plaza to the park to create a large new open space for walking and gathering.

 

Targeted enhancements

 

According to the partnership, the Vision Plan for the Union Square-14th Street neighbourhood responds to the city’s current challenges and proposes a series of targeted enhancements. If approved, these are intended to create an environment – both in the park and the surrounding neighbourhood – that is open, welcoming, and connected.

 

Each of the major projects outlined in the plan offers improvements in walkability, transit, public space, and general beautification. Together, these projects will increase the open space around Union Square by at least 33 per cent.

“We are proud to unveil a Vision Plan that places the needs of the Union Square-14th Street community at the forefront by promoting openness, equity, safety, and accessibility”

Designed in collaboration with Marvel, the plan is the culmination of a two-year-long out-reach process working with community members, local business leaders, urban designers, landscape architects, transportation experts, and city and state agency partners.

 

“We are proud to unveil a Vision Plan that places the needs of the Union Square-14th Street community at the forefront by promoting openness, equity, safety, and accessibility,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of Union Square Partnership. “The ultimate goal here is for parkgoers to know they have arrived at a place that is special.”

Each of the major projects outlined in the plan offers improvements in walkability. Image: Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership
Each of the major projects outlined in the plan offers improvements in walkability. Image: Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership
Prioritising space for pedestrians and cyclists can have a positive effect for businesses. Image: Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership
Prioritising space for pedestrians and cyclists can have a positive effect for businesses. Image: Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership

She continued: “Initiated as a response to the proposed [Carnarise Tunnel shutdown], this Vision Plan evolved as Covid-19 upended our world, and with it, our relationship with public space. More open space, safer pedestrian and cyclist travel, better transit, and more outdoor seating and greenery – all of these changes are called for in this plan and will benefit our community immeasurably as we chart the district’s next chapter.”

 

The Vision Plan proposes five key projects:

 

1 Transform 14th Street into a world-class boulevard and transitway

The plan envisions 14th Street as a world-class boulevard by building on the initial positive effects of the City’s busway programme. This includes expanded pedestrian areas and designated bus boarding zones, as well as prioritising access and connectivity to create an activated streetscape. New parklets, trees, planters, and other elements will enhance the walking experience. Sidewalks at Union Square will be doubled in width to alleviate congestion at transit entrances and allow for ground-floor retail activation.

 

2 Convert Union Square West into a seamless pedestrian plaza by extending the park all the way to the surrounding buildings

Enlarging the pedestrian area along the full length of Union Square West will create a more unified “town square” feeling and help reduce pedestrian crowding. The plan proposes installing additional seating, encouraging active ground-floor uses, enlarging the subway entrance at 16th Street with an escalator and elevator, and building permanent flexible infrastructure for the Greenmarket.

 

3 Create an expansive new open space at the park’s south-east corner

Currently, Triangle Plaza at 4th Avenue is an under-utilised public space within a large traffic island. The plan proposes opening the southbound side of Union Square East to pedestrians to join the plaza to the park and create a large new open space for walking, gathering, and programming. A new pathway through the triangle will improve sightlines and pedestrian access.

 

4 Build a Broadway Gateway at 17th Street as a permanent extension of the park

In 2011, the NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) implemented a temporary plaza at 17th Street and Broadway, where the roadway widens to meet Union Square Park. The vision for Broadway Gateway Plaza makes this plaza permanent so that it becomes a welcoming ‘gateway’ into the square with a unified paving scheme and park-like elements.

 

5 Develop a new master plan for Union Square Park

Creating a new master plan is vital to meet the needs of today – including neighbourhood dynamics and transportation realities – and prepare for the needs of tomorrow. A master plan will be a multi-year undertaking that will result in critical upgrades to the park’s infrastructure, including amenities (such as bike parking and upgraded public restrooms), utilities and landscape.

“As we’ve seen from the success of the 14th Street Busway, prioritising streetscape and open space for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation, can have a unique and positive effect for nearby businesses, residents, and our city as a whole”

Since its opening in 1839, Union Square Park has undergone several design changes, each of which have incrementally made it a more welcoming and pedestrian-friendly urban public square. This plan seeks to expand the benefits of this great public space into the surrounding community.

 

Streetscape improvements

 

All told, the plan comprises reconstruction of roughly one mile of streets and 3.5 acres of existing park land, construction of a new accessible subway entrance with elevator and escalator, and installation of district-wide streetscape improvements in an area of 20 city blocks.

 

“As we’ve seen from the success of the 14th Street Busway, prioritising streetscape and open space for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation, can have a unique and positive effect for nearby businesses, residents, and our city as a whole,” added councilwoman Carlina Rivera

 

“The Union Square Partnership Vision Plan demonstrates the next step that we can take in collaboration with the community to promote a connected and accessible Union Square Park and district of the future.”

 

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