Like a pebble thrown into a pond, The NYC Dept of Transportation’s (NYC DOT) traffic bump-out, installed in the summer of 2010 at Church Avenue and Beverley Road, is slowly making wider and wider ripples in Kensington. DOT’s plans for this strip, now called the “Kensington Plaza,” which I first proposed in the Kensington Prospect blog, made their formal debut at a public meeting hosted at the end of February by Councilmember Brad Lander.
Objections made by a few long-term Kensington residents notwithstanding, this plaza could leave in its wake a transformed Church Avenue. Instead of disparaging Church Avenue’s lackluster appearance and avoiding it, here’s the chance to make it gleam: to crown it with a public square, clothed in new trees and silver benches, and invite all of Kensington—and the B35 passersby—to sit down and enjoy it. A meeting place, a square to be proud of, and with luck, the start of a Kensington identity that crosses linguistic fault lines.
This small start might well have a ripple effect over time—and perhaps give rise to a local Church Avenue advocacy group eager to corral a greater variety of merchants and fund future improvements to the square.
But a plaza is a makeover in more ways than one: it offers the neighborhood a stage, a public living room, a salon, where people can meet, get acquainted, hang out, watch the sun set, slurp ice cream.
Kensington has few public amenities. In the 11218 zip (excluding the area north of Caton), there are two playgrounds: PS 230’s Albemarle Playground and Dome on Dahill Road off McDonald at Avenue C; the “Greenstreet” at Chester and Church, designed to manage storm run off; and the recently added benches and flagpole to the Col. Donald Cook Memorial on Ft. Hamilton Parkway. Other neighborhoods have a variety of public green spaces from parks, to pools, to playgrounds.
In some parts of Brooklyn, such as Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg, the streets are dotted with small squares, traditional NYC Parks/DOT Greenstreets near subway exits or along the main business streets, with brick paving, benches, trees, sometimes a statue and some plants. They grant a respite as you run your errands. It might not be Paris, France, but stopping there could make your day.
Not here. Here you’d have to walk to Ocean Parkway or Prospect Park’s Parade Grounds for a green break—or to play ball, whether soccer, tennis, bocce, pétanque, or baseball.
One woman at the meeting worried that the homeless would sully this plaza. In my 5 years living here, I’ve only seen one homeless man—now gone. Kensington has a population of approximately 47,000 people, of which 11,000 are 16 and under. Approximately 1/3 of its residents earn $25,000 or less. Only 25 percent are homeowners. The rest rent.
Should Kensington be held hostage to the possibility that one homeless person—or even 10—might appear and dare to sleep on an empty bench at night? Or that day laborers might occasionally sit there? Even if these folks made up 1 percent of Kensington’s population, should our fear of them overrule the pleasure the 99 percent would get hanging out at Kensington’s proposed new public square?
Lots of spadework has been done to ensure this plaza’s success. At the start, the merchants had reservations, too. A working group, led by Councilmember Brad Lander, has met for the past year to address these. It addition to the merchants, spearheaded by Cathy Givia, the Hair Pleasure manager, DOT, Parks Forestry, CB 12 chair Alan Dubrow, me, other community members, and most recently, the 66 Precinct and Sanitation, have honed solutions to potential problems.
Yes, it’s a risk. The plaza might not work out exactly or as good as its proponents imagine. The “gloomsters” as London Mayor Boris Johnson has dubbed his naysayers, might be right. Still let’s just do it.
It’s a project conceived in the community, to benefit the community, and with community support —and a tremendous assist from Councilmember Brad Lander. We hope this baby has a long, healthy life. I personally can hardly wait to gawk: to watch the traffic go by from a silver bench at Kensington Plaza, eavesdropping on adjacent conversations, checking out whose wearing what, and seeing the sun set over the drugstore across the street. See you there!
Jole Carliner is a former NYC government employee, who moved to Kensington 5 years ago from a tiny apartment in Soho.