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UWS 'Sea of Concrete' Getting Closer to Becoming Public Plaza, Group Says

By Emily Frost | November 6, 2014 7:27am
 The Friends of Stryker Park applied to the DOT for a grant to construct the plaza.
Stryker Park
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The long stretch of sidewalk along West 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues is a desolate "sea of concrete" — according to a group of residents trying to transform it into a verdant public plaza.

Friends of Stryker Park, a reference to the Stryker family that used to own the land in the 1800s, have been pushing for the 40,000-square-foot sidewalk space on the north side of West 97th Street to be put to better use, saying it's is unusually large for the neighborhood and the city.

While typical sidewalks stretch 20 feet wide, this one stretches 50 feet, according to members.

"Our rallying cry is less concrete, more green," said Bob Leonard, a member of Friends of Stryker Park, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years.

"We want a nicer space. The space is [currently] pretty bleak and ugly," he said. 

The members' vision for the revamped sidewalk includes adding tables and chairs, potted plants and flowers, and a community garden, according to Jim Henderson, who has been pushing for change along with other members. They have been circulating their plan for a little more than a year, with increasing support from local leaders and residents, they said.

This spring, the group cleaned out the tree pits, painted fire hydrants and lamp posts, and successfully applied for five new metal benches, Henderson said. Benches were installed this spring by the DOT and offer spots to rest on a long block, he said. 

One afternoon last May, during the beautification efforts, the group also set down a set of three bistro tables and nine chairs to give people a sense of what the plaza could look like.  

"As soon as we put them down people were using them. We had to kick people out of the chairs," said Leonard.

Now they're launching a community workshop, expected to take place early next year, to ask the public for feedback about the final design plans.

The group has also submitted an application to the DOT's Plaza Program for funding.

If the idea is selected for the program, the DOT will listen to the community's design ideas and then construct the plaza. Friends of Stryker Park would then have to fundraise in order to pay for the maintenance of the plaza, a requirement of the program.

The DOT confirmed it received the application, with the agency set to announce whether or not it was selected by the end of the year, a spokeswoman said.

The idea was first brought before Community Board 7 a year and a half ago, but came under fire for not having enough public support — something the group has remedied through public events and petitioning, they said. 

More than 350 people have signed a petition in support of Stryker Park that the group circulated in the area in the span of a couple weekends, they said. 

Friends of Stryker Park has also identified a 5,000-square-foot driveway used by the Parks Department for parking vehicles, as well as storing equipment and materials, on the western side of P.S. 163 that could become part of Stryker Park.

They said they believe the space is being used inappropriately by the Parks Department because it's public parkland, not a private storage area for the department.

The Parks Department did not respond to request for comment. 

Jean Dorsey, the president of the tenants association at Stonehenge, one of the buildings that faces the plaza, was enthusiastic about the idea.

"We raised the issue at a tenants' meeting and it was favorably received pending a review of the final plan," she said.

City Councilman Mark Levine has also thrown his support behind the plan. 

"It’s currently 40,000-square-feet of concrete," Levine said, adding that he supports "anything from street furniture to more greenery to permeable surfaces that would prevent flooding...there’s so much we could do."

Levine added that he would consider contributing capital funds from his 2015 budget or helping the group apply to the Parks Department or the DOT for other funding sources.

"The plaza [program] is a great opportunity, but it’s by no means the end of story," he said.