Photo: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

“Piles of trash, used needles and worse (human feces)…” This is the opening scene from a recent New York Times article about public plazas describing the complicated nature of these public spaces used by growing numbers of people, who experience addiction, mental illnesses and homelessness.

Public plazas, different from parks, operate 24/7 and that flexibility can actually be a great thing for cities. Public plazas could offer a variety of uses and benefits to different users.

Close to half of New York City’s 70 pedestrian plazas, established by the city’s department of transportation (DOT) are in under-served communities, where struggling organizations invest the time, money and sweat equity to privately manage them. The Neighborhood Plaza Program provides horticulture, daily sanitation, and technical assistance services for public plazas in high-need areas, under contract to DOT.

In August we held a workshop to envision better plazas from the perspectives of different user experiences. The Design Trust for Public Space, the Neighborhood Plaza Program at The Horticultural Society of New York, and Uptown Grand Central - NHEMA (the NYC DOT Plaza Partner of the 125th Street Plaza in Harlem) with the support of Loeb Fellows, convened a cross-sector group of 50 stakeholders, including plaza partners, Business Improvement Districts and local businesses, public agencies, developers, and homeless support organizations.

This is an ongoing conversation and we will share more updates on our collaborative efforts to figure out equitable and sustainable ways to support stewardship and operations of public plazas and their use by everyone who needs them. Please let us know your thoughts in the meantime.