A SALUTE TO UNION SQUARE: Visioning and planning report coming soon

The Union Square Partnership is in the midst of its most robust community engagement effort to date to develop a vision for the future of the Union Square-14th St. district that will enhance its economically vibrant, sustainable and inclusive character for the next few years — and the next decade or more.

With the help of Marvel Architects, an award-winning New York design firm focused on “the intersection of public and private space,” USP conducted its most robust outreach to date since last fall. USP has interacted with close to 1,000 residents, employees, businesses, elected officials, state agencies, Partnership board members and area visitors to create a plan for the community and guide how USP will spend future capital dollars.

Marvel Architects solicited input with “neighborhood pop-ups,” like this one. (Courtesy Union Square Partnership)

USP is gearing up for a big public announcement in July that will detail this initiative’s findings and recommendations. It will be the culmination of a nine-month process, including input and analysis from two public forums, more than a dozen listening pop-ups, residential building visits, commercial office events, and one-on-one conversations with community stakeholders.

“While the area has undergone an extraordinary evolution over the last 20 years, and today serves as a vibrant and welcoming part of New York City for residents, businesses and visitors, we need to look ahead to ensure the district’s continued vibrancy and that we meet the needs of New Yorkers and visitors well into the future,” said Jennifer E. Falk, USP’s executive director. “As Union Square continues to evolve, the Partnership is committed to implementing innovative programs that will further enhance the district and position the neighborhood for continued growth.”

The project’s overall goals are to improve the core of the district and its connections east, west, north and south; create more green spaces and places for respite and interaction along area streets; balance space, mobility and livability in high-traffic areas while reinforcing economic vitality; smooth use of the district’s public spaces over different days, weeks and seasons, and balance vitality across overcrowded and underused public spaces in the district and in Union Square Park.

“Improving one of the city’s most loved and lived public spaces is the greatest design challenge,” said Guido Hartray, a founding partner of Marvel Architects. “We have spent six months understanding the subtle interactions of the square and the neighborhood around it to propose a vision that enhances the qualities that make it the heart of the city.”

Participants offered planning ideas for 14th St. and the Union Square area at a brainstorming session. (Courtesy Union Square Partnership)

Based on the community feedback, Marvel is developing distinct project concepts focused on Union Square West/Broadway “Gateway,” Union Square Triangle Park and the Union Square district’s streetscapes.

Just a few of the ideas that have emerged include more art, trees, pop-up food kiosks and additional seating for Union Square streets. On the square’s east side, Triangle Park, now underutilized, could be re-envisioned with more greenery, additional seating, and some kind of vendor or kiosk.

The community expressed strong interest in a shared pedestrian space from the 17th St. Broadway Plaza down Union Square West and connecting to University Place. Ideas also called for landscaping and seating along the way.

For the core of Union Square Park, the neighborhood’s crown jewel, there was consensus on the importance of movable furniture and a demand for additional seating. There were also suggestions to reconfigure pathways to showcase elements, such as the central flagpole and statues, and to create respite in the center of the park.

The initiative’s data-gathering efforts included 13 “neighborhood pop-ups” set up in Union Square Park and along 14th St. during October and November. “What’s Your Vision for Union Square?” asked the text on tall white boards on which people wrote down a wide range of desires and concerns, such as “more green space” and “pedestrian safety.”

People were asked what amenities they want to see along 14th St., how the neighborhood’s green spaces and the area within Union Square Park can be improved, and for their feedback on accessibility for individuals and families.

Other ideas for new projects and programs that have emerged from Marvel’s work include adding design elements to serve as security bollards to improve pedestrian safety, adding more programming and activities for teens and youth, and creating a permanent park information kiosk. Suggestions from community members to improve existing assets include expanding seating and adding more benches to Union Square Park, upgrading the Union Square Dog Run, particularly the drainage, paving and seating, and adding composting on non-Greenmarket days.

“As a longtime neighbor in Union Square, and founding member of the Union Square Partnership, Con Edison has seen the vibrant growth and changes that have taken place in the community under USP’s leadership,” said Robert Pettenato, a USP board member and director of emergency preparedness at Con Edison. “Our employees are proud to work here, and they appreciate all the accomplishments the Partnership has achieved through its steady vision and planning to make the area so enjoyable.”