North Brooklynites are trucking along in their mission to make “Banker’s Anchor,” a triangle of land at N. 15th and Banker streets, into a public plaza.
At just over 5,000 square feet, the spot doesn’t seem like much, but it became a popular gathering place for the neighborhood, especially during the pandemic, as people sought out safe outdoor spaces to sit and socialize. The spit of land is “anchored” by The Lot Radio, an independent radio station and takeout cafe with an outdoor seating area.
Last year, North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, and The Lot Radio joined together to submit an application to the city’s plaza program to demap the small portion of N. 15th St. that runs between Nassau Avenue and Banker Street, add some greenery and furniture, and give the neighborhood more open space.
“We started from scratch with absolutely nothing and then realized that actually, that little road between the radio and the [San Damiano Mission] would be a great place for a city plaza, but we have been always too overwhelmed to take care of it,” said Francois Vaxelaire, founder of The Lot Radio, at a virtual meeting last week. “So we’re really excited and happy to see that the community and the neighborhood is excited and happy to work on this. And we’ve been actually using that street from day one informally for meetings, for the record fair, for block parties, etcetera.”
It’s been about nine months since the application was submitted, said Kevin LaCherra, a member of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid and the driving force behind the project, and the process can be pretty lengthy. With the next deadline for applications coming up, he wanted to gather the community again to refresh their memory and talk about the neighborhood’s vision for the Anchor, which will, hopefully, inform the Department of Transportation’s process as they consider the application.
“We’re going to put together a report, we’re going to put together renderings, to say ‘The community really cares about this space, and wants to see it activated,’” LaCherra said. “It sits at the heart of so many important green spaces in our neighborhood.”
While 97 percent of Community Board 1 residents live within walking distance of an open space, according to city data, the amount of space per capita in the densely populated neighborhood is fairly low, and every little bit counts, LaCherra said.
He pointed to the Putnam Triangle in Clinton Hill as a potential future for Banker’s Anchor. Located between Fulton Street and Grand Avenue at Putnam Avenue, the paved plaza has planters filled with trees and other plants, benches, and moveable tables and chairs. It’s a space that can be used for intentional gatherings or for a passerby looking for somewhere to sit and rest for a while as they go about their day.
Six community partners had to write letters of support as part of the application, he said, including The Lot Radio and another neighbor, Vital Climbing Gym.
In addition to looking for an explanation for why a new public plaza is necessary and would be used, they’re looking for confirmed maintenance partners who would handle upkeep, sanitation, and snow removal, said Katie Denny Horowitz, executive director of the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance.
The Alliance, formerly the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, successfully campaigned to demap part of Union Avenue that used to run through McCarren Park, uniting two halves of the park and adding nearly an acre of usable space for park-goers. A few years later, they launched one of North Brooklyn’s first public plazas at Union Ave Plaza at North 10th, where they’ve partnered with a nearby restaurant, Lilia, on plaza concessions near McCarren Park.
“With public plaza partners, there is a formal agreement, and any sort of formal agreement with the city does take time,” she said.
Getting final approval to demap Union Avenue took years, she said. The project was begun by her predecessor and wrapped up after Horowitz took over as executive director in 2019. Given pandemic delays and a new mayoral administration, she said it’s likely to take a while for the Anchor to get done.
In the meantime, though, she said going through the Open Streets program to make use of the space temporarily is on the table.
“It seems very common sense that communities created these assets and now they want to keep them,” Horowitz said.
Neighbors of the would-be plaza said the spot currently serves as a quiet transition between different parts of the neighborhood, and that the existing uses of the space by the Lot and the church make it a natural gathering spot — until passing cars interrupt the tranquility. The plaza could provide an opportunity for natural, unplanned meetings with friends and neighbors, with places to sit, let kids play, and grab a drink at the Lot.
“People are setting up outdoor seating when it’s warmer, picnicking, there are so many things that are happening in the space as it is, and just closing it in a very informal fashion,” LaCherra said. “There’s a barbecue truck that will park out there, people will come and get barbecue. The Greenpoint Fridge is out there, so folks will be out there socializing with their neighbors. These are all things that we want to formalize.”