Tag Archives: brooklyn

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.

Getting Good Done in the Cold & Snow

Those of us in the northeast are currently bracing for Winter Storm Juno, which is slated to pummel us tonight and into tomorrow. But even if you’re not facing a blinding blizzard, late January is still a perfect time to hunker down with a cup of hot cocoa and catch up on your reading.

Winter-5x5Cover copy

To this end, we’re very pleased to drop our latest resource guide to getting good done tonight. The ioby Getting Good Done Guides illustrates five projects any community can accomplish together in five steps.

This one is all about the unique opportunities winter affords for cool communal involvement; it’s called In The Cold. Where else can you learn how to build an all-season outdoor pavilion, throw a successful winter event in your community garden, and harness snow to help your city make improvements to pedestrian infrastructure?

That’s right: nowhere.

We recommend letting it download while you mix up your cocoa, then enjoying both from the comfort of a warm set of flannel pj’s.

We’re always grateful to the esteemed contributors who make our guides possible, and to our readers, who send us actionable feedback and heartening stories about their experiences. Please keep your messages coming!

Please stay safe during the storm, too. There will be a great need for snow-person building later this week!

AWESOME PROJECT: Sprucing up Brooklyn’s totally sketchy 4th Ave and 9th Street subway stop

Brooklyn’s trendy Park Slope, Boerum Hill, and Gowanus neighborhoods, as any New York realtor will tell you, couldn’t be hotter right now – but smack in between these three lies a swath of Brooklyn that’s been, for some time, a bit of an industrial wasteland: 4th Avenue. It’s almost impossible to believe, given the prices brownstones are drawing less that a quarter mile away in any direction, but this largely neglected stretch of the highway is still pocked by empty warehouses and defunct garages. So while a few isolated luxe high rises have gone up on 4th in recent years, the area still lacks – relative to the rest of booming Brooklyn – the comforts of home. Small shops, walkable streets, trees. That Brooklyn feeling everyone wants a piece of.

4th and Ninth_Grace and Amy plant on 4th Ave_Spring14

Local Grace Freedman and her 4th avenue community organizing comrades are done waiting for the area to pick itself up; they’re stepping in and giving it a boost. Working with Park Slope Civic Council committee Forth on Fourth (FOFA), as well as partners such as Park Slope Neighbors, they insist that the stretch of 4th Avenue is not a highway, but a neighborhood in its own right. A longtime homeowner on the Boerum Hill side of 4th Avenue, Freedman volunteers huge amounts of her time and energy toward greening and bettering the underappreciated neighborhood. Most recently, she was part of an effort to plant 50 trees along 4th Ave, and to bring her neighbors and local officials on board to help care for them – fostering both pride and community involvement, her bread and butter.

Now the team’s setting its sights on 4th avenue’s undeniably sketchy transit hub: a mammoth subway station at 9th street, in Park Slope, that despite being above ground manages to feel darker, more dismal, and less safe than many of its deep-underground MTA cousins. It’s been under renovation for a decade; the MTA has been at work – in fits and starts – constructing a much-needed pedestrian overpass, as well as shoring up the tracks themselves, for safety.

So the station must be safer now, technically speaking, as the MTA project begins to wrap up. The only problem is that you’d never know it to look at the place. The huge overhang – under which riders are coldly dumped out – still creates a cavernous dark space that even on sunny days makes you feel like it’s night, and cars zoom by just outside. Nothing has been done, in other words, to the make the face of the station any less sketchy. Freedman still won’t let her teenage daughter go near it alone, which speaks volumes.

4av9thst_before photo_Oct14

Stop by 4th and 9th on Friday, November 21st, though, and you should have a very different transit experience. Freedman and her team have plans to declaw the ominous overhand by carting in a truckload of lighting, and to introduce some public art installations created by members of Arts Gowanus, a neighbor organization that connects the many artists who have made their creative homes in the old warehouses and studios around the Gowanus canal. The installation will also be a rack of reading material on nearby businesses, as well as colorful wayfinding signs. “It’s like a labyrinth in there,” says Freedman.

It’s been difficult getting the time- and money-strapped MTA to start a real conversation with the community about the status of the renovation project. “We’ve talked to local community members and politicians who are asking, ‘What state will the station be in when they are finished?’ There is a real concern that the street-level experience will not change very much and that there is no plan for better lighting, way-finding or amenities like benches or bike racks,” Freedman explains. “As a community, we are saying ‘We want more – a better experience for 13,000 riders a day.’ Livable streets amenities could be added at a fraction of the cost but would make it so much better and safer. Ultimately it could encourage people not to always drive, and to see that subway station as a really viable resource and a vital community center.”

4th and Ninth_Planting on 4th Avenue_Spring14

Another goal of the installation will be to draw new businesses to the station’s street level, which is currently plagued by about five empty retail lots.

“We love that the MTA has included some retail spaces in the renovation, but it seems like they haven’t had that much luck renting. Maybe that’s because the station is kind of dark and dismal,” points out Freedman. “We would love if our pop-up installation to inspire some local businesses to see the space differently and inquire about renting. We also have reached out to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce for their advice on how to advertise the spaces.”

It all makes sense: if the space were a little brighter, if, say, the ugly blue plywood that now barricades the empty retail spaces were replaced with inspiring murals and “pretend” flower shops – something FOFA and their community partners plan to do as part of the installation – potential tenants might be able to envision themselves in the space.

So stop by on Friday, November 21st to give your feedback on the installation – Freedman and her ioby teammates will be out collecting comments, questions, and ideas from the public via chalkboard, and maybe even video recorder. If the installation is a success, she sees it morphing into a permanent revamping of the station. Instead of temporary murals, lasting public art. Instead of standing lights, a full-on commissioned light sculpture. Instead of make-believe flower shops at street level, a real one. Just imagine.

The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.TransitCenter-Logo-No-TM

ioby’s Trick Out My Trip Campaign

Last year, something big happened for public transit in America. In 2013, a whopping 10.7 billion rides were taken on US transit. An impressive record high, the number reveals that the trend we’ve all seen in action – Americans, especially millennials, setting their sights on walkable, bikeable, train- and bus-able towns and cities – is a very real one, and could completely change the face of American transportation.

The news couldn’t be better. With climate change breathing down our necks, and study after study reporting that access to good public transit makes people both happier and healthier, America needs to get with the program. Sure, New Yorkers might have a million great – if loud, slow, crowded and smelly – transit options, but they enjoy nearly 50% of all US public transit rides, while much of the rest of the country gets the short straw. We all need the option to ditch our cars, and to become a country that walks, bikes, hops on the train.

“Overall for the transit industry,” says Transit Center research and development director Shin-Pei Tsay, “for all the transit agencies, all the operators, all the people who provide services and infrastructure and construction, I think overall they’re just really excited, because on the wholesale level, there’s finally public demand for transit services.”

But despite all the buzz about the increasing demand for public transit, says Tsay, “little has changed in the industry.” That’s because most of the big changes we need to see are bound to come very, very slowly. Projects like laying down new track, redesigning streets and intersections, and adding trains and busses to existing lines will be hugely expensive, and they’ll be forever in the making. Plus, some will also be disruptive for locals. Case in point: New York’s always-and-forever pending 2nd Ave subway line, with all the incredible noise and mess it’s brought to NYC’s east side.

Here’s the game-changer, though. We don’t have to wait. There are so many other ways – vastly cheaper, quicker, easier, and more creative ways – for us all to start making American public transit as safe and comfortable as it should be. Turning a single decrepit Memphis bus shelter into a celebration of Soulsville musical heritage, for example, can help to enliven an entire neighborhood. Introducing a public art installation at a neglected intersection can help people envision the space as full of possibility. Simply putting up a colorful, hand-painted sign at a metro stop, to let riders know it’s only a fifteen-minute walk to the park, can reinvigorate daily routines. These are projects that transit authorities would see as being outside of their wheelhouse, and would never tackle. And they’re exactly the types of projects we the riders, we the walkers and cyclists, can get started on right now.

This fall, ioby has sponsored ten such projects as part of its Trick Out My Trip transit campaign. The ten ioby team Leaders are community organizers, cycling advocates, transit authority staffers and volunteers, software programmers, artists and involved citizens, and they come from all over the country – Los Angeles, Seattle, Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta, Denver, Lithonia, and Brooklyn. Each of them has an innovative idea about how to quickly improve transit in his or her city, and – with funds raised through ioby, then matched by Transit Center – they’ll each complete a test run between now and Thanksgiving.

As researchers pay closer and closer attention to the psychology of public transit, studies have shown that the sorts of projects these ten ioby Leaders will be completing can have a very concrete impact on riders’ satisfaction. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found, for example, that basic amenities at bus stops – shelters, benches, clear and accurate schedules – make people’s wait times feel significantly shorter. And that may be far more important than we’ve previously assumed. As Transit Center’s 2014 Who’s On Board study reported, “Transit is personal. Unlike the sewer systems, the power grid, and telecommunications infrastructure, transit can evoke pride, frustration, and even fear. It can shape our most personal decisions about where we live and work.”

“It’s super exciting,” says Tsay of partnering with ioby on Trick Out My Trip. “I love seeing ideas from people who are everyday transit riders. Change can’t happen without them. Seeing that there’s interest in the communities means that there’s a growing contingency who might really think about transit in a different way and put pressure on their transit agencies and on their elected officially to think about transit differently, and I think all of that really makes a big difference in the long run.”

 Stay Tuned! This blog is the first in a series this week!




Guide to Green Infrastructure

Today, ioby is proud to release our Guide to Green Infrastructure, 5 Projects that any Community Can Do to Reduce Storm Water Runoff in 5 Easy Steps. You can can download this free guide by clicking here.


This guide is released as a resource for ioby leaders applying to qualify for the green infrastructure matching funds, also announced today here.

The Guide to Green Infrastructure was written collaboratively by ioby leaders and experts in the field. We are grateful to Robyn Mace, Devona Sharpe, Irene Nielson, Eric Rosewell and Philip Silva for sharing their expertise with all of us.

This resource includes an easy how-to guide on creating a rain garden, a bioswale, installing a rain barrel, depaving and caring for street trees.

We hope you enjoy it! Please share it widely, and if you want to send us feedback, please do so at feedback@ioby.org.

Community Science with Public Lab

We are very proud to announce ioby’s newest partnership with the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science. Community groups in Boston, New Orleans and Brooklyn use Public’s Lab’s innovative, open source DIY tools to monitor environmental issues.

Circuit-hp-bannerWhether tracking chemical emissions from refineries, teaching kids about civic responsibility via kite mapping, or monitoring progress on efforts to remove invasive species, Public Lab contributors work to create healthier, more engaged communities using fun, simple techniques. Using everyday items–like handheld digital cameras, kites and string–Public Lab members re-imagine environmental monitoring tools, taking science out of its ivory tower and making it an accessible part of everyday life. With Public Lab, people leverage the brain power and experience of thousands of contributors around the world to create results in their own backyards.

Click here to see the projects.

The official press release from Public Laboratory follows:

JANUARY 15, 2014

Public Lab and ioby Partner to Launch Neighborhood Environmental Health Projects

New Orleans, LA — The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science today announced a partnership with crowdfunding non-profit IOBY to host a series of locally focused environmentally themed crowdfunding campaigns. The five projects span several Public Lab regions from Massachusetts to Louisiana, and range from educational initiatives to pollution monitoring projects.

Local level, site-specific projects are the core of Public Lab’s collaborative community, many members of which come together around specific environmental threats such as landfills, chemical spills, or polluted urban waterways. This innovative partnership structure between the two non-profits organizations heralds further, fruitful collaborations.

The partner page, titled “Community Science with Public Lab” features five flagship projects: http://publiclab.org/ioby

Mystic River Open Water: Mystic River Open Water is building an open-source, DIY water quality monitoring network. (Don Blair, Massachusetts)

Refinery Flare Monitoring: We are constructing observation stations to monitor refinery flares continuously and remotely. They will provide an inexpensive, easy to construct, and reliable remote flare observation station that provides usable data. (This project relates to the newly-announced Knight Foundation-funded Homebrew Sensing Project) (Dan Beavers, Louisiana)

Put the People in the Picture: Barataria Wetlands Co-Monitoring: As attention fades from the BP disaster, residents who depend on the Barataria Bay marshes need to monitor their wetlands. Your contribution empowers communities to monitor the impacts of BP’s oil. (Scott Eustis, Louisiana)

Gowanus Low Altitude Mapping: Gowanus Low Altitude Mapping (GLAM) is a volunteer-driven initiative to create detailed aerial photos of the Superfund-designated Gowanus Canal, using cameras and balloons. (Gowanus Canal Conservancy, New York)

Parts and Crafts at Somerville Public Schools: Nine 5-week courses, including: Intro to Computer Science, DIY Environmental Monitoring, and Intro to Electronics. (Parts and Crafts, Massachusetts)
These projects provide a window into some of the most vibrant independent place-based research in the Public Lab network, revealing environmental issues of high priority to local residents — issues which government or industry have often overlooked.

Contact Public Lab: Becki Chall, becki@publiclab.org | p: 504-358-0647 f: 504-324-0401

About Public Lab

The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is a community — supported by a 501(c)3 non-profit — which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. By democratizing inexpensive and accessible Do-It-Yourself techniques, Public Lab creates a collaborative network of practitioners who actively re-imagine the human relationship with the environment.

The core Public Lab program is focused on “civic science” in which we research open source hardware and software tools and methods to generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health. Our goal is to increase the ability of underserved communities to identify, redress, remediate, and create awareness and accountability around environmental concerns. Public Lab achieves this by providing online and offline training, education and support, and by focusing on locally-relevant outcomes that emphasize human capacity and understanding.

Since its founding during the 2010 BP oil disaster, Public Lab has launched a series of community-driven environmental technology projects, using a collaborative open source development process to rapidly innovate affordable tools to respond to and understand environmental threats.

About ioby

ioby is a crowd-resourcing platform for citizen-led neighborhood projects. Our name is derived from the opposite of NIMBY. We have a mission to deepen civic engagement in cities by connecting individuals directly to community-led, neighbor-funded environmental projects in their neighborhoods.

ioby connects change with resources. It enables all of us to invest in change—then see (and live with) the return on our investment. There are everyday neighbors taking small steps—bringing strength, open space, fresh food and greenery into our backyards.

How to Raise Urban Chickens

This is the first in our online video series portion of Recipes for Change, our online and hard copy toolkit designed for urban environmental leaders to share their knowledge and expertise with others. ioby’s platform is designed to be a place for community-driven, community-funded environmental projects as well as for knowledge sharing. We hope you enjoy this first video, featuring Bee Ayer, from BK Farmyards, who has generously shared her knowledge of urban chickening with all of us, in this video and through her work with BK Farmyards.

This video was produced by Good Eye Video. The good folks at Good Eye Video are also teaching a workshop series on shooting and producing your own how-to videos just like this. The next one is on Monday, April 16, at 6:30pm at the ioby office and will focus on editing your video content. Register for the workshop here.



For more information on our Recipes for Change toolkit, visit the Recipe archive.