Tag Archives: architecture

WePlaza! Help bring free wifi, arts programming, and architect-designed shade structures to some of NYC’s beloved outdoor community spaces

Anyone who’s been in New York over the past few years will know that there’ve been huge changes afoot in many of our public spaces. From Times Square to Union Square to Bliss Plaza in Sunnyside Queens, lovely open community spaces both big and small are being freed of traffic and built out and expanded and greened and brightened up, and New Yorkers love them. We stop by in droves with bag lunches, or for a chat, or a rest, or a bit of shade or sun, or to meet someone new. NYC plazas seem to be here to stay.

What many New Yorkers may not see, though, is how many thousands of busy hands are at work to make these spaces the vibrant community hubs they are – or how much time, money, and love go into maintaining and constantly improving them. Seems easy enough, right? Block off traffic and throw in a few planters? Well, no. Turning a plaza into a real community space is actually super hard, expensive work.

So today, we want to highlight an exciting Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP) campaign. NPP is a program under the fabulous Horticultural Society of New York, or “the Hort,” for those in the know. The campaign, called WePlaza!, brings together improvement initiatives coming down the pipeline at three plazas in Queens and Brooklyn. Always on the lookout for new ways to fund plaza improvements, these three projects have come together to do a crowd-resourcing test run of sorts.

“Part of our mission,” explains Dorothy Le, director of capacity building at NPP, “is to work with plaza groups to see what kind of tools we can use, and crowd sourcing is potentially one of them.” If this test run in crowd resourcing is successful, the futures of NYC plazas will look that much more secure.

“Seeing the possibilities that exist in these spaces is a really positive thing, and really opens up creative avenues for community members, whether they’re arts groups or educational groups, or whether they’re simply waiting for the train,” Le says.

So check out the awesome WePlaza! video teaser on their campaign page, and meet the leaders of the three initiatives, below. See if any of them calls to you!


  1. Third Thursdays performances at Bliss Plaza, Sunnyside, Queens

When arts group Recreate Queens put out a public call, recently, for local performers to take the “stage” this summer at Bliss Plaza, they were immediately flooded with over 40 applications. Things were off to a good start, to put it mildly.

The call went out to fill what will be the very first arts programming series at brand new Bliss Plaza, which opened last summer. In the next few weeks, five performers will be selected, and will be scheduled to perform on the third Thursdays of each month from June to October. There’ll be no official stage or sound system, but otherwise, the sky’s the limit. “We want people to step off the train and wonder ‘hey, what’s going on here?’ and have a seat, whether it’s for five minutes or for the full hour,” says Rachel Thieme, director of Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District. “We want to draw people in who wouldn’t go to a more formal performance space in the neighborhood or further out.”

What’s perhaps most exciting about season one of this new programming series is that no one has the faintest idea of what it’ll look like, culturally speaking. “Sunnyside is such a diverse neighborhood, like so many neighborhoods in Queens, but really especially here,” says Thieme. “We have large populations of people from Ireland, from Central and South American countries. People from Eastern Europe. So I’m really curious in terms of cultural performance what we’ll see. Maybe it’s going to be one week of flamenco and one week of Irish step dancing. I hope that it will reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. The Plaza has been a really popular public space, and I think this is an opportunity to really make it more of a town square center.”

To learn more, and to donate, click here.


  1. Free Wifi at Corona Plaza

Coming soon to Corona Plaza, Queens: free wifi! By this summer, you should be able to stroll through the space and log right in. Best of all, users will be directed, upon signing in for the free Wifi, to a main Corona Plaza community page. The site, will highlight community and educational events at the plaza, and promotions by local businesses. An information fair for immigrants might be advertised, for example, or an event along health and wellness themes. Or a notice about an open-air Zumba class next Friday night might pop up.

Ricardi Calixte, Deputy Director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, is eager to see how this main page might bring together a community in which not everyone has wifi at home, and not everyone is aware of all the neighborhood has to offer. The community, he notes, is a largely immigrant one, and largely working class.

The plaza, Calixte says, is slated for some fantastic renovations next year, so he and his colleagues want to bring a community together around the space before that work begins. “We’re looking forward to making the most of this year,” he says, “to make sure that people know what’s happening in the plaza, and then when the final project is ready to go, people will be excited to get back to it. We think that the wifi and upping our social media campaign will help boost the image of the plaza.”

To donate, visit the project’s campaign page here.


  1. Gorgeous new shade structure for teeny-tiny Fulton Plaza, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Maria Nikolovski, an architecture student at Pratt, walks through Fulton Plaza all the time, on her way to school, or to Fulton Street’s hip cafes and restaurants. She and her peers have always wanted to create a piece of work for their Fort Greene/Clinton Hill community, but until now, they’ve never had the chance. The funding wasn’t there, and local projects weren’t a part of their coursework. Most Pratt architecture student projects over the years have actually been abroad. So when student design group PrattSIDE came into some grant funding, they knew just how to use it.

Coming to Fulton Plaza: a graceful shade canopy, made exclusively of steel and rope. Why steel and rope? They’re cheap, easy to use, and malleable (which will come in handy when the structure is moved, after its first 11 months, to an undecided new location). The inspiration came from the local community, via PrattSIDE’s partner, the Fulton Area Business Alliance (FAB); residents had reported that what they most wanted in the plaza was shade, shade, shade. The sun can be harsh in the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area; mini parks abound, but in the in-between areas, you’re liable to get scorched.

Maria and her peers are thrilled to offer a taste of the Pratt aesthetic to the larger Fort Greene community. “In Fort Greene there’s a big art and design community,” she explains. “With Pratt Institute being one of the best design schools in the country, there’s so much of that kind of art energy in the area, and sometimes it isn’t represented well in the community. This building’s full of so much talent, and we’re really excited to release that into the community, and see what they have to say.”

To read more and donate, click here.

Awesome Project: Urban Urge Awards

In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, urban activist Jane Jacobs states, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Mojdeh Baratloo appreciated this better than most. An architect, professor, community advocate, and urban designer, Baratloo, known affectionately to her peers and students as “Moji”, dedicated her life to helping people understand the built environment, by facilitating collaboration and communication across social boundaries and disciplines alike.


Born in Tehran, Iran, on January 21st 1954, Moji came to the United States to study Architecture at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, where she earned her B.S. and Masters of Architecture in 1978. In 1979, Moji moved to New York City, where she continued to work as both an architect and a founding member of Storefront for Art and Architecture, a nonprofit organization committed to showcasing innovative thinking in art, architecture, and design. She also served on the Architecture and Urban Design faculty at Parsons The New School for Design and at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). Her professional and academic roles led her to establish a global network of colleagues and friends, all culminating in 2004, when Moji founded URGe (Urban Research Group), an interdisciplinary research center focused on better understanding contemporary global cities.


Moji passed in April of 2013 after a long bout with cancer, at the age of just 59 years old. Her students and peer professors, architects, designers, and urbanists all over the world felt a need to memorialize her tremendous impact. Justin Garrett Moore, a professor at Columbia, planner, and community activist, first met Moji, whom he affectionately refers to as his “New York mom” in the late 1990s as a student in her summer Introduction to Architecture course at Columbia University.

“Even in that short six week course, she truly made me see the world differently,” he explained.

One way that Justin and several of Moji’s admirers have continued to celebrate her life is through the creation of the Urban Urge Awards, an awards program established to provide funding to designers and community members to do their own projects, giving both professionals and ordinary people the opportunity to make a real, tangible impact in their cities.

The idea for the Urban Urge Awards was originally conceived by several of Moji’s close colleagues from GSAPP, including Moore, Richard Plunz, Geeta Mehta, Skye Duncan, Dongsei Kim, and Fatou Dieye, Nickie Huang, as well as Moji’s daughter Halleh Baratloo Balch. Using ioby as a platform, they raised over $25,000 to be distributed in four different types of grants. These range from the Urge Awards, a $4,000 grant intended for design and planning and community development professionals to execute a larger-scale project, to the Urge Seed Grants, a $500 award open to anyone under 40 from any disciplinary background. Additionally, the $1,000 Emerge Awards and the $500 Urge School Seed Grants are specifically geared toward students and teachers. There are no specifications for the types of projects that can be entered into the competition—anything from a vacant storefront art installation to an app that directs people to fresh food in their neighborhood will be considered. The Urge Awards are open to people’s ideas and creativity.

What is particularly special about many aspects of the award program, including the vague project design criteria, is that they encompass some of Moji’s most powerful ideas and practices.

Moore explained, “[Moji] would always make conscious efforts to break down the kinds of barriers and structures you find in [large institutional settings] where it’s very controlled. She would have kids from Red Hook critiquing Columbia graduate students on projects. She would do all of these things that were intentionally mixing things that didn’t mix, but should mix.”

Similarly, the grant winners will present their project ideas together, giving people the opportunity to collaborate and exchange with individuals they may not have otherwise interacted with. And this process won’t be reserved for older generations only.

“[Moji] always really believed that a big part of the problem with the way things are in the world is often because not everyone is taught how to make their world, how to make their environment and how to understand it, and that that process should start early,” said Moore.

To encourage young people to take part in the competition, the Emerge Awards are reserved for recent graduates of universities where Moji studied and taught and the Urge School Seed Grants are available to teachers and/or students doing projects in New York City. Both grants are intended to engage a younger audience and involve them in designing their city.

By giving individuals the tools to actualize creative solutions that improve the environments around them, Moji’s legacy continues to have a powerful and lasting impact. Thanks to 67 donors, including 44 New Yorkers and 23 out of towners, the Urban URGe Awards have been entirely fundraised. But the Urban Urge Awards team welcomes your application! The registration deadline for the competition is June 15th and projects are due by July 15th. Best of luck in this amazing competition!