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03.21.2013
Staying Power
Mathews Nielsen's plan to reshape a Lower Manhattan pedestrian plaza.
Rendering of the proposed changes to Bogardus Plaza.
Courtesy Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects

The unofficial motto of the so-called “tactical urbanism” movement is to use short-term actions to bring about long-term change. Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City has championed the creation of affordable temporary pedestrian plazas carved from street space once given over to cars using little more than planters, benches, and paint. One of these plazas, at the southern edge of Tribeca, is about to make the jump from paint to permanent with a concept design by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects.

Bogardus Plaza, named after the architect and pioneer of cast-iron buildings, James Bogardus, was created in 2010 by closing the southernmost block of Hudson Street where it intersects with Chambers Street and West Broadway. “This section of Hudson Street has always been somewhat of an anomaly,” said Mathews Nielsen principal Signe Nielsen, who lives in Tribeca. Being at the southern end of the neighborhood, Nielsen said Bogardus Plaza isn’t part of what’s generally considered the “Tribeca enclave” of wealthy residents. With a busy subway station inside the plaza, she said the populations who the use public space change throughout the day as students, jurors at the nearby courts, and office-workers are replaced by residents in the evening.

“The logistics make this a good site for a plaza,” Nielsen said. “It’s the ideal space to just spend half an hour of time. That’s what these small public spaces offer. That’s what our city has been missing.”

 
Site plan showing Bogardus Garden wrapping around a seating area (left). Bogardus Plaza in the late 1970s (right).
Courtesy Mathews Nielsen / Courtesy Friends of Bogardus Garden
 

The transformation of Bogardus Plaza has been ongoing since the 1970s when the space was little more than a concrete traffic island. The Friends of Bogardus Garden initiated the transformation by tearing out the concrete in the 1990s and building a tree-filled green space surrounded by a tall iron fence serving as a visual and acoustic buffer to busy West Broadway. In 2010, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) painted the concrete green and filled the plaza with movable tables and chairs, designating the site as a permanent public space the following year. Now the Friends have received a $2 million grant from DOT to help make the space permanent.

“The process of starting with a temporary plaza and eventually making it permanent is really a genius idea,” Nielsen said. “Eventually people get used to it and realize the sky isn’t going to fall in. Its just incredibly smart.” She said making a very simple plaza arrangement permanent allows for designers to add new amenities to the public realm.

Nielsen described her interventions as activating the civic life of Bogardus Plaza. “In a wired age, public space can act as a mobile office or café,” she said. “We’ve designed a gradient of duration that one might spend in the plaza.”

Bogardus Plaza in 2012.
Branden Klayko / AN
 

At the southern edge of the 9,000 square foot space where pedestrian counts are highest, plans call for “short term seating” where visitors can stop by for five or ten minutes as they pass through. Farther inside the plaza, Nielsen has designed sunny and shady seating groups tucked into the garden where visitors might spend more time.

The existing fence around the garden would be removed and the planted area expanded 20 to 30 percent in area to create a C-shaped garden around a seating area. The street bed will be raised to the existing sidewalk level and new permeable granite pavers—a nod to the historic street paving in Tribeca—will be installed. The site’s natural pitch to the northwest will allow for on-site rainwater collection. “We think we can absorb all the stormwater on the site into large tree pits.”

Nielsen said the existing mature tree canopy served as “the bones” of the plaza’s landscape and plans will add a mix of height and color with flowering trees at each end with shrubs and flowers in between.

At the north side, a clock will honor the plaza’s namesake James Bogardus and a new segment of fencing along West Broadway—for buffer and to keep people from walking through the garden—might include an homage to Bogardus’ few remaining buildings in the neighborhood. Space has been reserved at the south end of the plaza for a future  kiosk.

In addition to funding from DOT and $200,000 raised previously, the Friends of Bogardus Garden is in the process of raising an the rest of the funds for the $3 million project. Victoria Wiels, president of the Friends of Bogardus Garden, said the group is accepting donations for an additional $200,000 and has reached out to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office and City Council for the remaining $600,000. She said a six-month final design process could begin this fall, with construction following the next year. Since the plaza is owned by the city, DOT has final say over which design firm is chosen, but Wiel said she is hopeful Mathews Nielsen will be selected.

Branden Klayko