Proponents of a controversial new plan to turn a Midwood street into a pedestrian plaza pushed back against critics last week, saying those who opposed the change are outdated curmudgeons hell-bent on upholding the status quo.
“It is an old-fashioned notion to leave a street open without space for people and say, ‘Oh, we’re protecting seniors.’ ” said Lori Raphael, a Midwood resident and member of the Midwood Development Corporation’s board. “These plazas are orderly and an amenity and they are a lovely thing to have for everybody.”
The city’s plan, which would close off a portion of Elm Avenue between E. 15th Street and Avenue M to traffic in order to put in chairs and tables for pedestrians, had many residents fuming when they first heard of it.
In an attempt to win over residents’ hearts and minds, the Department of Transportation held a meeting at Community Board 14’s office last week, where they talked up the virtues of the plaza and even brought coloring-book style maps of the intersection for residents to draw on with markers to make suggestions.
Some suggestions were practical — like the addition of greenery, bike racks, and better lighting at the intersection — while others were purely aspirational, like the addition of a TKTS booth and wireless Internet access to the plaza.
Nonetheless, many residents said the exercise was a welcome shift to the way community meetings typically operate.
“A lot of people don’t come to Community Board meetings because they can’t participate — but this activity is a sign of hope,” said Bill Huston, whose suggestions included the TKTS booth. “The plaza is going to be a big stepping stone for the neighborhood.”
Yet other residents were unimpressed, claiming that what they saw as a childish activity failed to win them over.
“I still feel the same way,” said Mike Pessah, a Midwood resident who attended the meeting and argued that the plaza would attract misbehaving teens from Murrow HS nearby. “Seniors don’t need this nonsense. There are other parks nearby.”
Representatives from the city maintained that other neighborhoods with plazas had similar concerns about crime and traffic — but the complaints dissipated when street changes were made.
“We heard similar comments [before we built a plaza] in East New York,” said a representative leading the meeting. “But, in terms of safety, it’s been the opposite effect there.”
Community Board 14 will discuss the plan at a hearing on April 4, before voting on it at the monthly meeting on April 16.