By COLlive reporter
Emily Weidenhof, Director of Plaza and Public Spaces at the New York City Department of Transportation, visited Crown Heights on Monday to explore creating a pedestrian plaza in front of 770 Eastern Parkway.
Weidenhof met with a group of Crown Heights community leaders at the bustling intersection in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters to see first-hand the proposed site and learn about the neighborhood.
Beginning in 2010, the city has created over 70 pedestrian plazas throughout the five boroughs. But the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue, a hub for locals and thousands of tourists each year, may be the largest one.
Weidenhof heard from the delegation about the importance of creating the plaza, for both security reasons as well as the enhancement of the neighborhood.
“This corner is really a hub, not just for the Jewish community, but for people who come from all over the world to see and experience Crown Heights,” said Devorah Halberstam, co-founder of the nearby Jewish Children’s Museum and NYPD Community Liaison. “This synagogue is the central location for Chabad all over the world.”
Halberstam also pointed out financial benefits of creating the plaza, citing the huge cost the city incurs each time the NYPD from local and surrounding precincts are brought in to block street traffic and run crowd control, which occurs quite often.
“Millions of dollars would be saved year round in manpower from the NYPD,” she said. “Aside from the fact that it would also be something very beautiful, which the Mayor and New York City would be proud of.”
Rabbi Eli Cohen of Crown Heights Jewish Community Council (CHJCC) explained the need for a large central plaza to accommodate the large crowds of pedestrians that regularly gather there, ranging from community events to group visits, and on Shabbos and Jewish holidays.
Cohen pointed out the numerous Shabbatons and events which occur regularly in the streets surrounding 770 Eastern Parkway, as well as communal gatherings and events, such as weddings, which take place on Eastern Parkway “sometimes 3 or more in one day,” he said.
As reported on COLlive.com, the plan is for the plaza to be installed in front of 770 and 778 buildings on Eastern Parkway. It will be protected by anti-ramming barriers, allowing for greater foot traffic and blocking off access to vehicles to be in close proximity to the buildings.
Weidenhof also spoke to Zaki Tamir, chairman of the Crown Heights elected representatives Vaad Hakohol; Eli Slavin, community liaison for Congress member Yvette Clarke; Mica Soffer, Publisher of COLlive.com and activist Mendel Mintz .
Since the proposed project was announced, Crown Heights residents and visitors expressed excitement and approval for the plans. Local community organizations who have written support letters in support of the plaza include heads of Brooklyn Community Board 9, Beis Din of Crown Heights, Crown Heights Bikur Cholim and schools.
Weidenhof later crossed Kingston Avenue to tour the Jewish Children’s Museum, accompanied by Halberstam, after which the group met to recap the visit.
“We think this site is really compelling,” Weidenhof told the group. “From my visit, I am learning that this is a huge cultural hub. We don’t like to build a plaza and hope people will come, we are always looking for places where there are a lot of people, and we need to give them more and higher quality space, and I see that this is one of those sites.”
The next step is meetings with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the New York City Parks Department, organizers said, in the process which may take months.