The Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort) seeks to educate and cultivate communities that value horticulture and the many benefits it brings to the environment, the city’s neighborhoods, and the quality of life of local residents. Consistent with this vision, The Hort is home to the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP), an initiative to ensure the quality and maintenance of street plazas that were created over the last nine years through the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Plaza Program.
In partnership with community-based organizations, the DOT has built pedestrian plazas across the city–from Times Square to East New York. Once a community coalition successfully applies for a plaza and DOT designs and creates it, the city contracts with the host community-based partner to maintain and program the space. Centrally located, in the midst of busy commercial corridors in areas with limited access to parks, plazas give people a place to sit and relax. Flexible space and moveable furniture create opportunities for formal and informal activity—from daily lunch to health fairs and yoga classes to cultural performances. Dotted with planters, the plazas bring greenery and color to areas previously dominated by asphalt. The plazas are popular across the city—as they typically translate into safer streets, increased economic opportunity, a greater sense of vibrancy, and new civic spaces—and a range of organizations have seen the value of investing time and money in managing them.
Approximately half of the 71 plazas are in neighborhoods where resources are scarce, and where the financial burden of management falls on grassroots groups or small neighborhood or merchant associations. NPP, which now receives funding as a DOT contractor, brings resources to these plaza managers, creates economies of scale by deploying maintenance teams across several sites, and links transitional horticulture and plaza maintenance jobs and a range of others supports to New Yorkers facing employment barriers. NPP also documents the plazas’ impact and helps to plan for and foster their sustainability.