Saturday, January 8, 2011

Huge Astor Place and Cooper Square Transformation Revealed




The big plan to transform the acres of asphalt around Astor Place and Cooper Square in the East Village got sidelined when the economy hit the skids, but now this big pedestrian plaza is back on track. The city's Department of Design and Construction met with locals last night to present the latest reconstruction plans. What's in store from the architecture team at Weisz + Yoes is a dramatic four-part reconfiguration of streets, parks and traffic islands that will give more room to pedestrians and, at the same time, help to manage stormwater that occasionally causes chaos in the subways down below. Naturally the neighbors responded to the plans with, well, let's call them questions and concerns.
At the north end of Astor Place (aka Mud Truck Land), where the Astor Place subway kiosk is crammed between Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue, a larger plaza will be installed. The landscape team at Quennell Rothschild & Partnersproposes raised planters framed in granite steps, with trees rising overhead. Just across Eighth Street, where the Alamo cube spins atop a little slice of concrete, a new plaza will take over the angled block of Astor Place, putting pedestrians where cars used to crawl. And that's only the beginning.
This stretch of Astor Place was an Indian trail when the first batch of Eurotrash came to town, and that history is to be memorialized in colored pavement winding around a contoured plaza, configured to control runoff from heavy rains. A row of trees, planted to follow the curve of the old pathway, will hide the Chase Bank branch that takes up the full base of the glassy and blue Sculpture for Living. Down in the plaza W+Y's zipper benches, good for keeping skateboarders in line, will encircle the trees and give East Villagers a chance to kick back on something other than grungy sidewalks.
Moving south, a new row of trees will frame the street along the brownstone of the Cooper Union's Foundation Building. The tired old Cooper Square "park" will be opened up. A reconfigured four-foot fence will mark the current park outline, but new gates will allow entry at the northeast and southwest. This little triangular park, now the favored hangout of ne'er-do-wells, will be remade with curving benches and raised plantings, all in the hope that locals will find it more welcoming. The sidewalks will be widened and buffeted from the streets by more beds for trees and flowers, lushly planted by Piet Oudolf, master planter and friend of the High Line.
The biggest change will be at the southern end of the new pedestrian-friendly zone, down where the Bowery takes over and asphalt rules. Here the new Village Plazawill go in, a triangular space covering nearly 8,000 square feet with wide expanses of pavers and raised planters edged in granite, perfect for lounging and sipping chai. When the new Grace Church High School at 50 Cooper Square opens next year, no doubt this will be their very own three-sided quad.
Once the work gets started, one neighborhood nemesis—the local rat population—had better think about finding new digs. There's an old underground restroomhidden beneath the southern tip of the Peter Cooper Park, long closed off and covered over. Some fear that this subterranean hideout is where the rats have taken up roost. This will be dug out and filled in, leaving the night scurriers without a place to rest their weary heads. If that's not enough to drive them out, new illumination by Tillett Lighting Design, the team that brightened the Brooklyn Bridge underpass, should do the trick. We've heard it here once before, but now the transformation really is on the horizon.
· Astor Place Latest Traffic Mess to Get Tweaked [Curbed]

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