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Beautification projects aim to brighten New York City

Parts of the Big Apple have gone through their own "spring cleaning" over the years, turning vacant lots or dull corridors into lively attractions.

From mini retail shopping centers, to community gardens, the projects breathe new life into their neighborhoods, according to experts.

"When they are done well they can unlock a lot of potential," said Jonathan Bowles, the executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. "They can open up blocks or areas that haven't had as much foot traffic or spending as possible."

Rosemary Wakeman, the director of the Urban Studies at Fordham University, said the city and private companies have completed an increasing amount of smaller-scale improvement projects over the years, as they recognize the value in removing eyesores.

Unlike larger developments and rezonings in underserved neighborhoods, the smaller beautifications don't carry the stigma of gentrification while bringing communities new amenities at a clip of a few blocks at a time.

"It allows the older, working class residents a chance to stay in their homes and enjoy the neighborhood," she said.

These are some recently completed projects and others that are in the works.

Brooklyn Strand

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last year a
Photo Credit: WXY Studios

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last year a commitment to strengthening downtown Brooklyn’s development. One of the chief parts of that plan is the Brooklyn Strand.

Three weeks ago, design firms presented an update on plans to create an interconnecting green space between Borough Hall and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The project will create 23,000 square feet of park space near Borough Hall Park, 11,000 square feet near the Korean War Memorial Plaza and 23,000 square feet near the Brooklyn Bridge.

The neighborhood will also receive new street connectors and overpasses and improved bike lanes so that people can get around the space more efficiently, according to Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. No timetable has been set as to when the project will officially break ground.

Reed said his organization is one of 40 groups, including the parks department and Community Board 2, that are working with the city.

He said the new strand would be “one of the borough's great destinations.”

Sutphin underpass

Sutphin Boulevard between Archer Avenue and 94th Avenue
Photo Credit: NYC EDC

Sutphin Boulevard between Archer Avenue and 94th Avenue in Jamaica, Queens, used to be a “dark and foreboding” area, because it’s situated right under the elevated tracks for the LIRR and the AirTrain, according to Simone Price — executive director of theSutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District (BID).

However, the city’s Economic Development Corporation and other groups saw potential in the space and developed a plan to spruce up the 5,500 square feet. In 2012, the city opened a new and improved underpass, sporting new lights, cleaner streets and better potential.

“The area looks a lot better than it did. I think the space provides a more attractive area for LIRR riders, and Air Train riders,” Price said.

Although it has been more than two years, the underpass only has one tenant for its commercial space: Resorts World Casino, which houses a shuttle bus to the gambling hub. Price said she expects shops and other businesses to move to the area soon, once they discover the advantages it has to attracting customers.

“It’s well lit and it allows leverage for new developments coming into the area,” she said. “I think that this is what the community deserves.”

Randall’s Island Connector

The Randall’s Island Connector has been a city
Photo Credit: NYC EDC

The Randall’s Island Connector has been a city project for the past 10 years. According to Deborah Marton, spokeswoman from the New York Restoration Project, a key goal of the connector is connecting Bronx residents with the better air quality and greener spaces offered by the 400 acres of Randall’s Island.

“Randall’s Island is a large landscape and it opens up the possibility for physical activity that [YOU]can’t necessarily get in a community park,” she said.

The connector, which is set to open this summer, will be a quarter-mile pathway, beginning at East 132nd Street and finishing at Randall’s Island. It will run underneath the arches of the elevated Amtrak trestle and will include landscaping, new lighting, and a pedestrian bridge over the Bronx Kill.

Marton also hopes that this development will encourage families to stay active and healthy together. From walking on the spacious pathway to biking to and from Randall’s Island, community members can use this connector as a safe entryway into one of the city’s most open areas.

NYRP, which was founded by Bette Midler, has also come to address the connection between green spaces and community members’ mental and physical health. Marton believes that this connector will improve the lifestyles of south Bronx residents as well as bring New Yorkers from other boroughs to the Bronx and Randall’s Island.

“It’s helping to knit together part of our diversity in a very healthy and productive way,” Marton said. “Now, hopefully, the South Bronx will have the same high quality air space that is available to anyone else.”

Bush Terminal Piers Park

Brooklynites have yearned for significant waterfront access for
Photo Credit: NYC EDC

Brooklynites have yearned for significant waterfront access for years, according to Jeremy Laufer, spokesman from Brooklyn Community Board 7.

After discussions about a potential Brooklyn Army Terminal in the mid-’90s, the original green space — which is in the industrial section of Sunset Park — was eventually reforested and became a community park.

“The idea was to create a public park that would have a positive environmental impact on the area,” Laufer said. “I’m hopeful that folks from the community will enjoy it.”

The park is now open, but Laufer says some proposed resources have yet to be developed, including additional entrances into a children’s playground.

“This park shows an integration of both industrial and recreational opportunities along our waterfront,” Laufer says. “It’s a significant point of public access to our waterfront that we really haven’t had before.”

Bed Stuy Streetscape

The Bed Stuy community always wanted to revamp
Photo Credit: Bed-Stuy Gateway BID

The Bed Stuy community always wanted to revamp its bustling commercial district at Fulton Street between Bedford and Troy avenues, according to Michael Lambert, the executive director of the Bed Stuy BID.

Both longtime and newer residents wanted amenities like bike racks, sidewalks that connected for safer access between streets, and cleaner benches.

“Bed-Stuy has been seen as an underserved neighborhood, so we wanted to bring people to make it more of a place where people can visit and shop,” Lambert said.

The BID teamed up with EDC to create the streetscape, which fully opened in the fall after nine years of work. Lambert said he’s seen more people from all over the city check out the neighborhood for the newly planted trees, bike lanes and other improvements.

The best part, according to Lambert, is that those visitors are shopping at the long-running mom and pops on Fulton that need the business.

In addition, Lambert said more entrepreneurs, especially in the food industry,want to set up shop in the improved district. He predicted that more people will come to the neighborhood now that the spotlight is brighter.

“We will see the attraction of new business because they see this is a corridor that people are going to pass through,” he said.
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