The United Neighbors to Revitalize Allen and Pike Coalition (UNRAP) began advocating for the renovation of the Allen and Pike Street Malls as far back as 1998. The malls pass through three neighborhoods: Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and the East Village, and UNRAP includes many of these communities’ most active organizations.
The need for green space in these neighborhoods was clear: Chinatown and the Lower East Side have one of the lowest rates of open space per resident in New York City, and many people – because apartments in the area are small – rely on parks to socialize, exercise, and play. The Allen and Pike Street Malls were a good example of this need for green space and the need for more attractive places to sit.
The Allen and Pike Street Malls were also extremely hazardous, with streets that were wider than normal, resulting in increased speeding and more accidents. Between 1998 and 2007, over 300 pedestrian injuries and five pedestrian deaths took place on these streets.
Using the People Make Parks Took Kit
In 2007, UNRAP approached the Hester Street Collaborative (HSC) to ask for help in producing and sponsoring a visioning session and design charrette, in which organizations, merchants, and residents could imagine a more positive vision for the malls. Together they promoted the Allen and Pike Design Meeting. HSC used People Make Park tools in the visioning process, including Park Stories, Walking Tour, Questionnaires, and Design Darts.
Results from the visioning event were fascinating:
Initially, many residents saw the malls as noisy, unattractive, and too close to traffic to be used for anything other than a quick crossing. Afterwards, they described them as a resource to bring much-needed green space to the community and visitors to the neighborhood’s historical, cultural, social, and artistic attractions.
Specific recommendations included:
- Capturing the neighborhood’s diverse immigrant cultures in any future design.
- Creating a protected bike lane to accommodate people who travel to the neighborhood or pass through on bikes.
- Making the malls a destination to encourage people to stay in the neighborhood and shop at local businesses.
- Bringing programs and activities to the malls to increase community participation and involvement in long-term stewardship.
Initially, the Community Board had reservations about the plans. They were concerned about mall maintenance after renovation, questioned bike lane safety, envisioned potential traffic congestion, and wondered whether people would use the malls as a park, given surrounding conditions.
UNRAP members assured them that the group’s presence, along with involvement by the local Business Improvement District, would help park maintenance, that current bike lanes were more dangerous than protected ones, and that coordination with the Department of Transportation would eliminate traffic concerns.
The Renovation Process
In Fall 2010, Parks, with $5.9 million in funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, $1 million from Borough President Scott Stringer, $850,000 from New York City Councilman Alan Gerson, and $850,000 from New York City’s Department of Transportation, began renovation of six of the 13 malls.
Designers incorporated many of the community’s recommendations, including a buffer between the mall and street, meandering pathways, and seating to encourage people to face one another to eat and talk.
To convince the Community Board that UNRAP’s larger vision was embraced by enough community members, the group brought members and supporters to the Parks Committee meeting, and again when the full board met. With support from Parks’ Borough Commissioner, additional nonprofits, and elected officials, the UNRAP Coalition prevailed, and Parks’ design plans were approved.
During the construction process, UNRAP and People Make Parks worked to create temporary public art installments at the malls. The first installation, “The Avenue of the Immigrants,” celebrated immigrants, artists, activists, and even buildings that have contributed to the rich cultural history and diversity of the neighborhoods adjacent the Allen Street malls. This project highlighted the community-led effort to reclaim the Allen & Pike Street corridors and advocate for preservation of the Lower East Side’s diverse communities. (2006-2008)
The second installment was Mall-terations, created by artists Carolina Cisneros, Marcelo Ertoteguy, Mateo Pintó, and Sara Valente. Through a series of five “compass” benches that rotate around maps and way-finding information of the Lower East Side, the project evokes the history of the Allen Street corridor and elevated railway that was once there.
Today, 6 of the 13 malls have been renovated and are open to the public. UNRAP has since requested that funding for the remaining malls be a top budget priority for local elected officials.
Take the Allen and Pike Street Malls Walking Tour.
Read the Allen and Pike Street Malls Final Report.