Notes from Feb 2023 FOFA Meeting
We had a great turn-out and terrific energy at our recent meeting - 17 people attended (a few on Zoom). We're excited to keep working towards a more liveable, green and safe 4th Ave together.
Please read through the detailed notes carefully - thank you SJ for terrific note-taking and summary work! A main action item was the idea to create working groups on specific topic areas. Those groups are outlined below and at the bottom of the note
Thanks again to Diana and Andrea from GCC for hosting the meeting and technical support - especially map-making!
Best, Grace and SJ
Proposed Topics and Groups:
Small Business: Georgio, Kelly, Pat - Joanna can provide some assistance/advice; Grace can also provide limited support to get started Greening: Sally, Sandye, Judy Janda (?), Andrea for technical assistance/advice Vision/Public Art Project: Johnny, Kim, Ellen, Grace Capital Improvements, ie, completion of DOT Safety Plan and work on 9th/4th St Station: SJ, and we need some others!
February 2, 2023, FOFA meeting notes in person at Gowanus Canal Conservancy offices and on Zoom
Attendees: (in person) Sally, Pat, Ellen, Johnny, Sandye, Kelly, Andrea, Pat, Kim, Joanna, Grace, SJ
(zoom) Anthony, Judy, Sabine, Diana, Georgio
PARTICIPANT CONCERNS/INTERESTS (from round-robin introductions and subsequent discussion)
The meeting was strikingly upbeat, especially considering the time that had passed since we last had an in-person meeting. Several participants indicated a wish to be more actively involved related to improvements on 4th Ave and the exchange of ideas included all participants
Concerns included: bridging the gap between 5th Ave and the canal, better lighting on 4th Ave, more public art on 4th (including medians), lack of a street scape (limited number of small businesses on many stretches and related pending closure of some existing businesses), support for existing small businesses, safety on 4th, specifically traffic/pedestrian safety, flooding on 4th and adjacent streets, more greening (i.e., planting in front of buildings, in medians, in tree beds), and maintenance of existing bioswales as well as other plantings.
A very large version of a map of the area from Pacific to 9th Street (with thanks to Diana) was placed in the middle of the table and served as a focus for comments. The area map was created by the Department of City Planning using their PLUTO data base, and when expanded was a valuable aid in discussions. (Diana offered to create a fact sheet on how to access NYC databases to obtain information about building ownership.)
“PLUTO: Extensive land use and geographic data at the tax lot level in comma–separated values (CSV) file format. The PLUTO files contain more than seventy fields derived from data maintained by city agencies*
MapPLUTO merges PLUTO tax lot data with tax lot features from the Department of Finance’s Digital Tax Map (DTM) and is available as shoreline clipped and water included. It contains extensive land use and geographic data at the tax lot level in ESRI shapefile and File Geodatabase formats.” *
* Source - https://www.nyc.gov/site/planning/data-maps/open-data/dwn-pluto-mappluto.page
The map also included an overlay of existing trees on and adjacent to 4th Ave.
Here is another useful tree map: https://tree-map.nycgovparks.org/
This site also provides information about the type of tree planted, however a caution is that a planted tree may no longer be at the location due to injury or destruction, so it is helpful to double check.
During the meeting observations about sites, related to identified concerns, were written on trace paper covering the map. A smaller version of the map is attached.
DISCUSSIONS (Note – these discussions and next steps are reflective of attendees at the meeting. FOFA has a much broader membership and people are encouraged to volunteer for the listed projects below)
*Green site maintenance - Historically, the biggest problem with maintenance of planted areas (including street trees, plantings around trees and median planting) has been related to watering, which is very labor intensive when done by hand. Typically, the Department of City Parks (the agency that has responsibility for most street scape planting has raised it as the main obstacle to doing any additional planting on 4th.
The North Flatbush BID has 4 lovely planters at the corner of Flatbush and 6th (and has worked with DOT for close to 10 years to reconstruct that intersection) and pays $10,000 annually to keep 30 planters watered and maintained (Joanna) (She originally stated she thought it cost $16,000 a year, but emailed a correction). Sandye discussed small water containers that can be used on a block, but also noted the difficulty in keeping residents involved in the effort.
There was some discussion about the value of using a watering truck – the efficiency of multi-site use could reduce the cost. Andrea noted that the economy of scale with respect to maintenance of green sites is one of the advantages of the Eco-focused Gowanus BID that is under discussion (and might include the west side of 4th Ave).
Next steps – none agreed upon at this point, although it might be interesting to investigate prices of companies that perform this service. Sandye reported that a hand truck might cost $700 but still would be labor-intensive and need a place to fill and store.
*Flooding – This topic will be addressed in the Gowanus Rezoning Plan through infrastructure construction (and we have heard that new sewer will be installed on 4th Avenue starting next year - needs confirmation of dates). However, Kelly introduced us to the FloodSense project at NYU and the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), which gives her a flooding alert for her business (Gowanus Gardens). That program is a component of FloodNet “a cooperative of communities, researchers, and New York City government agencies working to better understand the frequency, severity, and impacts of flooding in New York City. The data and knowledge gained can be used by local residents, researchers, city agencies, and others to advocate around and work to reduce flood risk. FloodNet brings together innovative sources of information on street flooding impact”. The site provides a lot of flooding related resources plus information about the project and partners)
Resource: https://www.floodnet.nyc/ and https://floodlabs.nyc/floodnet/
*Support for smaller “brick and mortar” businesses. It appears that the new developers have been courting chain businesses when creating required ground floor commercial space, which has been better suited to gyms, medical offices and daycare centers (the latter frequently drawing drapes across windows, which contributes to a “street wall” look on 4th.) The large ground spaces are presumed expensive (aside: it might be helpful to learn asking rent on vacant spaces.) Several people spoke to the need to support the existing small businesses.
Next steps -Joanna again spoke to the value of WhatsApp to businesses on 5th Avenue and Georgio volunteered to set it up for 4th Ave, while asking for technical assistance. Kelly volunteered to contact the small businesses in her neighborhood and Pat said he would be happy to talk to businesses on 4th. Owen at Gowanus Dredgers and Nancy from Seeds in the Middle were also suggested as resources for getting the names of small business owners. Grace and SJ promised to forward the “one pager” that describes FOFA goals in a general way (see attached) for general outreach use.
There was a brief discussion about creating an Instagram account for 4th Avenue, which would also be business oriented (talking about local stores and local events). Grace has experience with Instagram accounts, and Kelly also expressed some interest, but no decisions were made about who would set it up and who would monitor/promote it.
*Lighting – Lighting was briefly discussed in terms of asking businesses to keep outside lights on, but it led to a larger conversation about the poor lighting at the 4th Ave and 9th St subway station and the related issues of the empty store fronts at the station. FOFA had tried to tackle this issue in the past but made no headway with the MTA who said (4 years ago) that their real estate office “was working on it”. At that time, the MTA and DOT could not agree on who was responsible for lighting at the station.
Next steps - Andrea noted that there was a new person at the MTA who lived in Park Slope and volunteered to assist with introductions. SJ agreed to follow up with old and new contacts at the MTA and report back to the group and welcomes people who would like to be part of the discussion.
*Pedestrian Safety – The Safe Streets part of Vision Zero, once promised for 4th Avenue, which would include traffic calming measures such as median plantings, bulb outs at corners (with plantings) and more permanent bike land protections, is supposedly still in the (distant) future, although at last look there was no capital funding listed in the DOT budget for either design or construction. (And the last mention of Times Plaza was in 2017, when DOT anticipated beginning construction in the subsequent year).
Kim suggested looking at Atlantic Ave Extension Project as visual model (near Eastern Parkway and Pennsylvania Ave) (I’m not sure if these are correct links but here is the Vision and Unveiling, but I can’t find good current photos.)
Next steps – It is probably time to revisit DOT just to let them know we haven’t forgotten them.
*Vision statement – Kim suggested that it would be useful to develop a “Project Vision” – a graphic representation of what 4th Avenue could/should look like, perhaps initially with an emphasis on revisioning the medians with art installations. (Ie. Do we want 4th Ave to be like Broadway Malls (Here and Here) on the Upper West Side?) The idea was well received (a picture is worth a thousand words). While last on this list, the Project Vision idea was one of the key projects suggested.
Next steps - Johnny and Ellen were interested in working on this with Kim. They could start with canvassing Arts Gowanus for existing sculptures that could be placed on the medians. There was no decision about what else should be included and some discussion about the advantage of starting something that would be (relatively) easy and relatively inexpensive and have a longer range vision also available.
Potential Working Groups/SubCommittees
At the end of the meeting, we began to group people who were interested in tackling specific areas together. This focus is a critical structure to moving forward in these important areas. Let us know if you are interested in a specific working group.
Small Business: Georgio, Kelly, Pat - Joanna can provide some assistance/advice; Grace can also provide limited support to get started
Greening: Sally, Sandye, Judy (?), Andrea for technical assistance/advice
Vision/Public Art Project: Johnny, Kim, Ellen, Grace
Capital Improvements, ie, completion of DOT Safety Plan and work on 9th/4th St Station: SJ, and we need some others!